Classic Aviation: Circling Approach in a DC-9 at Midway Airport

Flying on a DC-9 used to be very common in the United States.  Delta, Northwest, Eastern, Midway, Continental, TWA, Hughes, US Air, Ozark, Midwest Express and many others had the workhorse in their fleet.  The planes were rugged, overbuilt and could take off on relatively short runways.  Over the past few years, almost all the passenger DC-9s in the US have been retired.  Even Delta airlines, known for flying more ‘experienced’ jets retired their last DC-9-50 in 2013.  It is now nearly impossible to fly in a passenger DC-9 in the US.

Back in the 1980s, Midway Airlines flew a fleet of over 50 DC-9s.  Based at Chicago Midway (MDW, KMDW), the airline would take off from a ‘postage stamp’ one square mile airport to destinations all across the country.  Landing back at Midway, even as a passenger, was always a thrill.  It kind of felt like landing on an aircraft carrier.  A pilot’s job was tough too.  The DC-9 was an analog airplane.  The autopilot was not nearly as robust as the modern airliners of today. Sit back and watch as these Midway Airline DC-9 pilots execute a perfect circling approach from a Localizer on runway 31L (now Center) circling to runway 22L.


Above is an approach plate into Chicago’s Midway airport.  The profile is similar to the ones flown by the pilots in the video.  Today, Midway has runway 31L and 31C.  The center runway used to be known as 31L.  The video shows the pilots flying the approach from the southwest.  Once they have the airfield in sight, they begin a right turn to set up for a left base to runway 22L.  This type of approach, known as a circling approach, is still very common today at Midway Airport.  Flying this approach keeps Midway’s air traffic away from O’hare’s arrival corridor to the north when winds are out of the South and West.  With circling approaches fairly rare, it also makes for great #avgeek spotting of airplanes maneuvering close to the ground.