Slow Flight


  • Develops the ability to recognize changes in aircraft flight characteristics and control effectiveness at critically slow airspeeds in various configurations during takeoff and landing phases of flight
  • Minimum Controllable Airspeed (MCA):
    • MCA is dependent on gross weight, load factors, and existing density altitude
  • Speed Instability:
    • Flying slower than minimum drag speed (LD/max), more power will be required, due to total drag curve and slight disturbances will decrease airspeed
Instrument Flying Handbook. Figure 2-12, Vortex Generators
Figure 1: Instrument Flying Handbook, Vortex Generators

All procedures here are GENERALIZED for learning.
Fly the maneuver in accordance with the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Slow Flight:

  • Anytime an aircraft is flying near the stalling speed or the region of reversed command, such as in final approach for a normal landing, the initial part of a go around, or maneuvering in slow flight, it is operating in what is called slow-speed flight
  • If the aircraft weighs 4,000 pounds, the lift produced by the aircraft must be 4,000 pounds
  • When lift is less than 4,000 pounds, the aircraft is no longer able to sustain level flight, and consequently descends
  • During intentional descents, this is an important factor and is used in the total control of the aircraft
  • However, because lift is required during low speed flight and is characterized by high angles of attack, flaps or other high lift devices are needed to either change the camber of the airfoil, or delay the boundary level separation
  • Plain and split flaps are most commonly used to change the camber of an airfoil
  • It should be noted that with the application of flaps, the aircraft will stall at a lower angle of attack
  • The basic wing stalls at 18° without flaps but with the application of the flaps extended (to CL-MAX position) the new angle of attack at which point the aircraft will stall is 15°
  • However, the value of lift (flaps extended to the CL-MAX position) produces more lift than lift at 18° on the basic wing
  • Delaying the boundary layer separation is another way to increase CL-MAX
  • Several methods are employed (such as suction and use of a blowing boundary layer control), but the most common device used on general aviation light aircraft is the vortex generator
  • Small strips of metal placed along the wing (usually in front of the control surfaces) create turbulence
  • The turbulence in turn mixes high energy air from outside the boundary layer with boundary layer air
  • The effect is similar to other boundary layer devices [Figure 2-12]

Small Airplanes

  • Most small airplanes maintain a speed well in excess of 1.3 times VSO on an instrument approach
  • An airplane with a stall speed of 50 knots (VSO) has a normal approach speed of 65 knots
  • However, this same airplane may maintain 90 knots (1.8 VSO) while on the final segment of an instrument approach
  • The landing gear will most likely be extended at the beginning of the descent to the minimum descent altitude, or upon intercepting the glide slope of the instrument landing system
  • The pilot may also select an intermediate flap setting for this phase of the approach
  • The airplane at this speed has good positive speed stability, as represented by point A on Figure 2-10
  • Flying in this regime permits the pilot to make slight pitch changes without changing power settings, and accept minor speed changes knowing that when the pitch is returned to the initial setting, the speed returns to the original setting
  • This reduces the pilot's workload
  • Aircraft are usually slowed to a normal landing speed when on the final approach just prior to landing
  • When slowed to 65 knots, (1.3 VSO), the airplane will be close to point C
  • [Figure 2-10] At this point, precise control of the pitch and power becomes more crucial for maintaining the correct speed
  • Pitch and power coordination is necessary because the speed stability is relatively neutral since the speed tends to remain at the new value and not return to the original setting
  • In addition to the need for more precise airspeed control, the pilot normally changes the aircraft's configuration by extending landing flaps
  • This configuration change means the pilot must be alert to unwanted pitch changes at a low altitude
  • If allowed to slow several knots, the airplane could enter the region of reversed command
  • At this point, the airplane could develop an unsafe sink rate and continue to lose speed unless the pilot takes a prompt corrective action
  • Proper pitch and power coordination is critical in this region due to speed instability and the tendency of increased divergence from the desired speed

Large Airplanes

  • Pilots of larger airplanes with higher stall speeds may find the speed they maintain on the instrument approach is near 1.3 VSO, putting them near point C [Figure 2-10] the entire time the airplane is on the final approach segment
  • In this case, precise speed control is necessary throughout the approach
  • It may be necessary to temporarily select excessive, or deficient thrust in relation to the target thrust setting in order to quickly correct for airspeed deviations
  • For example, a pilot is on an instrument approach at 1.3 VSO, a speed near L/DMAX, and knows that a certain power setting maintains that speed
  • The airplane slows several knots below the desired speed because of a slight reduction in the power setting
  • The pilot increases the power slightly, and the airplane begins to accelerate, but at a slow rate
  • Because the airplane is still in the "flat part" of the drag curve, this slight increase in power will not cause a rapid return to the desired speed
  • The pilot may need to increase the power higher than normally needed to maintain the new speed, allow the airplane to accelerate, then reduce the power to the setting that maintains the desired speed

C-172S Procedure:

  1. Perform clearing turns
  2. Reduce power to 1500 RPM, and adjust pitch to maintain altitude
    • Trim as necessary
    • Because the controls will be less effective, more trim will be required to relieve back pressure
  3. Maintain heading
  4. Lower the flaps in accordance with airspeeds
    • 110 KIAS = Flaps to 10°
    • 85 KIAS = Flaps to 30°
  5. When approximately 5 knots above target speed (MCA), increase power to maintain altitude
    • 1700 RPM dirty
    • 1900 RPM clean
    • You want to hear the stall warning horn at all times
    • Remember speed instability
  6. Turn, climb, and descend as directed
    • Remember to be smooth with the controls as airfoils are less effective at slower speeds
  7. To recover smoothly and continuously, increase power to full, adjust pitch to maintain airspeed and constantly maintaining heading
  8. Raise the flaps
    • Retract the flaps to 20°
    • 60 KIAS = Flaps to 10°
    • 65 KIAS = Flaps to 0°
    • Too abrupt of flap retraction will result in a huge loss of lift and possibly stall
  9. As cruise airspeed is attained, set cruise power, 2350 RPM
  10. Re-trim as necessary
  11. Complete cruise checklist

Common Errors:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area
  • Inadequate back-elevator pressure as power is reduced, resulting in altitude loss
  • Excessive back-elevator pressure as power is reduced, resulting in a climb, followed by a rapid reduction in airspeed and "mushing"
  • Inadequate compensation for adverse yaw during turns
  • Fixation on the airspeed indicator
  • Failure to anticipate changes in lift as flaps are extended or retracted
  • Inadequate power management
  • Inability to adequately divide attention between airplane control and orientation

Practical Test Standards: