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Pilots, Airplanes, and the Tangent of Three (3) Degrees

When approaching an airport, pilots must learn to maneuver their aircraft visually, so that a stabilized approach to the runway can be flown at a constant approach angle. Precise approach planning insures a smooth transition to a landing within the Touchdown Zone (1) of the runway. Pilots must sometimes execute visual approaches that are varied in size, shape, and angle based upon a variety of factors such as: other aircraft, obstructions, noise abatement, or prevailing weather conditions. The standard approach angle however, is 3°. This 3° angle is the standard approach angle integrated into Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) (2) and Visual Approach Slope Indicators (VASI) (3) installed at many airports. When flying a normal traffic pattern, the aircraft is maneuvered so that the final approach in intercepted at an altitude of 500 feet above the elevation of the airport (AFE) (4).


Charles R. Moren

Date Accepted: 1999-12-23 Grade Group: High School (9-12) Benchmarks: M1.4.5 M1.4.8 M2.4.1 M3.4.2 M3.4.3 M8.4.2 M8.4.3 M9.4.4 Keywords: airplane trigonometry triangles right angles Microsoft Word: 10_13_99_1.docx PDF Document: 10_13_99_1.pdf