Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mysteries Of Landing

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

Accordingly, I asked the tower for runway 12. That would give me a strong right crosswind, and I hoped to touch down right-gear first, and slew the airplane left to lock the right gear in place, knowing full well that was a trick best left to Bob Hoover.

To my utter amazement, it worked—sort of. I got an instant green on touchdown, and allowed the airplane to roll out straight ahead, fire truck chasing behind. I took a right intersection at about two knots, and the right gear partially collapsed. Fortunately, I was taxiing so slowly that the gear only folded 10-20 degrees. The airplane didn't settle onto its right wingtip or take out the prop, and there was essentially no damage.

Blinding Sun
Photographer James Lawrence and I had been assigned to do a story on the Glasair Sportsman 2+2, a great little, homebuilt design that had recently been introduced on the company's "Two Weeks to Taxi" program. Our photo location was Stehekin State Airport in northern Washington, certainly one of America's most beautiful backwoods, grass strips. It's snuggled in a deep valley in the Cascade Range about 70 miles east of Glasair's headquarters in Arlington and 50 miles from the Canadian border. I had been handed the keys to a Sportsman, and told to meet Lawrence and a company pilot in another Sportsman at Stehekin.
In almost 50 years of flying, I've made all the mistakes. You'd think I had deliberately planned to screw up every possible approach and landing.
After a 45-minute air-to-air session over the magnificent Cascades, the photo ship broke off to land, and I explored the high terrain around the site while they set up for some landing shots.

I lined up for an approach a half-hour later to discover that glare from the sun was making it impossible to see the 2,600-foot-long airstrip in the tall pines that were surrounding Stehekin. I could keep the runway in sight on downwind and most of base, but every time I turned final, the grass strip disappeared behind the 80-foot-tall trees.

The result was a series of go-arounds while Lawrence and the Glasair company pilot wondered what I was doing. After embarrassing myself with a half-dozen aborted approaches, I finally decided to try something new. I extended the base leg to align well past final, so I could angle in on the strip and drop the airplane over the trees without having to look directly into the sun. The touchdown and landing were anticlimactic, but I'll certainly never forget that final approach to Stehekin State Airport.


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