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4 Things You Should Know About Runway Illusions, And How To Solve Them

Have you ever flown into an exceptionally wide/narrow runway or one that has a noticeable slope? Here's what you should know about illusions you could encounter on your next flight...

1) Narrow Runways

A narrower-than-usual runway can create an illusion that the aircraft is higher than it actually is, leading to a lower approach.

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2) Wide Runways

A wider-than-usual runway can create an illusion that the aircraft is lower than it actually is, leading to a higher approach.

3) Downsloping Runway

A downsloping runway can create the illusion that the aircraft is lower than it actually is, leading to a higher approach.

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4) Upsloping Runway

An upsloping runway can create the illusion that the aircraft is higher than it actually is, leading to a lower approach.

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So... What can you do to avoid these illusions?

Review Runway Specifications During Your Approach Briefing

Use airport diagrams or your chart supplement (formerly the Airport/Facility Directory) to research runway slope and width information.

Use Glidepath References

Use Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASI) or Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) systems for a visual reference, or an electronic glideslope, whenever they are available.

Reference Your Altimeter

As you approach the runway, use your altimeter as a secondary reference to judge height above the ground (compare altimeter to field elevation). If you're flying in an airplane with a radio altimeter, use the height-above-ground value as a reference.

Where have you encountered these illusions? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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