Airmanship and the Base to Final Turn

This photo shows the pilot’s sight picture as the airplane is rolling out of a base to final turn. When the turn (the change of direction) is completed, the wings will be level; the aiming point factor of a pilot’s sight picture will be aligned with the runway. Many pilots have a problem with this maneuver.
This photo shows the pilot’s sight picture as the airplane is rolling out of a base to final turn. When the turn (the change of direction) is completed, the wings will be level; the aiming point factor of a pilot’s sight picture will be aligned with the runway. Many pilots have a problem with this maneuver.
An essential element of airmanship is using the airplane’s flight controls to direct an airplane through a plethora of maneuvers. Pilots frequently have difficulty with maneuvers because they have formed bad habits. When pilots fly with poor technique, they form bad habits and become very good at being bad. Forming bad habits can be a slow insidious process over time. The pilot is seldom aware of the habit. Pilots should be aware of the process and be alert to deteriorating performance of maneuvers. Forming and maintaining good habits is important to good stick and rudder skills, airmanship.

Good airmanship requires a pilot’s understanding of maneuver criteria and adherence to those criteria when preforming a maneuver. Too often pilots are quick to dismiss a minor variation from the criteria as just a lapse of focus, and of little consequence. Instead pilots should recognize a variation from criteria can be an indication of an underlying habit. The base to final turn can be a great example of just such a bad habit.

I have noticed that many pilots roll out of the base to final turn at an angle to the runway’s extended center, and/or they will continue the turn until the roll out to wings level is completed at too low an altitude. (I especially do not like a turning maneuver at low altitude on short final.) A properly executed base to final turn is illustrated in the photo.

Pilots know to roll out of the turn aligned with the centerline, yet they frequently do not do that. Why not? The explanation is very simple and a common bad habit that:
• at best will cause a pilot to under turn base to final
• and at worst, initiate a stall/spin loss of control.

An absolute and essential element of airmanship is where a pilot looks and what he sees. If a pilot is consistently completing a base to final turn misaligned with the runway and/or low on final approach, it is most likely the pilot is focused on the near end of the runway, the numbers. Instead, a pilot should focus on the extended runway centerline as the visual reference for the turn. The pilot’s aiming point and sight picture should come into alignment with the runway as he rolls out of the turn.

Reference to runway alignment is how the pilot should initiate a turn; however, as the airplane moves through the turn, a pilot’s reference needs to be straight ahead with focus on the sight picture. A pilot should not focus on the end of runway or any other ground reference.

Where the pilot is looking explains difficulty with the proper execution of the base to final turn. Visual focus is a common example of a bad habit that affects pilot performance. Where a pilot looks is critical to all maneuvers. Form good habits with sight picture discipline. You cannot fly an airplane without continuous attitude information. Do not focus on the near end of the runway during a base to final turn.

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