Cleared to Land, Maintain Best Forward Airspeed

When operating into controlled airports, tower will occasionally ask you to maintain “best forward airpseed” with your landing clearance. This is especially common for pilots of slower piston-engine airplanes. As common as this request is, it is not required (and rarely covered) by the flight training curriculum.

When a controller asks you to maintain “best forward airspeed,” they are requesting that you maintain the highest speed possible for a given phase of flight. It is usually issued to slow (category A and B) aircraft along with the landing clearance.

ATC will ask for best speed on final in an attempt to expedite arrivals and maintain spacing. As a pilot, this means that there is something coming in behind you. Quickly. These fast-movers tend to come in two varieties: turboprops have a final approach speed between 100 to 120 knots, and jets, with an approach speed of 130 to 160 knots.

Keep in mind that “best forward airspeed” is not a mandate, but a request. If in the judgement of the PIC, a faster than normal approach will compromise safety, it is the pilot’s responsibility to notify ATC that he/she is unable to comply. Bear in mind that you may be vectored and resequenced behind the faster aircraft. At no time should a pilot feel obligated to compromise safety in order to “help out” air traffic controllers. It’s your butt on the line! That being said, maintaining best forward airspeed on final is a perfectly safe maneuver provided the pilot plans accordingly.

My Best Forward Airspeed Approach Technique:

  1. Delay the use of flaps / gear
  2. Maintain a high power setting
  3. One mile final:
    1. Gear: Down (if applicable)
    2. Slow to maximum flap extension speed (top of the white arc)
  4. Crossing the airport boundary:
    1. Throttle: Idle
    2. Flaps: Full

Due to excess airspeed, the airplane will have a tendency to float. Level off above the runway and fly the airplane until it is ready to land. Know that the approach and landing technique will vary from airplane to airplane. Consult an instructor for specific information regarding your airplane.

After landing, quickly clear the active runway by turning off at the next available taxiway. If there is some distance to be covered, it may be prudent to delay braking until just prior to reaching a runway turnoff. See my article on planning your after-landing taxi route.

A Word On Safety

Best forward airspeed on final approach is a bit of a contradiction. The pilot is being asked to speed up at the one time when it is critical to slow down. This is perfectly safe, so long as you always respect your personal minimums and aircraft limitations.

I strongly suggest that you practice a few best forward airspeed approaches at your local airport to elevate your comfort level with a faster than normal approach. This is also helpful in understanding the drag charactersitics of your airplane. It may be prudent to take a CFI along to learn any airplane-specific tricks.

Related Links

Forum discussion on best forward speed.
Blog entry about planning your after-landing taxi route.

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

2 Replies to Cleared to Land, Maintain Best Forward Airspeed

  1. PlasticPilot says:

    Great post ! I flew a low with a Piper Saratoga (PA32) into Geneva (LSGG), mixed with jet and airline traffic. Under good conditions (not too turbulent) I used to fly 160 kts to 4 or 3 miles final. As the runway there is plenty long, this is not a problem. One must however be really careful with one thing: at 160 kts on a 3° glideslope, the rate of descent is close to 1’500 per minute and can lead to air-pressure balance problems. I once got a blocke-ear on such an approach and was not smart enough to interrupt it. It developed a fully-infected otitis, and I steel feel some sequel even three years after that.

  2. Ouch, be careful. Earblock is a serious pain! Once I was doing some sightseeing with a friend while I had a slight head-cold. The pressure in my ear built up on final and it was everything I could do to land. It was just about the worst headache in my life!

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