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You're Low On Final Approach. How Should You Correct?


You roll out on final, and you see 4 red lights on the PAPI. Your first time around the pattern, you were right on glide path. But this time, you're way off. Why?

A lot of it has to do with your environment. The wind is changing. Other traffic changes your pattern. And if you didn't start your base leg turn at the same point as the first time around the pattern, you're turning final approach at a different distance from the runway.

That means this landing is a little different than the one before, and you need to make some corrections to get yourself back on glide path.

Making Corrections On Final Approach

So, how do you correct your glide path when you're low? You're managing two variables: airspeed, and descent rate.

What controls airspeed, and what controls descent rate?

On final, you use pitch to control your airspeed, and you use power to control your descent rate.

However, these two control inputs aren't completely disconnected. In practice, pitch and power are always tied together in some form. And while it's easier to get the hang of flying when you tie one control to one action, it's important to realize that you rarely move anything, pitch or power, in isolation.

It also means that to fly a consistent, stable final approach, you need to use consistent power settings, and you need to trim for your final approach speed so you're not holding back pressure or forward pressure on the yoke/stick on final.

Now that we've covered that, let's get into the two scenarios that got you low in the first place, and how you should correct for them.

Scenario 1: You're On Speed, But Low On Final

If you're flying at the right final approach speed, but you're low, you need to add power (remember, power controls descent rate on final). As you add power, your nose will pitch up slightly, because you're trimmed for your final approach speed, and trim holds airspeed.

By adding power, you slow your descent rate, allowing you to recapture the glide path.

So how much power should you add? That depends on your aircraft, and how far off you are from glide path. But in most cases, adding a few hundred RPM is all it takes. If you over-correct and add too much power, you'll shoot through glide path, and find yourself high on final.


Scenario 2: You're Low And Fast On Final

If you're low and fast on final, you're probably adding some forward pressure to the yoke, and you're overpowering your trim.

In this case, you don't want to change your power right away. Instead, relax pressure on the yoke, let trim pull your nose up, and see if you start recapturing the glide path.

After a few seconds, if you're still low and not regaining the glide path, add some power to get yourself back to 2 white and 2 red on the PAPI.


Once You're Back On Glide Path, You Need To Correct Again

Correcting your glide path when you're low is pretty easy. If you're low and on speed, add power. And if you're low and fast, relax pressure on the yoke and let your plane pitch up.

Once you've recaptured the glide path, though, you need to correct again. If you added power, you'll need to reduce it back to your normal power setting. Otherwise, you'll fly through the glide path, and you'll be high.

You may need to make some adjustments to your trim as well. Once you're re-established on glide path, re-trim so you're not holding forward or back pressure to stay on speed.


Final Approach: A Combination Of Pitch And Power

Nobody rolls out perfectly on final every time. Knowing how to correct when you're off glide path is the key.

Flying final approach is really a combination of pitch and power to adjust and maintain your glide path. It's rare to make one single adjustment without making at least slight corrections to another. When you add power (if you're low), you're most likely going to add some nose-up pitch to correct back to glide path.

Practicing in your plane, and finding what works well for you, is a big part of flying consistently great traffic patterns.

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