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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).

Grade Level: High School (9-12)
Curriculum Topic 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
Subject Keywords: Airplane, Trigonometry, Tangents, Triangles, Right Angles

Author(s): Charles R. Moren
PUMAS ID: 10_13_99_1
Date Received: 1999-10-13
Date Revised: 1999-12-19
Date Accepted: 1999-12-23

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