The Great Approach Plate Debate
By Hank Gibson, CFI, CFII, MEI
Walk into any pilot’s lounge at any airport, ask a few corporate pilots what the best instrument approach plates are, and you will get a pretty even cut down the middle of who prefers which plates. A lot of times, the Jepp guys are Jepp guys because their bosses pay for it. General aviation pilots, on the other hand, largely do not want to pay the high subscription fee, so they choose NACO. Well, I am here to present a breakdown of each, a few pros and cons, and a few opinions. I have used both extensively in my flying career, so I have grown familiar with both publications. (Note: The example approach used in this article is the ILS RWY 18 into KDTO, Denton, TX)
The Good Points
Airport diagrams! It is very helpful to look down at the plate when the clouds are thick around the airplane and actually see what the airport looks like. Runway distances, displaced thresholds, and taxiways are all adequately marked.
If something specific is required for the approach (eg. the ILS 18 at DTO has an ADF requirement), it is printed on the chart in big, bold letters, making it very hard to miss (I would insert an old pilot joke here, but I’ll save that for another day).
In my opinion, the minimums section is better organized. There is a little more information than a Jeppessen plate, but I like the line by line itemization for the different minimums.
No searching for that one lousy updated approach! Just replace the whole book!
Did I mention a low cost? They can be printed for free off the FAA’s website or ordered in booklet format from a number of different companies online. A few different websites have subscriptions where a pilot can get his area plates sent to him every 56 days when the plates are officially updated.
The Bad Points
The notes section at the top can be crowded. It is not very evident on this particular approach, but if there are a significant number of notes, they are all published in one giant paragraph and it is hard to quickly scan them.
Other than an ILS approach, the rate of descent required for specific groundspeeds are not published directly on the approach. They can be found in the back of all the NACO booklets. I just tore the back page out of one of my old booklets and put it on my kneeboard. I always know where it is now and I do not have to flip pages.
If you buy one of the bound booklets, with the exception of tearing out the pages, it is actually quite a pain to keep the booklet open to the proper approach. In turbulence with things bouncing around, it can be even worse. The loose leaf booklets are nicer since it is easier to just pull an approach out and fly it.
I myself actually prefer NACO charts, so I am slightly biased (and it’s not because of the Jepp cost, either. The flight school I work for has a subscription). The ease of updates, being able to print for free off the internet, and the overall set up just sits well with me. My eyes even enjoy the slightly dull grey paper even. Ahem; anyway, back to approach plates.
The Good Points
The overall flow of the chart is ideally set up. The frequencies are at the top, followed by relevant altitudes, missed approach, notes, and then the actual approach. It presents a nice, easy flow to brief the approach while loading all the information into the G1000.
The better organized notes section causes a whole lot less pilot grief. When getting bounced around in turbulence, it’s a lot easier to read bullet points then a whole paragraph.
Each approach has the descent planning section on the plate itself. This saves some excess time used in searching. Math still has to be done, but this way, all a pilot has to do is look at the plate rather than flipping through a book.
The Bad Points
Cost would be the first and biggest thing that comes to mind. For the full US, the price will run $787 a year. There are sections of the US that can be purchased for a lower price, but the cheapest was still $179 a year for the Pacific Northwest (jeppdirect.jeppesen.com). I’ll give a plug for printing costs here too, since I like to save trees.
If you can afford it, go try the plates and see what you think. They work well and it is nice to be able to go to your computer, print the plate off you need and take it with you. It makes life pretty easy!
With the advent of modern technology, the Jeppesen plates are now available on newer G1000 installations. There is still the subscription fee, but having all the approach plates right there at your finger tips on the MFD whenever you need them is very handy. Like the iPad, it is also legal to use to shoot an instrument approach. No paper needed.
Really, it all comes down to what you as a pilot like. Budget will play a lot into it too, but here is my opinion. I prefer NACO charts simply because when I take my plates with me in the airplane, I know that I have the plate for most any airport in the area. I do really like the paper, too.
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
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