Normal Approach and Landing (Part One) – Base Leg

A normal approach and landing involves the use of procedures for what is considered a normal situation; that is, when engine power is available, the wind is light, or the final approach is made directly into the wind, the final approach path has no obstacles and the landing surface is firm and of ample length to gradually bring the airplane to a stop. The selected landing point is normally beyond the runway’s approach threshold but within the first 1⁄3 portion of the runway.


The factors involved and the procedures described for the normal approach and landing also have applications to the other-than-normal approaches and landings and are discussed later in this chapter. This being the case, the principles of normal operations are explained first and must be understood before proceeding to the more complex operations. To help the pilot better understand the factors that influence judgment and procedures, the last part of the approach pattern and the actual landing is divided into five phases:

  1. the base leg
  2. the final approach
  3. the round out (flare)
  4. the touchdown
  5. the after-landing roll

It must be remembered that the manufacturer’s recommended procedures, including airplane configuration and airspeeds, and other information relevant to approaches and landings in a specific make and model airplane are contained in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved Airplane Flight Manual and/or Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH) for that airplane. If any of the information in this chapter differs from the airplane manufacturer’s recommendations as contained in the AFM/POH, the airplane manufacturer’s recommendations take precedence.

Base Leg

The placement of the base leg is one of the more important judgments made by the pilot in any landing approach. [Figure 8-1] The pilot must accurately judge the altitude and distance from which a gradual, stabilized descent results in landing at the desired spot. The distance depends on the altitude of the base leg, the effect of wind, and the amount of wing flaps used. When there is a strong wind on final approach or the flaps are used to produce a steep angle of descent, the base leg must be positioned closer to the approach end of the runway than would be required with a light wind or no flaps. Normally, the landing gear is extended and the before-landing check completed prior to reaching the base leg.

Figure 8-1. Base leg and final approach.

Figure 8-1. Base leg and final approach. [click image to enlarge]


After turning onto the base leg, start the descent with reduced power and airspeed of approximately 1.4 VSO, which is the stalling speed with power off, landing gear and flaps down. For example, if VSO is 60 knots, the speed should be 1.4 times 60 or 84 knots. Landing flaps may be partially lowered, if desired, at this time. Full flaps are not recommended until the final approach is established. A drift correction is established and maintained to follow a ground track perpendicular to the extension of the centerline of the runway on which the landing is to be made. Since the final approach and landing are normally made into the wind, there is somewhat of a crosswind during the base leg. This requires that the airplane be angled sufficiently into the wind to prevent drifting farther away from the intended landing spot.

The base leg is continued to the point where a medium to shallow-banked turn aligns the airplane’s path directly with the centerline of the landing runway. This descending turn is completed at a safe altitude and dependent upon the height of the terrain and any obstructions along the ground track. The turn to the final approach is sufficiently above the airport elevation to permit a final approach long enough to accurately estimate the resultant point of touchdown while maintaining the proper approach airspeed. This requires careful planning as to the starting point and the radius of the turn. Normally, it is recommended that the angle of bank not exceed a medium bank because the steeper the angle of bank, the higher the airspeed at which the airplane stalls. Since the base-to-final turn is made at a relatively low altitude, it is important that a stall not occur at this point. If an extremely steep bank is needed to prevent overshooting the proper final approach path, it is advisable to discontinue the approach, go around, and plan to start the turn earlier on the next approach rather than risk a hazardous situation.

Flight Literacy Recommends

William Kershner's Student Pilot's Flight Manual - A ground school textbook, maneuvers manual, and syllabus, all rolled into one. This manual includes detailed references to maneuvers and procedures, and is fully illustrated with the author’s own drawings. It's a must-have for all student pilots and flight instructors. This manual covers all you need to know for your first flight, presolo, the post-solo maneuvers, cross-country and night flying.