Technique for Getting into Catalina Reliably..

As we all know, getting into Catalina (KAVX) can be tricky because it both sits on top of a mountain and the preferred landing runway (22). It slopes up creating the illusion that you are significantly higher that you really are. The following is how I get in there, the few times a year I make it out.

First, use the full pattern, head toward Two Harbors and enter on the 45 for right downwind, 22. The field elevation for 22 is 1550′ (runway 4 is 50′ higher at 1600′). Plan your descent so you arrive abeam the numbers at 2550′ – visually you feel like you’re almost level with the field, you are not. Now power back to ~1500 rpm (aircraft dependent) and pitch down about 10 degrees; you should be able to see everything in front of you comfortably, but the bulk of your sight picture is sky / mountains. Now that you’re configured properly, hold that pitch and use your throttle to set a 500′ decent rate on your vertical speed indicator. Recall, a vertical speed indicator is a little behind reality so don’t chase the needle, just slowly ease it to 500′ and do you best to hold it there by applying power if you descend faster and reduce power if your descent slows; power makes you go up or down. Turn base like you were taught as a student, at a 45 degree angle off the landing point, apply flaps etc., just like you were taught, 10 degrees on downwind, 20 on base, 30 on final. Do everything in your power to resist the feeling that you’re low, you’re not – look at your altimeter for confirmation that you’re not low if you need to but maintain that 500′ per minute decent rate. Once on short final the runway will appear as you would expect it to when landing at MYF, etc.

Note: There is usually a down draft on short final before you cross the ledge, be ready with some power to offset it.

Here’s a video of me landing there last weekend, unfortunately it doesn’t capture the initial set up but will give you an idea of what the sight picture should look like, enjoy.

YouTube video

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8 thoughts on “Technique for Getting into Catalina Reliably..”

    1. If you haven’t been out there before, it is worth it to take an instructor the first time. John’s setup advice is excellent, but as he mentions, the visual cues, crowned runway, downdraft on short final, etc all present unexpected gotchas. A little backup the first time can go a long way to ensuring success.

  1. I haven’t been to AVX since before the Marines rebuilt the runway. There used to be a hump in the middle so that you could not see if another plane was at the numbers at the other end. The folks in the “tower” would “clear” you for take-off.

    1. Just to clarify this so others don’t become confused…there is no tower. The “simulated tower” might provide you with local wind and altimeter unless they’re busy logging in pilots. They do not typically do any “clearing” or sequencing; though they may provide general traffic advisories at their discretion.

      Heading to AVX, expect to be terminated 5-10 miles from the island unless you’re not landing. In that case, please advise SCT you intend to fly around the island instead of landing so we can transfer you to the appropriate sector.

      SoCal Approach for IFR departures and VFR FF is 127.4 (Katalina Sector) which is typically combined to 134.35 (Newport Sector.) If you’re already a few miles east of AVX, then you can contact SCT (Pacific Sector) on 128.1. Be cognizant of airliners and *Heavies* inbound LAX from SXC to mid channel then via SLI descending to 7,000. Also from OCN to mid channel then via SLI also descending to 7,000.

    1. No, it’s a non towered airport. There is almost always someone on the UNICOM (when the airport is open) that gives weather advisories / recommended runway based on winds, but permission to land is not required.

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