The accident statistics prove it: The base-to-final turn continues to be one of the big killers in general aviation. Most often, troubles arise when a pilot realizes too late that he is overshooting the runway and so tightens the turn while simultaneously hauling back on the yoke. That’s a recipe for a rarely survivable stall-spin accident.
The key to avoiding putting the airplane in a dangerous position when you’re already low and slow is to heed a few simple tips. The first is to know what the wind is doing. If it’s blowing left to right across the runway, it means you’ll have a tailwind on a left base and will have to start your turn to final sooner.
Even if the wind is blowing from the opposite direction or there’s no wind at all, you should start the base-to-final turn early with a gentle bank. You can always increase the bank angle as needed, but the idea is to ease into the turn. I like to start every turn to final as though I’m going to land on the near edge of the runway. Once I’m certain I won’t overshoot, I adjust the turn to roll out right on the centerline. Remember, too, that in order to stall the airplane, you need to be loading up the wing. Forward pressure as you turn will help you remember to fight the tendency to pull into a risky situation.
Which leads us to a final point. When flying the approach, you should focus your attention not just on the runway, but rather on a specific touchdown point. On final, line up with the centerline by putting it exactly between your heels, as though you’re going to slide your feet onto the runway with one foot on either side of the centerline. In the flare, don’t fixate on the centerline. Instead, keep an eye on the edges of the runway a distance in front of the airplane, which gives a better height perspective than the centerline does.