Making the Power Off 180 Work!
So a lot of applicants get very worried about the power off 180 thinking they only have one chance to get it right. Well, that’s not entirely true, and with a little practice on top of it, you’ll find that this is one of the easier maneuvers to perform during your commercial checkride.
Single Biggest Key to nailing this maneuver on the day of your checkride…
Practice! You need to practice this maneuver at least 5 times in the airplane you will be flying the day of your checkride, and preferably more like 15 times (and on different days with different wind and weather). After flying for 250 hours you probably know how to glide an airplane back to the airport, but knowing the exact quirks of the plane is tough if you only have 5 or 10 hours of flight time in it, rather than 15-25 hours.
Starting the Maneuver
You will start this on the downwind on a “close” but not super tight pattern. You should be just far enough paralleling the runway on downwind that you will be able to fly a steady 20-30 degree bank 180 degree turn without leveling your wings at all on your base leg (this usually means being about 1/2 mile offset from the runway on downwind). You can use a crossing runway or airport perimeter markings to help gauge where you should be on downwind (think if there’s a crossing perpendicular runway to the one you are landing on and it’s 5,000′ long, you should probably space yourself on downwind to fly right over the approach end of that crossing runway or just outside it).
Remember: The faster your groundspeed, the wider radius you will need to make that 180 degree turn (you will have a slower rate of turn at 30 degrees of bank with a higher speed). There’s a big difference between flying an Arrow or a Cub on this maneuver.
When the engine “fails”
The Examiner will probably reach over to the throttle right about the time you are abeam your “touchdown point” or aiming point. They typically will choose the aiming points on the runway (often incorrectly referred to as the thousand foot markers), as those two white blocks are 150′ long, and you need to get the airplane onto your touchdown point +200′ / -0′ per the ACS.
At this point you will pitch for best glide, and depending on the airplane you are flying, start an immediate turn toward the runway (if you have any sort of headwind component for the landing runway, that will “make” a little room for you to fly a straight final for a few moments, even if you start your 180 turn immediately after the power is cut abeam your aiming point). If you are in a Piper Arrow, you best start turning quick, if you are in a Cessna 172 RG, you might be able to stay on downwind for 10 seconds or so before starting the turn. This is where being a pilot and judging your sink rate and glide ratio all comes into play. Consider delaying dropping the gear until you know you have the runway made, as landing gear on single engine airplanes can cause quite a bit of drag. We’ll talk about a few tips in a minute to figure out if you are high or low on the approach.
In the turn
Keep your speed at or slightly above best glide. Remember that with any sort of headwind component once you are established in the second half of that “base to final” turn, you will need to fly slightly faster than the “published” best glide speed to actually get your best glide. (if that concept doesn’t make perfect sense, check out the commercial pilot forums for an explanation on flying the “real” best glide)
Do not deploy flaps or gear until you are sure you have the altitude to do so. If you feel you are so low already that you will not be able to deploy flaps or gear 30 seconds prior to touchdown (to give the gear time to cycle fully and lock down), then add power and go around! The examiner needs to see at least one go around during your commercial pilot checkride, and they would rather see you do that than to try and save a botched power off 180 degree approach.
Keep it coming down!
Whatever you do, keep the airplane coming down keeping your speed where it needs to be, DO NOT try and “stretch the glide”. If you try to raise your nose in hopes of gliding farther, you will most likely get slow, sink more, and either have to go around or fail the maneuver. Keep your speed! Even if that means getting too low too soon and having to go around rather than land. Use your aiming points as we talk about in the video above. That is going to be your biggest key to success here to help determine when you can drop flaps and gear, and what sort of “distance” you have left in the airplane based on your altitude and speed.
Tools to get low
- Fly Slower (but not dangerously slow)
- Forward Slip like your life depends on it! (literally it may one day)
Tools to “stretch it”
- Keep your speed at or above best glide
- Delay dropping flaps or gear
- Give up the altitude to keep your speed up and get the plane down over the runway
- While it is frowned upon, some CFIs may teach you to lower flaps while in ground effect to “carry the airplane” further down the runway
- Getting into ground effect sooner will lower the drag on the airplane and help you float to your aiming point (although the ACS specifically would prefer you make a smooth descent down to the runway right to your aiming point “with minimum float”)
- Dropping Gear or Flaps too soon
- Flying too wide of a pattern
- Not accounting for different atmospheric conditions (density altitude, wind aloft and at the ground)
- Flying to slow (trying to0 “stretch it”)
- Banking too steep (30 degrees or less is good, keep it safe and don’t induce more drag!)
- Starting the maneuver too slow or low, don’t be lower than pattern altitude or slow on downwind (save all the energy you can!)
- Not relaxing and having fun (this is actually a fun maneuver that you can play a game with your CFI on. Ask them to demonstrate one for you, then see if you can do better. Loser buys the beers!)
- Complete the appropriate checklist.
- Make radio calls as appropriate.
- Position airplane on downwind leg, parallel to landing runway.
- Plan and follow a flightpath to the selected landing area considering altitude, wind, terrain, and obstructions.
- Correctly configure the airplane.
- As necessary, correlate crosswind with direction of forward slip and transition to side slip for landing.
- Touch down within -0/+200 feet from the specified touchdown point with no side drift, minimum float, and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with and over the runway centerline.