ATC Vector Visual

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F-16 and other aircraft low over runway

Learning objectives

ATC Visual Base Pattern Layout
ATC's view of an airbase.
  1. Know how to enter the pattern for a Visual Approach
  2. Understand the directions of ATC
  3. Know how to deal with breaches in the protocol

Why Request Vectors for Visual?

Pros Cons
  1. Both human and AI flights are processed and accounted for.
  2. Pilots are processed in an orderly fashion. Everyone is guaranteed a slot to land eventually.
  3. Entire flights are handled in the same fashion. (With some other approaches, humans and AI within the same flight end up flying different approaches to the same airbase.)
  4. Having a single authority manage air traffic should result in safer conditions.
  5. Data Link, which is less effective in 4.34, is not relied upon.
  6. Pilots do not need to communicate with each other.
  7. This approach is easy for newbies to remember; there are few rules to remember.
  1. When the pattern is busy, vectoring can consume more fuel.
  2. This style of approach can take longer than some others.
  3. There is a chance of being kicked out of the queue and being made to wait even longer.
  4. This approach requires visual landing conditions.
  5. It is difficult for people new to the procedure to hear their callsign being called when ATC is busy dealing with an entire package.

Normal Procedure

  1. Enter the ATC Queue by having flight lead request ATC Vectors for Visual Approach.
  2. Follow ATC directives.
  3. Report "on final" to ATC Tower when on final.
  4. Land.

Entering the ATC Queue

  1. Flights shall arrive within 30nm of the Destination Airbase to be in range of ATC Approach airspace.
  2. Flight Leads shall order their flight to switch to the appropriate Destination Approach Preset or Frequency. This is usually UHF 4, UHF 7, or UHF 10.
  3. Flight Leads shall request vectors for visual approach. This enters all members of the flight in the ATC Queue, as long as they are within 5nm of the flight lead.

ATC may give you information on initial contact, such as QNH. Each pilot should use this information and set the altimeter accordingly!

Note: It is important that all pilots in the flight are tuned to the appropriate frequency prior to requesting vectors. They will not hear ATC giving them vectors if they are not on the correct frequency.

Following ATC Directives

One Flight Visual Approach
One flight successfully performs the approach.

ATC will vector each member of the flight individually. The radio chatter on the ATC Approach frequency can get busy rather quickly. If an airbase has 4 full flights returning, that is 16 different aircraft that ATC is vectoring concurrently. Each pilot must listen carefully for his callsign to be called. It is imperative that each member of the flight follow every directive as quickly and as safely as possible to avoid a collision.

ATC's instructions to a pilot will start with the pilot's callsign and will reference up to three variables:

  1. Heading
  2. Altitude
  3. Speed

An example directive might be, "Plasma 1-1, turn right heading 355. Descend to 5000. Maintain 300 kts." In this scenario, all three variables are explicitly mentioned. This is not always the case. All pilots will need to listen to the exact directive given to them while remembering what was given by ATC prior. Again, pilots must obey the directives as soon as possible in the safest manner.

If a pilot misses the directive, he may issue a "Say again" request to ATC Approach.

Note: Usually the factor that many new pilots fail to take into account is speed. This is a common cause for flights being kicked out of the ATC Queue.It will be obvious in the debrief when TacView shows one flight overtaking another flight.


ATC may ask a pilot to orbit for spacing at a given altitude. An example directive might be, "Falcon 2-2, orbit for spacing. 6000." This is a directive to begin a right-hand orbit at 6000ft. If a pilot is asked to orbit above 4000ft, he may expect that there is traffic below him.

Note: All directives to orbit are right-handed.

On Final

Eventually ATC will begin appending the landing runway to the directives. "Viper 1-3, turn heading 305. Descend to 4000. Maintain 270 kts. Vectors to final. Runway 18." This is letting the pilot know he's getting close to being handed off to ATC Tower, and he should expect to be vectored to a final approach for a landing on Runway 18.

Once ATC Approach tells a pilot to "Contact Tower on Final," the pilot should switch to the ATC Tower preset or frequency. This is typically UHF 3, UHF 8, or UHF 11. When he is within 6nm of the airbase and within 30° of either side of the threshold, the pilot must contact Tower and report "On final."

If all is good, Tower will give clearance and repeat the landing runway.

Note: It is NOT necessary to request landing clearance from the Tower. The pilot has already been entered into the ATC Tower Queue via ATC Approach. The Tower is expecting him to report that he is on final approach.

Adaptive Procedures

Four Flights on Visual Approach
Four flights attempting the approach. Some flights look lost.

Traffic Advisory Calls

Occasionally, ATC might inform pilots about incoming traffic. If ATC makes such a call, then this traffic may be on a collision course.

A traffic advisory call might sound like, "Fury 1-3, traffic 11 o'clock."

  1. A pilot should immediately look in the direction cited. In the example case, it is 11 o'clock, which is to the front and slightly left of the pilot.
  2. Visual contact should be established with the traffic in question.
  3. The pilot must quickly make an informed decision whether to deconflict with the approaching aircraft. This is an incredibly dangerous situation, and should not be taken lightly. Changing course presents additional risks, even if it is required.
  4. Once a pilot has established visual contact with the traffic, is aware of the situation, and is in no danger, he may issue a "Traffic in Sight" reply to ATC.

Note: ATC will continue to warn the pilot about traffic until ATC is confident that the danger is over or the player acknowledges that he has the situation under control. A pilot may miss critical directives and be forced to abort his approach if he does not actively inform ATC that he has the traffic in sight.

Authorization Canceled

ATC may cancel a pilot's approach. The solution to this is to re-enter the queue all over again. A pilot must request approach all over again as he begins flying outside of the immediate vicinity of the airbase.

This cancellation of clearance might be due to flying too close to traffic, or disobeying directives. Alternatively, the runway may suddenly become unavailable. No matter the reason, the pilot must be ready to abort both the approach and the landing.

If a pilot absolutely cannot abort, he may declare an emergency.

Not Reporting Final

When a pilot attempts to land without reporting to the Tower that he is on final, he disrupts the Tower's final queue. ATC may revoke the authorization of other flights to create more room for the rogue pilot.


If a pilot cannot land safely, he should abort his approach. A pilot can abort during either his approach or his landing. Depending on where he is in the process, he should call out his abort to the ATC on either the Approach or Tower frequency. This takes him out of ATC's queue. For example, if he finds himself coming in too high and too fast on final, he should immediately inform Tower (not Approach!) that he is aborting his landing.

As with the case of authorization being canceled, the pilot should begin flying outside of the immediate vicinity of the airbase. If the pilot still intends to land, the pilot should attempt to get himself back into the queue as soon as possible by contacting Approach (not Tower!) and requesting vectors.

Note: A pilot not informing ATC that he is aborting the approach or landing can disrupt the queue.

Declaring an Emergency

If a pilot has an actual in-flight emergency, such as a fuel leak, the pilot may need to declare an emergency and land ASAP. In this case, it is appropriate to declare an emergency on the ATC frequency when in range and land immediately.

Note: Declaring an emergency is a very serious decision, as it disrupts the queue. A pilot should never do this simply for convenience.