Military Approach Procedure

As I count down the minutes left in my work week, I keep running outside to check out transient F/A-18’s as they are coming into CHS today. Being a huge military aviation (anything aviation really) buff and working right next to our base, everytime I hear a fighter, I run outside to watch them come in or depart, but I’ve noticed something every time when they are on approach. How come the fighters always pass over the runway (approx 500’ agl) one time (and sometimes two) prior to landing? I’ve seen a zillion aircraft land here, but it only is the fighters that fly by and check it out prior to landings. I’ve got a buddy that works in ops here at our base and he doesn’t have a clue either. All he could come up with was “because they feel like it.” It’s not just the 18’s, but F-16’s, F-15’s, A-10’s and even the occassional Raptor coming in that do this as well - surely these guys can touch down on a dime if they wanted. Regardless, no complaints by me - I could sit outside and watch them just circle the base all day - the sound of them is music to my ears! Any former military aviators?

You mean they fly in clean ( wheels up, etc), make a turn to the downwind, put their gear down and then land?

In the FAA air traffic handbooks, this is called the “overhead maneuver.” (7110.65, para 3-10-12).

I’m sure there are lots of (historical) tactical reasons to do this, but it is the fastest way to get a group of fighters on the ground. Military fighter or attack aircraft do this type of approach pretty much at all military airfields.

My family lives in Charleston (Goose Creek, Summerville, Park Circle). They always have to indulge me running outside to watch planes when I’m home…

From what you describe, it sounds like the fighters are flying an overhead maneuver prior to landing.

Section 5-4-26 of the AIM and 3-10-12 of the FAAO 7110.65S explain these in detail. They fly the initial approach like other aircraft do, break off at the designated point (specified if nonstandard), perform a 180, roll back out onto final, then land.


The basic reason for “slippery” fighters to do this is so that they can come cooking-in at 400 kts after a power-off descent from altitude and then “bleed” the energy (airspeed) by pulling a High-G 180 turn over the runway and set up on a downwind at approach speed.

Some civilian fields don’t allow formation T/O’s and landings so the wing element will fly formation with the landing ship right down to the threshold and then break-off onto the downwind for his landing.

Yep. I’m a former USAF controller. It’s called a overhead approach. Typically they report Initial 5 miles out. ATC will tell them where to break, typically at the approach end. At most places they come in at 1500 agl until the break. They will be clean until after the break.

Also, keep in mind that these are Navy and Marine aircraft, and the overhead approach is the standard for landing on the boat.

I live near KLUF luke in arizona, and i see something similar, 1 plane flys over the airport ahead of the second 2, all clean, then a pair fly over all at about 1000 feet. then they come around and land all 3.

I was told they do this because the first flys over and if there are enemy they will shoot sams at the first one, and the second 2 will take out the sam sites, then the survivors will turn around and come back to land in safety…

That responce was from a vietnam vet so it might be an old tactic, but it made sence.

The Overhead Approach is flown so the faster fighter types can get in over the slower heavy’s in the pattern. That’s why they are flown at 1500 agl often with a level turn to downwind.

Frank Holbert

works well until the heavies do it :wink:

Since you brought it up… During my AF time we had C-141’s practicing overhead approaches.

I can’t locate any source to confirm this. I remember reading that military aircraft quite often do a flyby to confirm that the landing gear is down prior to landing. Perhaps this now longer applies and the reasons for the flybys are exactly as stated above.

Uh… your sources are right here on this page. Flying an overhead is used to bleed energy rapidly to obtain approach speed at the last possible moment and to maintain traffic seperation.

Oh, and Frank, the KC-135’s from the 157th here at Pease fly overheads regularly. Even though I’ve seen it a gizillion times it’s still a hell of a thing to see one in a 70 deg bank and pulling some heavy Gs at pattern altitude during the “break” portion. Very cool stuff. :smiley:

I was looking for two things:

  • An indication that the aircraft are to enter the pattern and fly past the tower with the gear already down.
  • The phraseology for a gear check.

I did see this quote from you:

As I said, I was looking for something stating the aircraft already had the gear down.

This from another great forum:

And so everyone can visualize it better:

The typical phraseology would be something like:

Gator one one is the lead ship for a formation of 4 planes.

A/C: XXXX Tower, Gator one one is a flight of four 10 miles to the northeast, full stop
TOWER: Gator one one report a 5 mile initial for Runway XX
A/C: 5 mile initial for Gator one one

Gator one one reaches the 5 mile initial point.

A/C: Gator one one is 5 mile initial for Runway XX
TOWER: Gator one one roger

Gator one one flies the break and establishes on downwind and selects landing configuration (gear, flaps, speed brake). Remaining 3 ships delay their break progressively further down the runway for separation and select landing config.

TOWER: Gator one one check wheels down, cleared to land Runway XX
A/C: Gator one one cleared to land Runway XX

Remaining 3 ships follow Gator one one to landing.

Thanks, phantomjet.

Yah I’ve seen B1’s, KC35’s and C17’s do it. The B1’s were cool, and I even saw one C17 do a carrier break. I never understood why the K35’s did it though. They basically “broke” over the departure end and flew almost a normal downwind to base.

This also allows the maximum number of jets in the pattern. Back in UPT, a single runway would support around 12 T-37’s/T-6s in the pattern at the same time.

Man, you guys are awesome!

Me too; I’ve never understood the KC135 doing the Tactical spiral up departures or the spiral down. I just don’t think there is any way to make that thing less of a target

My standard Military Approach Procedure is:

“So, do you come here often?”

In standard ops, this elicits a 180 degree turn from the military personnel being approached.