Plane & Pilot
Saturday, October 1, 2005

The Touchdown Set-Up

Be prepared for any last-minute corrections when landing

One of the really great things about most light general aviation airplanes is that they generally are highly responsive to control and power inputs, and touchdown speeds are comparatively low, making it possible to turn a sloppy approach into a relatively benign landing through some last-minute maneuvering. Step up to bigger aircraft, especially something as big as a three-engine MD-10 jet, and you have very little room for last-minute fudging. The approach must be stabilized, which includes providing the proper control inputs at the right moments in order to ensure runway alignment while arresting the descent rate. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently completed its investigation of an accident involving a Federal Express MD-10-10F cargo jet, which made a hard landing while still holding a crab for wind correction.

Flight 647 was landing at Memphis International Airport (MEM) in Memphis, Tenn., at 12:26 p.m., on December 18, 2003. The captain, a company check airman, was conducting a line check of the first officer.

According to the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), at about 12:05:37, Memphis Air Route Traffic Control Center advised the pilots to contact Memphis Approach Control. The approach controller advised the pilots to expect to land on runway 36L and informed them that the ATIS information Zulu was current.

At about 12:13:18, the controller advised the pilots to contact MEM Approach Control on a different frequency. At about 12:14:33, MEM approach control cleared the pilots to descend and maintain 5,000 feet and turn 10 degrees to the right. Afterward, the controller advised the pilots that they should expect to land on runway 36R instead of 36L, as previously instructed.

At about 12:19:00, the captain stated that the localizer was “alive” and that they were 18 miles from touchdown. About 10 seconds later, the approach controller told the pilots to reduce the airspeed to 170 knots and cautioned them about possible wake turbulence from an Airbus that was ahead of them. The captain acknowledged the speed reduction and stated that he was looking for the Airbus. At about 12:19:24, the first officer stated, “Flaps 22 [degrees], please.”


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