Airplane Descent by Reference to Instruments

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Use the artificial horizon to initially pitch for the descent. If necessary, reduce the engine power setting to avoid gaining too much airspeed. Use the vertical speed indicator in conjunction with the airspeed indicator to establish a safe rate of descent. If you notice the airspeed is becoming too high, raise the nose of the plane and/or reduce power. Use approximately a 500-foot-per-minute descent rate and medium power settings to avoid excessive airspeeds.

Like the climb, a descent should be at a constant airspeed and rate of descent. Use a constant pitch attitude and power setting. Decide on the altitude to reach to before you start the descent, then begin raising the nose to a level attitude and increasing power as you approach the target altitude. If you are setting up for landing, it is a good idea to configure for landing before beginning the descent to reduce the workload on the way down. Continue to scan the airspeed indicator, artificial horizon, altimeter, and directional gyro during the descent. Again, it is common for pilots to focus on just one instrument during descents.

Instrument navigation
If you become immersed in instrument conditions, descending until you can see the ground and navigating via VFR procedures may not be an option. In severe weather cases, the clouds, rain, snow, or fog may completely obscure the surface and not allow you to descend. The same holds true for executing a 180-degree turn to get out of the weather, or climbing above it. In those instances ATC may direct you to navigate via instruments to an area of better visibility or to an airport. The controller will assign headings or “vectors” to better weather conditions. In some cases, the controller’s directions will be in the simple form of “turn right, turn left, or stop turn.” In any case, make small control inputs and do exactly as the controller directs.

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