Question for Doug and others - Expwwy Visual 31 LGA


Well-Known Member
Hi Doug and others who have flown into LGA:
I actually meant to post this a few weeks ago, didn't get to it until now. Earlier last month I flew from Detroit - LGA on my way home from Alaska. It was at night and it was a NWA 757. We landed on runway 31.
On our way in, the pilot said we would be maneuvering for the visual 31. I know from listening to the radio that the approach is called 'expressway visual.' I also know from living here my whole life that the planes usually seem to fly over the Long Island Expressway, then make a turn around Shea Stadium to land.
As I was sitting on the left side of the airplane, I tried to locate the runway as we were coming around the turn. I have excellent night vision, and I could barely see the lights until the last segment of the turn, and I had 'help' with that(I know the area and could pick out the runway to the right of the terminals). My question is this: How do you airline pilots hit the turn almost perfectly every time? And is this really a completely visual approach? Are you following the highway? It would seem that if this were the case you are just puttering around like in a Cessna. What happens if both pilots are doing this approach for the first time? Is it hard? I am not IFR rated yet but, what do your approach plates say? Follow highway?
Ironically as we were pulling into the gate I saw an Airtran come in and it looked like he overshot the turn by a bit cause he(she?) had to correct to the right while over the water. Hope this question is clear!

It's a 'charted visual procedure' where we're given ground references over which to fly, suggested DME distance before the turn and a lot of hands-on "just fly the airplane" type stuff.
I don't have the plate here in front of me, but if I remember correctly.....

You fly basically the localizer for RWY 4 and at a certain DME (6?) when you're flying by the big white tanks you make a right turn to follow the LIE. A heading is also given as well as an altitude.

From the you follow the LIE and you're basically on a modified left downwind for RWY31. Pass Shea stadium (shown on the approach plate) and roll out on final. I've only flown it as a passenger and during the day I could easily see rwy 31 and even thought to myself, "this guy is going to make this turn, descend, not put us in the water and stop in less than 7,000ft?" Impresses the heck out of me.
It's a fun approach. On sunny days you can see the old World's Fair grounds very clearly. Remember the big bug scene from Men In Black?

It can be a difficult approach to fly stabilized, but it can be done. The last turn is at about 1200' AGL, if I recall. I haven't flown in to LaGarbage since 2001.

Another great approach is the left downwind to 22. I actually heard a controller say "go to the b*tch and up the ditch" - for "direct to statue of liberty, follow the river, expect base leg for 5 mile final"

I would do that approach and ask for 2000', so the passengers could look out and up at the world trade center. I imagine it's still pretty impressive with all the other buildings.
This approach sounds similiar to the visual 19 approach into DCA. Pilots have to hug the north side of the Potomac River, without actually flying over DC itself, then bank hard right after crossing the 14th, 9th, and 3rd street bridges.

It's fun watching the planes negotiate the turn to final. You can always tell pilots who have more experience with the approach b/c they know to hug the North side of the river. If you don't, the turn to final ends up requiring a pretty heavy bank to the right at fairly low altitudes.

Anyone ever fly this approach?
My father used it fly it a lot. It's not a vrey popular approach!
On the Expressway visual, referencing the chart, it's more or less like this:

Join the LGA Rwy 4 localizer, overfly Prospect Park. Cross DIALS intersection (abeam the twin white tanks) at or above 2500 feet. Fly the PETHS bearing 085 outbound or overfly the Long Island Expressway towards Flushing Meadow Park and start the turn to Rwy 31 over Flushing Meadow Park east of Shea Stadium.
Ok cool, now that makes some sense with the navaids as backup. I couldn't imagine how 2 new pilots from the Midwest who never been to NYC would know what LIE(our longest parking lot), Prospect Park, and Flushing Meadows would be.