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Slow-Speed Flight – Airplane Size

in Aerodynamic Factors

Small Airplanes

Most small airplanes maintain a speed well in excess of 1.3 times VSO on an instrument approach. An airplane with a stall speed of 50 knots (VSO) has a normal approach speed of 65 knots. However, this same airplane may maintain 90 knots (1.8 VSO) while on the final segment of an instrument approach. The landing gear will most likely be extended at the beginning of the descent to the minimum descent altitude, or upon intercepting the glide slope of the instrument landing system. The pilot may also select an intermediate flap setting for this phase of the approach. The airplane at this speed has good positive speed stability, as represented by point A on Figure 2-10. Flying in this regime permits the pilot to make slight pitch changes without changing power settings, and accept minor speed changes knowing that when the pitch is returned to the initial setting, the speed returns to the original setting. This reduces the pilot’s workload.


Figure 2-10. Region of Speed Stability.

Figure 2-10. Region of Speed Stability.

Aircraft are usually slowed to a normal landing speed when on the final approach just prior to landing. When slowed to 65 knots, (1.3 VSO), the airplane will be close to point C.  [Figure 2-10] At this point, precise control of the pitch and power becomes more crucial for maintaining the correct speed.  Pitch and power coordination is necessary because the speed stability is relatively neutral since the speed tends to remain at the new value and not return to the original setting. In addition to the need for more precise airspeed control, the pilot normally changes the aircraft’s configuration by extending landing flaps. This configuration change means the pilot must be alert to unwanted pitch changes at a low altitude.

If allowed to slow several knots, the airplane could enter the region of reversed command. At this point, the airplane could develop an unsafe sink rate and continue to lose speed unless the pilot takes a prompt corrective action. Proper pitch and power coordination is critical in this region due to speed instability and the tendency of increased divergence from the desired speed.

Large Airplanes

Pilots of larger airplanes with higher stall speeds may find the speed they maintain on the instrument approach is near 1.3 VSO, putting them near point C [Figure 2-10] the entire time the airplane is on the final approach segment. In this case, precise speed control is necessary throughout the approach. It may be necessary to temporarily select excessive, or deficient thrust in relation to the target thrust setting in order to quickly correct for airspeed deviations.

For example, a pilot is on an instrument approach at 1.3 VSO, a speed near L/DMAX, and knows that a certain power setting maintains that speed. The airplane slows several knots below the desired speed because of a slight reduction in the power setting. The pilot increases the power slightly, and the airplane begins to accelerate, but at a slow rate. Because the airplane is still in the “flat part” of the drag curve, this slight increase in power will not cause a rapid return to the desired speed. The pilot may need to increase the power higher than normally needed to maintain the new speed, allow the airplane to accelerate, then reduce the power to the setting that maintains the desired speed.

 

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