What is a ground reconnaissance?

A ground reconnaissance is performed before an off-airport landing.  The reconnaissance is intended to ensure that the aircraft can land safely at the designated location.

The reconnaissance is generally conducted in two phases, a high reconnaissance and a low reconnaissance.  The high reconnaissance is conducted from approximately 500 feet AGL.  At this altitude, the pilot performs a preliminary review of the suitability of the landing site.  The following mnemonic is useful in remembering to review several key items. The Five Ws.

Wind: What is the direction and intensity? Use indicators such as smoke, flags, etc. Is there expected mechanical turbulence, such as from buildings or terrain?

Wires: Are there any obstacles such as highline wire, fences, etc.?

Way In: Is there an obstacle free approach into the area?

Way Out: Is there an exit strategy if the approach needs to be aborted? Also, this phase includes identifying how the departure will be conducted after takeoff.

What If: Are there any other issues, such as moving vehicles, animals, etc.?

Once the high reconnaissance is conducted, a low reconnaissance is conducted while on final approach.  While on final approach, the pilot continues to monitor the landing site for items that might not have been visible during the high reconnaissance.  The pilot is also looking for items that might have changed, such as animals, vehicles, people, etc.  As this is an off-airport landing, be vigilant for the unexpected.

During the high-reconnaissance, the pilot should not lose sight of the landing spot.  Keeping the spot insight, such as out the pilot-side window, minimizes the likelihood of mistaking a similar location as the one the high reconnaissance was just conducted.

Reference(s):

FAA-H-8083-21A – Helicopter Flying Handbook pg. 10-2

Other Helicopter Flight Conditions