Safety Publications/Articles

Instrument Approach Charts: Jeppesen Charts

Instrument Training

The late Jimmy Doolittle is considered by many to be the father of instrument flying. Thanks to Sperry's gyroscopic instruments, he was the first pilot to take off and land solely by instrument reference. While this amazing feat and the equipment that made it possible added much to flying, it wasn't until an airmail pilot started making notes in a little black book that instrument flying became truly practical.

Doolittle made his historic flight in 1929, the same year Elrey Borge Jeppesen earned his pilot's license, which was signed by Orville Wright. After a stretch of barnstorming, wing walking, flight instructing, and conducting aerial surveys, Jeppesen signed on with Varney Airlines, and later Boeing Air Transport (which would become United Airlines), as an airmail pilot.

He flew the Salt Lake City-Cheyenne/Salt Lake-Oakland routes. Because these mountainous routes were so dangerous, he made $50 a week and 14 cents a mile. There were no sectional charts then. Pilots used road maps. While waiting out weather at emergency strips, Jeppesen talked about someday being able to fly through the weather. The old-timers called him a dreamer.

Getting into the different airmail airports proved difficult in bad weather. Obstacles hidden in the murk and unreliable airport information, such as elevation, claimed many of Jeppesen's fellow pilots. So he started keeping notes about the airports into which he flew. He drew diagrams and climbed smokestacks and other obstacles on his days off and measured their height with a sensitive altimeter. All this information went into Jeppesen's little black book. Other pilots heard about it and wanted copies. Jepp provided them.

Today's Jeppesen Airway Manual Service, often called "Jepps," is a highly refined publication that maintains its original purpose of providing pilots with information that enhances safety and efficiency. Considering the increased complexity of our operating environment, Jeppesen's ability to place all the information required for a specific instrument approach deserves commendation.

My first Jeppesen leather binder, purchased in 1965, still serves as my lap board when flying instruments. The binder's stay-open bar keeps the manual from collapsing when lying on my lap. Every one has their hang-ups, and paper clips - the 2-inch metal version - are mine. That's how I keep a Jeppesen navigation log (it too fits in the binder) and the approach charts in place when the cabin air vents are wide open.

I hate to see pilots remove approach charts from their binders. Far too often that chart doesn't get filed properly, and then it can't be found when needed next. Also, when an instrument approach changes at the last minute, or a diversion occurs to a nearby alternate airport - it always happens at the worst time - retrieving the correct chart takes valuable time and creates a dangerous distraction, particularly if maneuvering at low altitude. It's much easier to have all charts available, quickly flip a page or two, and then sock 'em with a paper clip. Jepp manuals allow you to do that.

Revisions are the principal reason for removing pages from your manual, and this action occurs only when you have enough time to double-check what you remove and what you insert. Jeppesen always includes a note that describes the change(s) at the bottom of each revised page. Because of pilot complacency, a major factor in accidents and incidents, that notification is an important red flag for your regularly used airports.

Each instrument airport has at least two Jeppesen charts - an airport chart and an instrument approach chart. These charts are generally on the same piece of paper. The airport chart is on the back and depicts everything you need to know on the ground; the approach chart on the front depicts everything you need to know in the air. A practical application is the best way to realize the value of these charts.


If your weather briefing indicates marginal conditions, you'll check the airport chart for your departure airport and your alternate airport(s) because takeoff and alternate airport minimums are both listed. If operating under FAR Part 135, Air Taxi, or Part 121, Air Carrier, your operation specifications dictate which takeoff minimums are allowable. If carrying cargo or passengers for hire and not operating under FAR 135 or 121, such as in Part 91 corporate flying, use standard takeoff minimums.

If your IFR (instrument flight rules) clearance did not give specific departure instructions, follow the published IFR departure procedure, a small paragraph located at the bottom of the airport chart. This procedure will optimize obstruction clearance during the departure. If departing in VFR (visual flight rules) conditions and air traffic control (ATC) does not issue specific instructions, don't turn on course or to the assigned heading until reaching traffic pattern altitude. But make sure you check your sectional chart and the "within 25 nm" circle on your Jepps to ensure that you're high enough to avoid all obstacles.

As soon as the preflight and cockpit setup have been completed, again consult the airport chart. You'll need the field elevation for the altimeter check and the frequencies for the VOR test signal (VOT), the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS), clearance delivery, ground, tower, and departure control. All the frequencies are shown, generally in the order of use, in a box at the upper right. Upon receipt of taxi instructions, the large plan view of the airport makes it easy to confirm your taxi route to the active runway.

Jeppesen lists additional airport information just below the airport plan view: approach and runway lighting configuration for each runway, usable runway lengths beyond both the threshold and the glideslope intercept point, and runway width. During reduced visibility approaches to parallel runways, always check the lighting configuration for your runway. Many pilots have landed on the wrong runway during instrument conditions because that runway was the first one to come into view.


The approach chart heading gives the approach name, airport elevation, minimum safe altitudes (ATC's minimum vectoring altitudes will be lower), and the arrival communications frequencies in order of use: ATIS, approach, tower, and ground control. If only one of these frequencies changes, Jeppesen issues new charts, so I never complain about revisions. In the heat of battle, current information is required information.

My Big-Seven mental checklist represents the absolute minimum items that must be accomplished prior to an instrument approach:

    Approach descent checklist accomplished before leaving cruise altitude - fuel on fullest tank, heading gyro aligned with the magnetic compass, seat belts checked, equipment stowed, and stop watch zeroed out.

    Navigation radios tuned for the approach.

    Notes that can kill you.

    Missed approach procedure.

    Minimum descent altitude (MDA) or decision height (DH).

    Time to the missed approach point (MAP).

    Aircraft speed. Reduce to slow cruise when appropriate and concentrate on flying the approach.

Jeppesen publishes "notes that can kill you" in three places: the upper left corner in both the plan view and the profile view, and in the circle-to-land minimums box. The plan view may contain special instructions for obtaining current altimeter information; the profile view may specify specific equipment requirements, such as dual VOR receivers; and the circle-to-land section may specify circling instructions. To inadvertently make a circling approach in a nonauthorized area is asking for disaster.

Memorize the MDA or DH, the initial portion of the missed approach procedure, and the time inbound if flying a timed, nonprecision approach. To readily identify the approach's primary navigation aid, Jeppesen lists it at the top of the chart and depicts it in a shadow box in the plan view. Yes, pilots have flown approaches while tuned to the wrong frequency, and they have paid the ultimate price for making that error.

If ground-based navigation or lighting equipment fails, Jeppesen tells you if that failure affects your landing minimums. Your minimums do not change unless the failed equipment appears in the minimums box with a new, increased DH/MDA or visibility.

For circling approaches, the maximum speed for each category is listed. For ILS approaches, a ground speed/ vertical speed conversion table is published. This helpful table is also published on all standard instrument departures (SIDs) that have steeper-than-normal climb gradients.

The entire plan view is drawn to scale. The most important features are the transition routes and minimum altitudes, course information, the initial ground track for the missed approach, the highest obstacle in the area, and the cross-bearings for identifying intersections.

The profile view, located below the plan view, depicts the vertical cross section of the approach. Use this view to determine the crossing altitudes at the final approach fix (FAF) and subsequent step-down fixes, if any, the procedure turn altitude and distance, and the altitude of the runway's touchdown zone.

Jeppesen approach charts are userfriendly. Since most commercial operators use Jepp charts, students planning aviation careers should become intimately familiar with them. Jeppesen Airway Manuals also include enroute, terminal, and Class B charts; standard instrument departures (SIDs); and standard instrument arrivals (STARs). They are available for a large number of geographic coverages through a number of different subscription and "one-shot" services, including a special student service. Call (800) 621-JEPP for the specifics.

Next month, we'll discuss the National Ocean Survey (NOS) approach charts.

Ralph Butcher has more than 30 years' and 20,000 hours' experience as a pilot and flight instructor. A graduate of the University of Southern California and the U.S. Army Aviation Center (airplanes), he's flown in Vietnam, served as chief flight instructor for four flight schools, and is now a captain and check airman for a major airline.

By Ralph Butcher

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