Glides (Part One)

A glide is a basic maneuver in which the airplane loses altitude in a controlled descent with little or no engine power; forward motion is maintained by gravity pulling the airplane along an inclined path and the descent rate is controlled by the pilot balancing the forces of gravity and lift. To level off from a partial power descent using a 1,000 feet per minute descent rate, use 10 percent (100 feet) as the lead point to begin raising the nose to stop descent and increasing power to maintain airspeed.


Although glides are directly related to the practice of poweroff accuracy landings, they have a specific operational purpose in normal landing approaches, and forced landings after engine failure. Therefore, it is necessary that they be performed more subconsciously than other maneuvers because most of the time during their execution, the pilot will be giving full attention to details other than the mechanics of performing the maneuver. Since glides are usually performed relatively close to the ground, accuracy of their execution and the formation of proper technique and habits are of special importance.

The glide ratio of an airplane is the distance the airplane travels in relation to the altitude it loses. For example, if an airplane travels 10,000 feet forward while descending 1,000 feet, its glide ratio is 10 to 1.

Figure 3-23. L/DMAX.

Figure 3-23. L/DMAX.

The best glide airspeed is used to maximize the distance flown. This airspeed is important when a pilot is attempting to fly during an engine failure. The best airspeed for gliding is one at which the airplane travels the greatest forward distance for a given loss of altitude in still air. This best glide airspeed occurs at the highest lift-to-drag ratio (L/D). [Figure 3-23] When gliding at airspeed above or below the best glide airspeed, drag increases. Any change in the gliding airspeed results in a proportional change in the distance flown. [Figure 3-24] As the glide airspeed is increased or decreased from the best glide airspeed, the glide ratio is lessened.

Figure 3-24. Best glide speed provides the greatest forward distance for a given loss of altitude.

Figure 3-24. Best glide speed provides the greatest forward distance for a given loss of altitude.

Variations in weight do not affect the glide angle provided the pilot uses the proper airspeed. Since it is the L/D ratio that determines the distance the airplane can glide, weight does not affect the distance flown; however, a heavier airplane must fly at a higher airspeed to obtain the same glide ratio. For example, if two airplanes having the same L/D ratio but different weights start a glide from the same altitude, the heavier airplane gliding at a higher airspeed arrives at the same touchdown point in a shorter time. Both airplanes cover the same distance, only the lighter airplane takes a longer time.

Since the highest glide ratio occurs at maximum L/D, certain considerations must be given for drag producing components of the airplane, such as flaps, landing gear, and cowl flaps. When drag increases, a corresponding decrease in pitch attitude is required to maintain airspeed. As the pitch is lowered, the glide path steepens and reduces the distance traveled. To maximize the distance traveled during a glide, all drag producing components must be eliminated if possible.

Wind affects the gliding distance. With a tailwind, the airplane glides farther because of the higher groundspeed. Conversely, with a headwind, the airplane does not glide as far because of the slower groundspeed. This is important for a pilot to understand and manage when dealing with enginerelated emergencies and any subsequent forced landing.


Certain considerations must be given to gliding flight. These considerations are caused by the absence of the propeller slipstream, compensation for p-factor in the airplane’s design, and the effectiveness of airplane control surfaces at slow speeds. With the absent propeller effects and the subsequent compensation for these effects, which is designed into many airplanes, it is likely that, during glides, slight left rudder pressure is required to maintain coordinated flight. In addition, the deflection of the flight controls to effect change is greater due to the relatively slow airflow over the control surfaces.

Minimum sink speed is used to maximize the time that the airplane remains in flight. It results in the airplane losing altitude at the lowest rate. Minimum sink speed occurs at an airspeed less than the best glide speed. It is important that pilots realize that flight at the minimum sink airspeed results in less distance traveled. Minimum sink speed is useful in flight situations where time in flight is more important than distance flown. An example is ditching an airplane at sea. Minimum sink speed is not an often published airspeed but generally is a few knots less than best glide speed.

In an emergency, such as an engine failure, attempting to apply elevator back pressure to stretch a glide back to the runway is likely to lead the airplane landing short and may even lead to loss of control if the airplane stalls. This leads to a cardinal rule of airplane flying that a student pilot must understand and appreciate: The pilot must never attempt to “stretch” a glide by applying back-elevator pressure and reducing the airspeed below the airplane’s recommended best glide speed. The purpose of pitch control during the glide is to maintain the maximum L/D, which may require fore or aft flight control pressure to maintain best glide airspeed.


To enter a glide, the pilot should close the throttle and, if equipped, advance the propeller lever forward. With back pressure on the elevator flight control, the pilot should maintain altitude until the airspeed decreases to the recommended best glide speed. In most airplanes, as power is reduced, propeller slipstream decreases over the horizontal stabilizer, which decreases the tail-down force, and the airplane’s nose tends to lower immediately. To keep pitch attitude constant after a power change, the pilot must counteract the pitch down with a simultaneous increase in elevator back pressure. If the pitch attitude is allowed to decrease during glide entry, excess airspeed is carried into the glide and retards the attainment of the correct glide angle and airspeed. Speed should be allowed to dissipate before the pitch attitude is decreased. This point is particularly important for fast airplanes as they do not readily lose their airspeed— any slight deviation of the airplane’s nose downwards results in an immediate increase in airspeed. Once the airspeed has dissipated to best glide speed, the pitch attitude should be set to maintain that airspeed. This should be done with reference to the natural horizon and with a quick reference to the flight instruments. When the airspeed has stabilized, the airplane should be trimmed to eliminate any flight control pressures held by the pilot. Precision is required in maintaining the best glide airspeed if the benefits are to be realized.

A stabilized, power-off descent at the best glide speed is often referred to as normal glide. The beginning pilot should memorize the airplane’s attitude and speed with reference to the natural horizon and noting the sounds made by the air passing over the airplane’s structure, forces on the flight controls, and the feel of the airplane. Initially, the beginner pilot may be unable to recognize slight variations in airspeed and angle of bank by vision or by the pressure required on the flight controls. The instructor should point out that an increase in sound levels denotes increasing speed, while a decrease in sound levels indicates decreasing speed. When a sound level change is perceived, a beginning pilot should cross-check the visual and pressure references. The beginning pilot must use all three airspeed references (sound, visual, and pressure) consciously until experience is gained, and then must remain alert to any variation in attitude, feel, or sound.

After a solid comprehension of the normal glide is attained, the beginning pilot should be instructed in the differences between normal and abnormal glides. Abnormal glides are those glides conducted at speeds other than the best glide speed. Glide airspeeds that are too slow or too fast may result in the airplane not being able to make the intended landing spot, flat approaches, hard touchdowns, floating, overruns, and possibly stalls and an accident.

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