A stabilized approach is one in which the pilot establishes and maintains a constant angle glidepath toward a predetermined point on the landing runway. It is based on the pilot's judgment and perception of certain visual cues and depends on the maintenance of a constant final descent airspeed and configuration. An airplane descending on final approach at a constant rate and airspeed will be traveling in a straight line toward a spot on the ground ahead. This will not be the spot on which the airplane will touch down because some float will inevitably occur during the roundout. Neither will it be the spot toward which the airplane's nose is pointed, because the airplane is flying at a fairly high angle of attack and the component of lift exerted parallel to the earth's surface by the wings tends to carry the airpla ne forward horizontally. The point toward which the airplane is progressing is termed the "aiming point." It is the point on the ground at which, if the airplane maintains a constant glidepath and was not flared for landing, it would strike the ground. To a pilot moving straight ahead toward an object, it appears to be stationary. This is how the aiming point can be distinguished: it does not move. However, objects in front of and beyond the aiming point do appear to move as the distance is closed, and they appear to move in opposite directions. During instruction in landings, one of the most important skills a student pilot must acquire is how to use visual cues to accurately determine the true aiming point from any distance out on final approach. From this, the pilot will not only be able to determine if the glidepath will result in an undershoot or overshoot, but, taking into account float during roundout, the pilot will be able to predict the touchdown point to within a very few feet. For a constant angle glidepath, the distance between the horizon and the aiming point will remain constant. If a final approach descent has been established but the distance between the perceived aiming point and the horizon appears to increase (aiming point moving down away from the horizon), then the true aiming point, and subsequent touchdown point, is farther down the runway. If the distance between the perceived aiming point and the horizon decreases (aiming point moving up toward the horizon), that means the true aiming point is closer than perceived. When the airplane is established on final approach, the shape of the runway image also presents clues as to what must be done to maintain a stabilized approach to a safe landing. A runway, obviously, is normally shaped in the form of an elongated rectangle. When viewed from the air during the approach, the phenomenon known as perspective causes the runway to assume the shape of a trapezoid, with the far end looking narrower than the approach end and the edge lines converging ahead. If the airplane continues to fly down the glidepath at a constant angle, the image the pilot sees will still be trapezoidal but of proportionately larger dimensions. In other words, during a stabilized approach the runway shape does not change. If the approach becomes shallower however, the runway will appear toshorten and become wider. Conversely, if the approach is steepened, the runway will appear to become longer and narrower. The objective of a stabilized approach is to select an appropriate touchdown point on the runway and adjust the glidepath so that the true aiming point and the desired touchdown point basically coincide. Immediately after rolling out on final approach, the pilot should adjust the pitch attitude and power so that the airplane is descending directly toward the aiming point at the appropriate airspeed. The airplane should be in the landing configuration, and trimmed for "hands off" flight. With the approach set up in this manner, the pilot will be free to devote full attention toward outside references. The pilot should not stare at any one place, but rather scan from one point to another, such as from the aiming point to the horizon, to the trees and bushes along the runway, to an area well short of the runway, and back to the aiming point. In this way, the pilot will be more apt to perceive a deviation from the desired glidepath and whether or not the airplane is proceeding directly toward the aiming point. If the pilot perceives any indication that the aiming point on the runway is not where desired, an adjustment must be made to the glidepath. This in turn will move the aiming point. For instance, if the pilot perceives that the aiming point is short of the desired touchdown point and will result in an undershoot, an increase in pitch attitude and engine power is warranted. As a constant airspeed must be maintained, the pitch and power change must be made smoothly and simultaneously. This will result in a shallowing of the glide path with the resultant aiming point moving toward the desired touchdown point. Conversely, if the pilot perceives that the aiming point is farther down the runway than the desired touchdown point and will result in an overshoot, the glidepath should be steepened by a simultaneous decrease in pitch attitude and power. Once again, the airspeed must be held constant. It is essential that deviations from the desired glidepath be detected early so that only slight and infrequent adjustments to glidepath are required. The closer the airplane gets to the runway, the larger (and possibly more frequent) the required corrections become, resulting in an unstabilized approach. Common errors in the performance of normal approaches and landings are:
Inadequate wind drift correction on the base leg.
Overshooting or undershooting the turn onto final approach resulting in too steep or too shallow a turn onto final.
Flat or skidding turns from base leg to final approach as a result of overshooting/inadequate wind drift correction.
Poor coordination during turn from base to final approach.
Failure to complete the landing checklist in a timely manner.
Failure to adequately compensate for flap extension.
Poor trim technique on final approach.
Attempting to maintain altitude or reach the runway using elevator alone.
Focusing too close to the airplane resulting in a too high roundout.
Focusing too far from the airplane resulting in a too low roundout.
Touching down prior to attaining proper landing attitude.
Failure to hold sufficient back-elevator pressure after touchdown.
Excessive braking after touchdown.
The stabilized approach technique described for flying jet airplanes reflects not only the concepts already discussed, but goes further to assign specific performance targets and tolerances that must be maintained during final approach. The numbers can and should be changed for your aircraft and your operation, but establishing targets and tolerances on final approach will help your student identify an unstable approach, and that will help them effectively identify when a go-around needs to be accomplished.
Ignacio A. Peralta