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Tip of the Month

When we learn to fly we tend to operate somewhere at or below 3,000’ for reasons various. As a consequence we are generally at a good altitude to spot the airfield and start our gentle descent into the circuit. 

When we qualify we may decide to fly something with more performance, but they bring with them a new set of challenges, retractable undercarriages, constant speed units, turbochargers, speed limitations, all requiring new skills. 

One such skill is being able to work out when to descend. Think of it, we’re at 6,000’, if we wait until we see the airfield we just
end up too high to get down in the distance available.  We need a simple solution, and we have one – think 3 times the height plus a bit.

We’re at 6,000’, the circuit height is 1,000’ (account for the airfield elevation) so we need to lose 5,000’ just multiply 5 x 3 and we get 15. So start your descent at a MINIMUM of 15 miles out.  I tend to use a multiple of 4 which makes life easier with a tail wind, so that would be 5 x 4 = 20 miles.  A gradual descent with power keeps the engine(s) warm, allows time for checks, radio calls and the beauty is we don’t need the field in sight before commencing our descent. We can use it when we step down our descent from higher altitudes too.  

This factor can be used for faster aeroplanes, they may cover more ground in the same time but use a higher rate of descent, so the maths still works.  

This month’s Tip comes from Mike Beeston who has been a professional pilot and flight instructor for the last 30 years. He currently flies the Cessna F406 Twin Caravan for Airtask Group in fisheries protection and weapons range clearance and is also a Flight Examiner.


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