I brief the approach plate at Telluride and set up my navigation radios and course needles. I plan on navigating to Cones VOR (ETL) and flying the transition to the localizer approach at 12,000′. With the terrain depiction on the chart you can see the obvious dilemma facing any pilot shooting the LOC/DME 9 at Telluride: rising terrain in all quadrants with the only escape being a tight climbing right turn back out to the west. Technically the 727 is a Category C aircraft (1.3 Vso speed at max landing weight of 137 kts.), which as you can see, has no published minimums for this approach. Our 120 knot Vref speed, however, actually places us 1 knot below the Cat-B maximum speed (121 knots). Although legally it remains a Cat-C aircraft, for our purposes (don’t tell the FAA), we will use the Cat-B minimums. The minimums for this approach reflect the relative danger of the high terrain, with a very high MDA and visibility requirement.
With all of the pre-landing checklists out of the way we are soon within 10 miles of Cones VOR, slowing and dropping down to 12,000′. Within 10 miles I also start getting some initial flaps out according to the flap schedule.
The autopilot is off now, we have crossed the VOR, flown the transition and the localizer needle has centered. The radar altimeter is off the peg and we start dropping altitude based on the step-down DME fixes on the localizer. Showing 7 miles out on the localizer we are ½ mile outside the final approach fix so I select gear down and landing flaps (30 degrees). After crossing the FAF I’ll head down to the MDA and hope I see the runway!
A touch behind on the approach, I’m a little fast (Vref + 20) and a touch high, but I spot the airport through the gloom and snow at about 3 miles out. The reassuring glow of the PAPI allows me to transition to a visual approach.
Allowing the extra 20 knots to bleed off I can feel the turbulence knocking me around and I wallow around a bit with the yoke and rudders trying to stay on the centerline. Jockeying the throttles the whine of the engines alternately roar and moan. The airplane flies honestly though, allowing for my over-controlling without biting me.
Very close now! I’m just a smidge below ref speed and still trying to battle the winds and turbulence. My pulse picks up a bit and my hands are sweating. Long flight. Lots of work. Don’t screw it up Chris.