Power-Off Accuracy Approaches

Power-off accuracy approaches are approaches and landings made by gliding with the engine idling, through a specific pattern to a touchdown beyond and within 200 feet of a designated line or mark on the runway. The objective is to instill in the pilot the judgment and procedures necessary for accurately flying the airplane, without power, to a safe landing.

The ability to estimate the distance an airplane glides to a landing is the real basis of all power-off accuracy approaches and landings. This largely determines the amount of maneuvering that may be done from a given altitude. In addition to the ability to estimate distance, it requires the ability to maintain the proper glide while maneuvering the airplane.

With experience and practice, altitudes up to approximately 1,000 feet can be estimated with fair accuracy; while above this level the accuracy in judgment of height above the ground decreases, since all features tend to merge. The best aid in perfecting the ability to judge height above this altitude is through the indications of the altimeter and associating them with the general appearance of the Earth.

The judgment of altitude in feet, hundreds of feet, or thousands of feet is not as important as the ability to estimate gliding angle and its resultant distance. A pilot who knows the normal glide angle of the airplane can estimate with reasonable accuracy, the approximate spot along a given ground path at which the airplane lands, regardless of altitude. A pilot who also has the ability to accurately estimate altitude, can judge how much maneuvering is possible during the glide, which is important to the choice of landing areas in an actual emergency.

The objective of a good final approach is to descend at an angle that permits the airplane to reach the desired landing area and at an airspeed that results in minimum floating just before touchdown. To accomplish this, it is essential that both the descent angle and the airspeed be accurately controlled.

Unlike a normal approach when the power setting is variable, on a power-off approach the power is fixed at the idle setting. Pitch attitude is adjusted to control the airspeed. This also changes the glide or descent angle. By lowering the nose to keep the approach airspeed constant, the descent angle steepens. If the airspeed is too high, raise the nose, and when the airspeed is too low, lower the nose. If the pitch attitude is raised too high, the airplane settles rapidly due to a slow airspeed and insufficient lift. For this reason, never try to stretch a glide to reach the desired landing spot.

Uniform approach patterns, such as the 90°, 180°, or 360° power-off approaches are described further in this chapter. Practice in these approaches provides a pilot with a basis on which to develop judgment in gliding distance and in planning an approach.

The basic procedure in these approaches involves closing the throttle at a given altitude and gliding to a key position. This position, like the pattern itself, must not be allowed to become the primary objective; it is merely a convenient point in the air from which the pilot can judge whether the glide safely terminates at the desired spot. The selected key position should be one that is appropriate for the available altitude and the wind condition. From the key position, the pilot must constantly evaluate the situation.

It must be emphasized that, although accurate spot touchdowns are important, safe and properly executed approaches and landings are vital. A pilot must never sacrifice a good approach or landing just to land on the desired spot.

90° Power-Off Approach

The 90° power-off approach is made from a base leg and requires only a 90° turn onto the final approach. The approach path may be varied by positioning the base leg closer to or farther out from the approach end of the runway according to wind conditions. [Figure 1] The glide from the key position on the base leg through the 90° turn to the final approach is the final part of all accuracy landing maneuvers.

Figure 1. Plan the base leg for wind conditions

The 90° power-off approach usually begins from a rectangular pattern at approximately 1,000 feet above the ground or at normal traffic pattern altitude. The airplane is flown on a downwind leg at the same distance from the landing surface as in a normal traffic pattern. The before landing checklist should be completed on the downwind leg, including extension of the landing gear if the airplane is equipped with retractable gear.

After a medium-banked turn onto the base leg is completed, the throttle is retarded slightly and the airspeed allowed to decrease to the normal base-leg speed. [Figure 2] On the base leg, the airspeed, wind drift correction, and altitude are maintained while proceeding to the 45° key position. At this position, the intended landing spot appears to be on a 45° angle from the airplane’s nose.

Figure 2. 90° power-off approach

The pilot can determine the strength and direction of the wind from the amount of crab necessary to hold the desired ground track on the base leg. This helps in planning the turn onto the final approach and in lowering the correct number of flaps.

At the 45° key position, the throttle is closed completely, the propeller control (if equipped) advanced to the full increase revolution per minute (rpm) position, and altitude maintained until the airspeed decreases to the manufacturer’s recommended glide speed. In the absence of a recommended speed, use 1.4 VSO. When this airspeed is attained, the nose is lowered to maintain the gliding speed and the controls trimmed. The base-to-final turn is planned and accomplished so that upon rolling out of the turn, the airplane is aligned with the runway centerline. When on final approach, the wing flaps are lowered and the pitch attitude adjusted, as necessary, to establish the proper descent angle and airspeed (1.3 VSO), then the controls trimmed. Slight adjustments in pitch attitude or flaps setting are used as necessary to control the glide angle and airspeed. However, never try to stretch the glide or retract the flaps to reach the desired landing spot. The final approach may be made with or without the use of slips.

After the final-approach glide has been established, full attention is then given to making a good, safe landing rather than concentrating on the selected landing spot. The base-leg position and the flap setting already determined the probability of landing on the spot. In any event, it is better to execute a good landing 200 feet from the spot than to make a poor landing precisely on the spot.

180° Power-Off Approach

The 180° power-off approach is executed by gliding with the power off from a given point on a downwind leg to a preselected landing spot. [Figure 3] It is an extension of the principles involved in the 90° power-off approach just described. The objective is to further develop judgment in estimating distances and glide ratios, in that the airplane is flown without power from a higher altitude and through a 90° turn to reach the base-leg position at a proper altitude for executing the 90° approach.

Figure 3. 180° power-off approach

The 180° power-off approach requires more planning and judgment than the 90° power-off approach. In the execution of 180° power-off approaches, the airplane is flown on a downwind heading parallel to the landing runway. The altitude from which this type of approach is started varies with the type of airplane, but should usually not exceed 1,000 feet above the ground, except with large airplanes. Greater accuracy in judgment and maneuvering is required at higher altitudes.

When abreast of or opposite the desired landing spot, the throttle is closed and altitude maintained while decelerating to the manufacturer’s recommended glide speed or 1.4 VSO. The point at which the throttle is closed is the downwind key position.

The turn from the downwind leg to the base leg is a uniform turn with a medium or slightly steeper bank. The degree of bank and amount of this initial turn depend upon the glide angle of the airplane and the velocity of the wind. Again, the base leg is positioned as needed for the altitude or wind condition. Position the base leg to conserve or dissipate altitude so as to reach the desired landing spot.

The turn onto the base leg is made at an altitude high enough and close enough to permit the airplane to glide to what would normally be the base key position in a 90° power-off approach.

Although the key position is important, it must not be overemphasized nor considered as a fixed point on the ground. Many inexperienced pilots may gain a conception of it as a particular landmark, such as a tree, crossroad, or other visual reference, to be reached at a certain altitude. This misconception leaves the pilot at a total loss any time such objects are not present. Both altitude and geographical location should be varied as much as is practical to eliminate any such misconceptions. After reaching the base key position, the approach and landing are the same as in the 90° power-off approach.

360° Power-Off Approach

The 360° power-off approach is one in which the airplane glides through a 360° change of direction to the preselected landing spot. The entire pattern is designed to be circular, but the turn may be shallow, steepened, or discontinued at any point to adjust the accuracy of the flightpath.

The 360° approach is started from a position over the approach end of the landing runway or slightly to the side of it, with the airplane headed in the proposed landing direction and the landing gear and flaps retracted. [Figure 4] It is usually initiated from approximately 2,000 feet or more above the ground—where the wind may vary significantly from that at lower altitudes. This must be taken into account when maneuvering the airplane to a point from which a 90° or 180° power-off approach can be completed.

Figure 4. 360° power-off approach

After the throttle is closed over the intended point of landing, the proper glide speed is immediately established, and a medium-banked turn made in the desired direction so as to arrive at the downwind key position opposite the intended landing spot. At or just beyond the downwind key position, the landing gear is extended if the airplane is equipped with retractable gear. The altitude at the downwind key position should be approximately 1,000 to 1,200 feet above the ground.

After reaching that point, the turn is continued to arrive at a base-leg key position, at an altitude of about 800 feet above the terrain. Flaps may be used at this position, as necessary, but full flaps are not used until established on the final approach. The angle of bank is varied as needed throughout the pattern to correct for wind conditions and to align the airplane with the final approach. The turn-to-final should be completed at a minimum altitude of 300 feet above the terrain.

Common errors in the performance of power-off accuracy approaches are:
  • Downwind leg is too far from the runway/landing area
  • Overextension of downwind leg resulting from a tailwind
  • Inadequate compensation for wind drift on base leg
  • Skidding turns in an effort to increase gliding distance
  • Failure to lower landing gear in retractable gear airplanes
  • Attempting to “stretch” the glide during an undershoot
  • Premature flap extension/landing gear extension
  • Use of throttle to increase the glide instead of merely clearing the engine
  • Forcing the airplane onto the runway in order to avoid overshooting the designated landing spot