Flight training magazine and AOPA discussed runway markings recently because after your private, and maybe a few times in instrument training, it’s not really discussed in depth again. Sometimes if you didn’t get the best luck of the draw with your instructor it may not be discussed well at all.
Whatever the case is, let’s talk about runway markings!
I think this one is most often missed in training. The basic information taught about a displaced is “you can taxi and takeoff there but don’t land.” BUT WHY?!?!
The short unprofessional answer for this is because you’ll hit something. The better answer is it’s there to protect you. If you aim for it as a landing spot, your glide path will become too low and again…you’ll hit something. This could be power lines, trees, hills, etc. depending on the airport environment so it is designed specifically to avoid the dangers. Don’t aim to touchdown until the threshold to be safe.
As previously mentioned, the threshold now marks the beginning of available landing distance on the runway. Thresholds also have a coding system to tell you how wide the runway is. I think the coding system for the threshold is pretty neat. Here’s a picture as it’s described in the AIM of how the width is depicted:
When it comes to instrument flying, the threshold can also tell you what type of approach the runway has: visual, precision, or nonprecision. On a visual runway with no approaches, it will just start at the beginning of the paved area, but for approaches, you’ll see long, bold white stripes between the start of the runway and the edge of the numbers called your threshold markings.
Believe it or not, this is the official term used for runway numbers. They indicate the approximate magnetic orientation of that runway. Over time as the earth’s magnetic fields change, however, the number has to be changed. A runway might be 17 for 10 years and then have to be changed to say 18 (this blew my mind as a private student!).
Side note: make a good habit as early as you can of saying “runway verified” or “I see 17 (insert correct runway number)” whenever you enter a runway and see the designation markings. It’ll save you on that one leg in the middle of the night where you’re exhausted and accidentally enter the wrong runway. You never know!
500 feet down the first stripe of runways with a precision approach is what is known as the touchdown zone. This is the line where football players must reach to score a goal against their opponent.
Just checking to see if you’re still reading! These stripes are most useful in helping you know how much runway you’ve already eaten up in case you’re pushing landing distance factors.
You might recognize these as they’re most commonly called: the 1000 foot markers or captains bars! Similar to the purpose of the touchdown zone, these also help to show how much runway you’ve used. And if you’re a commercial student, these are much better to use to aim for on power off 180’s than the numbers!
These are the solid continuous white stripes that signify the edge of the runway to help provide a visual contrast from the terrain off the side of the pavement. Something similar to this is the yellow runway shoulder marking, cueing a non-taxi area.
Lastly demonstrated on the picture is centerline, perhaps one of the most important! One of its functions is keeping you on the center of the runway, protecting the wings from hazards off the side of the runway like windsocks, terrain, and worst of all aviation YouTubers.
The stripes also help mark the distance you’ve used. According to the AIM, each stripe is 120 feet long with 80 feet in between each of them. The stripes can be between one and three feet wide depending on the size of the runway.
Hopefully this was a good refresher for runway markings for you! Remember to work for centerline and don’t forget to flare!
Questions or comments? Let us know below!