Normal Approach and Landing (Part Three) – Use of Flaps and Estimating Height and Movement

Use of Flaps

The lift/drag factors are varied by the pilot to adjust the descent through the use of landing flaps. [Figures 8-3 and 8-4] Flap extension during landings provides several advantages by:

  • Producing greater lift and permitting lower landing speed,
  • Producing greater drag, permitting a steeper descent angle without airspeed increase, and
  • Reducing the length of the landing roll.

Figure 8-3. Effect of flaps on the landing point.

Figure 8-3. Effect of flaps on the landing point. [click image to enlarge]

Figure 8-4. Effect of flaps on the approach angle.

Figure 8-4. Effect of flaps on the approach angle. [click image to enlarge]

Flap extension has a definite effect on the airplane’s pitch behavior. The increased camber from flap deflection produces lift primarily on the rear portion of the wing. This produces a nose-down pitching moment; however, the change in tail loads from the downwash deflected by the flaps over the horizontal tail has a significant influence on the pitching moment. Consequently, pitch behavior depends on the design features of the particular airplane.


Flap deflection of up to 15° primarily produces lift with minimal drag. The airplane has a tendency to balloon up with initial flap deflection because of the lift increase. The nosedown pitching moment, however, tends to offset the balloon. Flap deflection beyond 15° produces a large increase in drag. Also, deflection beyond 15° produces a significant nose-up pitching moment in high-wing airplanes because the resulting downwash increases the airflow over the horizontal tail.

The time of flap extension and the degree of deflection are related. Large flap deflections at one single point in the landing pattern produce large lift changes that require significant pitch and power changes in order to maintain airspeed and descent angle. Consequently, there is an advantage to extending flaps in increments while in the landing pattern. Incremental deflection of flaps on downwind, base leg, and final approach allow smaller adjustments of pitch and power compared to extension of full flaps all at one time.

When the flaps are lowered, the airspeed decreases unless the power is increased or the pitch attitude lowered. On final approach, the pilot must estimate where the airplane lands through judgment of the descent angle. If it appears that the airplane is going to overshoot the desired landing spot, more flaps are used, if not fully extended, or the power reduced further and the pitch attitude lowered. This results in a steeper approach. If the desired landing spot is being undershot and a shallower approach is needed, both power and pitch attitude are increased to readjust the descent angle. Never retract the flaps to correct for undershooting since that suddenly decreases the lift and causes the airplane to sink rapidly.

The airplane must be re-trimmed on the final approach to compensate for the change in aerodynamic forces. With the reduced power and with a slower airspeed, the airflow produces less lift on the wings and less downward force on the horizontal stabilizer resulting in a significant nose-down tendency. The elevator must then be trimmed more nose-up.

The round out, touchdown, and landing roll are much easier to accomplish when they are preceded by a proper final approach consisting of precise control of airspeed, attitude, power, and drag resulting in a stabilized descent angle.


Estimating Height and Movement

During the approach, round out, and touchdown; vision is of prime importance. To provide a wide scope of vision and to foster good judgment of height and movement, the pilot’s head should assume a natural, straight-ahead position. Visual focus is not fixed on any one side or any one spot ahead of the airplane. Instead, it is changed slowly from a point just over the airplane’s nose to the desired touchdown zone and back again. This is done while maintaining a deliberate awareness of distance from either side of the runway using your peripheral field of vision.

Accurate estimation of distance is, besides being a matter of practice, dependent upon how clearly objects are seen. It requires that the vision be focused properly in order that the important objects stand out as clearly as possible.

Speed blurs objects at close range. For example, most everyone has noted this in an automobile moving at high speed. Nearby objects seem to merge together in a blur, while objects farther away stand out clearly. The driver subconsciously focuses the eyes sufficiently far ahead of the automobile to see objects distinctly.

The distance at which the pilot’s vision is focused should be proportionate to the speed at which the airplane is traveling over the ground. Thus, as speed is reduced during the round out, the distance ahead of the airplane at which it is possible to focus is brought closer accordingly.


If the pilot attempts to focus on a reference that is too close or looks directly down, the reference becomes blurred, [Figure 8-5] and the reaction is either too abrupt or too late. In this case, the pilot’s tendency is to over-control, round out high, and make full-stall, drop-in landings. If the pilot focuses too far ahead, accuracy in judging the closeness of the ground is lost and the consequent reaction is too slow since there does not appear to be a necessity for action. This results in the airplane flying into the ground nose first. The change of visual focus from a long distance to a short distance requires a definite time interval and, even though the time is brief, the airplane’s speed during this interval is such that the airplane travels an appreciable distance, both forward and downward toward the ground.

Figure 8-5. Focusing too close blurs vision.

Figure 8-5. Focusing too close blurs vision.

If the focus is changed gradually, being brought progressively closer as speed is reduced, the time interval and the pilot’s reaction are reduced and the whole landing process smoothed out.