Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mysteries Of Landing

No, this isn’t the 11,398th story on how to land an airplane

A blinding sun posed difficulties to Bill Cox on a grass-strip landing in Washington State.
That didn't take long. Runway 1 was significantly uphill. I touched down as slow and short as I dared, and rolled to a stop before I had covered half the runway. The next day, the Iceland Air mechanics corrected the problem, but discovered the RIGHT set of brakes were working perfectly. Only the pilot's side had failed. Had I used my brain and simply slid over to the right seat, I could have landed normally.

Unusual Approach
Patterns aren't always rectangular. Going into Funchal, Madeira Islands, off the coast of Morocco in the eastern Atlantic 25 years ago, I was flying a new Cessna Crusader twin, and discovered that you sometimes need to land out of a semi-tight turn, and going uphill. Navy pilots used to do that as a matter of course coming aboard carriers with a rolling, pitching deck, but for the rest of us, anything other than a nice, mile-long final approach is considered abnormal.

Funchal's uphill runway is at the apex of a small, semi-circular bay, and the threshold is at beach level, while the opposite end is supported on pylons quite a bit higher. In other words, you fly an arc all the way to touchdown, then initiate an exaggerated flare to avoid touching down on the nosewheel.

I had checked the weather for the Madeira Islands before departure from St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada, but I hadn't even looked at the approach plate for Funchal, so the unusual approach was a total surprise. Not smart.

Black Ice
I was flying my Bellanca Cruisemaster from California to Florida one year for the Christmas holidays, and decided to RON in Amarillo, Texas. West Texas is famous for its winds, especially in winter, and that year, I was being pushed along by welcome, 40-knot tailwinds. Trouble was, the breeze wasn't so welcome on the ground. It was a gusting crosswind at Amarillo, and it was close to my personal limits, if not the airplane's.

The weather was good, but I was coming into darkness as I turned final and touched down more or less under control. Unfortunately, the runway was partially covered with black ice.

Shortly after touchdown, my trusty taildragger initiated a slow, 180-degree turn, totally out of my control. The airplane then tracked straight down the center of the 300-foot-wide runway—tail first. When I finally came to a stop facing downwind, the controller asked, with just a trace of a smirk in his voice, "Bellanca 85N, do you require any assistance?"


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