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Flying Handbook Menu > Basic Flight Maneuvers > Descent at Minimum Safe Airspeed > Glides

A glide is a basic maneuver in which the airplane loses altitude in a controlled descent with little or no engine power; forward motion is maintained by gravity pulling the airplane along an inclined path and the descent rate is controlled by the pilot balancing the forces of gravity and lift.

Although glides are directly related to the practice of power-off accuracy landings, they have a specific operational purpose in normal landing approaches, and forced landings after engine failure. Therefore, it is necessary that they be performed more subconsciously than other maneuvers because most of the time during their execution, the pilot will be giving full attention to details other than the mechanics of performing the maneuver. Since glides are usually performed relatively close to the ground, accuracy of their execution and the formation of proper technique and habits are of special importance.

Because the application of controls is somewhat different in glides than in power-on descents, gliding maneuvers require the perfection of a technique somewhat different from that required for ordinary power-on maneuvers. This control difference is caused primarily by two factors—the absence of theusual propeller slipstream, and the difference in the
relative effectiveness of the various control surfaces at slow speeds.

The glide ratio of an airplane is the distance the airplane will, with power off, travel forward in relation to the altitude it loses. For instance, if an airplane travels 10,000 feet forward while descending 1,000 feet, its glide ratio is said to be 10 to 1.

The glide ratio is affected by all four fundamental forces that act on an airplane (weight, lift, drag, and thrust). If all factors affecting the airplane are constant, the glide ratio will be constant. Although the effect of wind will not be covered in this section, it is a very prominent force acting on the gliding distance of the airplane in relationship to its movement over the ground. With a tailwind, the airplane will glide farther because of the higher groundspeed. Conversely, with a headwind the airplane will not glide as far because of the slower groundspeed.

Variations in weight do not affect the glide angle provided the pilot uses the correct airspeed. Since it is the lift over drag (L/D) ratio that determines the distance the airplane can glide, weight will not affect the distance. The glide ratio is based only on the relationship of the aerodynamic forces acting on the airplane. The only effect weight has is to vary the time the airplane will glide. The heavier the airplane the higher the airspeed must be to obtain the same glide ratio. For example, if two airplanes having the same L/D ratio, but different weights, start a glide from the same altitude, the heavier airplane gliding at a higher airspeed will arrive at the same touchdown point in a shorter time. Both airplanes will cover the same distance, only the lighter airplane will take a longer time.

Under various flight conditions, the drag factor may change through the operation of the landing gear and/or flaps. When the landing gear or the flaps are extended, drag increases and the airspeed will decrease unless the pitch attitude is lowered. As the pitch is lowered, the glidepath steepens and reduces the distance traveled. With the power off, a windmilling propeller also creates considerable drag, thereby retarding the airplane’s forward movement.

Although the propeller thrust of the airplane is normally dependent on the power output of the engine, the throttle is in the closed position during a glide so the thrust is constant. Since power is not used during a glide or power-off approach, the pitch attitude must be adjusted as necessary to maintain a constant airspeed.

The best speed for the glide is one at which the airplane will travel the greatest forward distance for a given loss of altitude in still air. This best glide speed corresponds to an angle of attack resulting in the least drag on the airplane and giving the best lift-to-drag ratio (L/DMAX). [figure3-17]

figure3-17. L/DMAX.

Any change in the gliding airspeed will result in a proportionate change in glide ratio. Any speed, other than the best glide speed, results in more drag. Therefore, as the glide airspeed is reduced or increased from the optimum or best glide speed, the glide ratio is also changed. When descending at a speed below the best glide speed, induced drag increases. When descending at a speed above best glide speed, parasite drag increases. In either case, the rate of descent will increase. [figure3-18]

figure3-18. Best glide speed provides the greatest forward distance for a given loss of altitude.

This leads to a cardinal rule of airplane flying that a student pilot must understand and appreciate: The pilot must never attempt to “stretch” a glide by applying back-elevator pressure and reducing the airspeed below the airplane’s recommended best glide speed. Attempts to stretch a glide will invariably result in an increase in the rate and angle of descent and may precipitate an inadvertent stall.

To enter a glide, the pilot should close the throttle and advance the propeller (if so equipped) to low pitch (high r.p.m.). A constant altitude should be held with back pressure on the elevator control until the airspeed decreases to the recommended glide speed. Due to a decrease in downwash over the horizontal stabilizer as power is reduced, the airplane’s nose will tend to immediately begin to lower of its own accord to an attitude lower than that at which it would stabilize. The pilot must be prepared for this. To keep pitch attitude constant after a power change, the pilot must counteract the immediate trim change. If the pitch attitude is allowed to decrease during glide entry, excess speed will be carried into the glide and retard the attainment of the correct glide angle and airspeed. Speed should be allowed to dissipate before the pitch attitude is decreased. This point is particularly important in so-called clean airplanes as they are very slow to lose their speed and any slight deviation of the nose downwards results in an immediate increase in airspeed. Once the airspeed has dissipated to normal or best glide speed, the pitch attitude should be allowed to decrease to maintain that speed. This should be done with reference to the horizon. When the speed has stabilized, the airplane should be retrimmed for “hands off” flight.

When the approximate gliding pitch attitude is established, the airspeed indicator should be checked. If the airspeed is higher than the recommended speed, the pitch attitude is too low, and if the airspeed is less than recommended, the pitch attitude is too high; therefore, the pitch attitude should be readjusted accordingly referencing the horizon. After the adjustment has been made, the airplane should be retrimmed so that it will maintain this attitude without the need to hold pressure on the elevator control. The principles of attitude flying require that the proper flight attitude be established using outside visual references first, then using the flight instruments as a secondary check. It is a good practice to always retrim the airplane after each pitch adjustment.

A stabilized power-off descent at the best glide speed is often referred to as a normal glide. The flight instructor should demonstrate a normal glide, and direct the student pilot to memorize the airplane’s angle and speed by visually checking the airplane’s attitude with reference to the horizon, and noting the pitch of the sound made by the air passing over the structure, the pressure on the controls, and the feel of the airplane. Due to lack of experience, the beginning student may be unable to recognize slight variations of speed and angle of bank immediately by vision or by the pressure required on the controls. Hearing will probably be the indicator that will be the most easily used at first. The instructor should, therefore, be certain that the student understands that an increase in the pitch of sound denotes increasing speed, while a decrease in pitch denotes less speed. When such an indication is received, the student should consciously apply the other two means of perception so as to establish the proper relationship. The student pilot must use all three elements consciously until they become habits, and must be alert when attention is diverted from the attitude of the airplane and be responsive to any warning given by a variation in the feel of the airplane or controls, or by a change in the pitch of the sound.

After a good comprehension of the normal glide is attained, the student pilot should be instructed in the differences in the results of normal and “abnormal” glides. Abnormal glides being those conducted at speeds other than the normal best glide speed. Pilots who do not acquire an understanding and appreciation of these differences will experience difficulties with accuracy landings, which are comparatively simple if the fundamentals of the glide are thoroughly understood.

Too fast a glide during the approach for landing invariably results in floating over the ground for varying distances, or even overshooting, while too slow a glide causes undershooting, flat approaches, and hard touchdowns. A pilot without the ability to recognize a normal glide will not be able to judge where the airplane will go, or can be made to go, in an emergency. Whereas, in a normal glide, the flightpath may be sighted to the spot on the ground on which the airplane will land. This cannot be done in any abnormal glide.

{Descent at Minimum
Safe Airspeed}
{Pitch and Power}
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