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3 Answers

How does a headwind steepen the approach angle for landing?

Asked by: 916 views Aerodynamics

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3 Answers

  1. Best Answer

    Russ Roslewski on Aug 22, 2016

    Let’s say you’re descending at 500 fpm at 90 knots airspeed in calm air. Since you are moving 1.5 miles per minute, for each mile you move forward, you are descending 500 / 1.5 = 333 feet.

    Now let’s say you have a 30 knot headwind. Same airspeed, so you are moving 60 knots across the ground. Each minute you are only moving 1 mile along the ground, so at the same 500 fpm descent, you will have descended 500 feet each mile.

    That’s a steeper descent.

    The reverse is true, of course, with a tailwind.

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  2. Drew on Aug 22, 2016

    Thank you, Russ.

    In a real life scenario, does that mean that the aircraft should purposely be left at a higher altitude for a steeper approach angle when there is a headwind? Because otherwise, it would sink prior to the landing point, without any change to the standard power setting and approach path? Alternatively, does that mean more power should be added to maintain a standard approach path if maintaining a standard altitude? I guess the first method would be useful for clearing obstacles, while the second method is more common?

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  3. Russ Roslewski on Aug 23, 2016

    Those would both be options for using on final with a headwind. It all depends on the scenario involved. Yes, coming over obstacles you can easily use the wind to your advantage by coming down steeper. Ever flown in a 1960’s Piper Cherokee (any model)? In a strong (but still reasonable) headwind like 20 knots, those things can come down what seems like almost vertically at idle power!

    But as you mention, to maintain a normal glidepath, you would carry more power. This is normal and a part of the usual adjustments you’d make on final (pitch for airspeed, power for altitude). With a headwind if you flew everything using calm-wind techniques, you’ll end up “landing” short of the runway. So you bump up the power a little to slow your rate of descent.

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