Penetration Approaches


  • Penetration approaches allow for the quickest transition from the high altitude structure to an approach to land
  • They are particularly useful for the military with high performance aircraft that have high fuel burns, especially at the lower altitudes

Minute to live rule:

  • You shall not descend at a rate faster than altitude left to go

  • 5000' = 5000 fpm max
  • 4000' = 4000 fpm max
  • 3000' = 3000 fpm max
  • 2000' = 2000 fpm max
  • 1000' = 1000 fpm max

  • Inside the Final Approach Fix: 1000 fpm max

Penetration From Holding:

  • Choose the appropriate method to accelerate from holding airspeed to 250 KIAS (TACAN penetration speed)
  • For fuel conservation:
    • Plan to intercept 250 KIAS as you descend out of altitude
    • At the fix, lower the nose and begin descent while accelerating to 250 KIAS
    • As airspeed approaches 250 KIAS, reduce power to IDLE and extend the speed brakes if necessary
  • For timing considerations (CV approaches):
    • Accelerate to arrive at the IAF at 250 KIAS
    • Once cleared inbound and on course, perform a level speed change from 200 KIAS to 250 KIAS
  • At the IAF, simultaneously lower the nose and accelerate to 250 KIAS. At 250 KIAS, reduce power to IDLE and adjust nose attitude and trim to maintain speed, countering the resulting nose pitch-up with forward stick. Re-trim for 250 KIAS.
    • To begin penetration, the aircraft must be established on the initial approach course
  • May be done with or without speed brakes as required for the descent

  • During approaches to airfields, retract boards when the profile allows and maintain 250 KIAS
  • Unlike airfield approaches, CV penetrations are closely sequenced and require all aircraft to maintain 250 KIAS and 4,000 FPM until 5000' AGL (platform)
  • At platform, CV aircraft reduce rate of descent from 4,000 to 2,000 FPM by retracting speed brakes and maintaining 250 KIAS

In Lieu of an En-Route Descent:

  • Pilot is expected to execute the entire IAP unless visual contact is made and a visual or contract approach is request and approved, or if the pilot cancels his IFR flight plan
  • It is solely the pilots prerogative to cancel his IFR clearance
  • Retention of the IFR clearance does not afford priority over VFR traffic and may have to adjust his flight path as necessary to enter traffic pattern in sequence
  • After receiving a revised clearance, or any approach clearance, prior to the final approach descent
  • All military pilots will report the newly assigned/designated altitude when they report vacating the previously assigned altitude/flight level

En-Route Descent:

  • Used to transition from an en-route altitude to the final portion of an instrument or visual approach in lieu of published penetrations
  • Type of final approach to be flown (GCA, ILS, etc.) should be understood by both the pilot and the controller prior to commencing the descent
  • Routing may be via radar vectors or the NAVAIDs depicted on the high altitude charts
  • You may request, or a controller may initiate an en route descent; however, the controller must advise you of intention to provide this service and you may refuse it in favor of a published IAP
    • Pilot Request: "Request en-route descent to [Airport]"
  • Prior to issuance of a descent clearance below the highest initial approach fix altitude established for ANY high altitude instrument procedure for the destination airport, the controller will inform the pilot of:
    1. Type of final approach to expect
    2. RADAR vectors will be provided to the final course
    3. Current weather, whenever the ceiling is below either 1,000' or the highest circling minimum, or when visibility is less than 3 miles
  • Pilots may request a High Altitude Instrument Approach in lieu of an en-route descent

Inside the Final Approach Fix (FAF):

  • 1500 PPH should set up a good start descent
  • Every 100 PPH = 300 fpm in the landing configuration
  • 2000 PPH should keep the aircraft level, boards out

Single Frequency Approach (SFA):

  • Provided to single piloted jet aircraft on an IFR flight plan during the hours of darkness or when the aircraft is in instrument weather conditions
  • The abbreviation "SFA" will be shown after the heading "COMMUNICATIONS" in the FLIP IFR En-route Supplement when procedures have been implemented at that station
  • For those military fields that do not indicate "SFA," check the RADAR section of the FLIP (terminal) for that airfield
  • If they have numerous UHF frequencies available, you can request SFA in the remarks section of the DD-175
  • Pilots receiving this service will not be required to change frequency from beginning of penetration to touchdown, except that pilots conducting an en-route descent are required to change frequency when control is transferred from the ARTCC to the terminal facility
  • Controllers may discontinue the service to all pilots who cancel IFR flight plans during daylight hours and to those pilots in level flight who cancel IFR flight plans at night


  • To learn more about instrument procedures, be sure to check out the Instrument Procedures Handbook online or on paperback
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