Plane & Pilot
Thursday, April 1, 2004

10 Fast Fixes For Lousy Landings


Pilots put their passion and their pride on the line with every landing. Here’s some advice from the pros.


10-fixesPeople place too much emphasis on landings. Non-pilots often base their entire evaluation of a pilot’s ability on nothing more than the smoothness of the touchdown at the conclusion of the flight. Never mind that the pilot in command may have made a clumsy takeoff, forgotten to retract the flaps during climb, leveled at the wrong altitude, left the cowl flaps open at cruise, descended without richening the mixture or almost landed at the wrong airport—a smooth return to Earth usually forgives all sins.
" />
10-fixesPeople place too much emphasis on landings. Non-pilots often base their entire evaluation of a pilot’s ability on nothing more than the smoothness of the touchdown at the conclusion of the flight. Never mind that the pilot in command may have made a clumsy takeoff, forgotten to retract the flaps during climb, leveled at the wrong altitude, left the cowl flaps open at cruise, descended without richening the mixture or almost landed at the wrong airport—a smooth return to Earth usually forgives all sins.

People place too much emphasis on landings. Non-pilots often base their entire evaluation of a pilot’s ability on nothing more than the smoothness of the touchdown at the conclusion of the flight. Never mind that the pilot in command may have made a clumsy takeoff, forgotten to retract the flaps during climb, leveled at the wrong altitude, left the cowl flaps open at cruise, descended without richening the mixture or almost landed at the wrong airport—a smooth return to Earth usually forgives all sins.

While it’s true a landing is among the more precise flying skills, it may be an artificial method of judging a pilot’s ability. Still, there’s no question the landing always gets the most attention, not only from other aviators on the ground and passengers in the airplane, but from the pilot himself. We all get into a slump now and then, and even if we’re not slamming it on and collapsing the gear, there are ways to improve our landings. Therefore, we offer our inevitable 10 tips to avoid lousy landings.

1. Get some tailwheel time. Jeepers, you’re probably thinking, this guy must really be old. No, I wasn’t raised in taildraggers, didn’t even fly one until I had 200 hours. But I did learn more about landings in my first few hours in a Piper Cub (yes, a real Cub) than I had in the previous 200 hours in Colts, Cherokees and Tri-Champs. Tailwheel training helps teach you to land tailwheel first. If the tailwheel is relocated under the nose, I can practically guarantee that a tailwheel checkout will make it next to impossible to land a nosewheel airplane flat or on the front gear. Okay, I appreciate that you can’t always find a tailwheel airplane to rent, but if you can, try it. You’ll like it. I wound up buying one, a Globe Swift, as my first airplane, and it taught me a lot.

2. Configure and stabilize early. We’ve probably all flown with pilots blessed with that magical ability to fly downwind at pretty much whatever speed they wish, throw the wheels and flaps to the wind whenever it pleases them and still be exactly on speed crossing the threshold. Unfortunately, those are a precious few gifted individuals. For the rest of us, a stabilized approach is essential to a good landing. Bob Crystal, director of training at Simulator & Instrument Training Center in Van Nuys, Calif., and a 10,000-hour CFI, feels holding appropriate speeds for downwind, base and final is critical. “In a Skyhawk, that might mean 80 knots on downwind, 75 knots on base and 70 knots on final. You could even fly the entire approach at 70 knots if there was no need to expedite for other traffic. Just be certain the airplane is stabilized and trimmed for hands-off flight on every leg,” says Crystal.

3. Learn the “feel” of the proper airspeed. A very old, very experienced and probably very tired instructor used to insist that his students practice gliding around the sky configured for landing at exactly approach airspeed for hours. The idea was to instill visual clues for the proper airspeed. No, that didn’t mean he expected his students to make landings without reference to the airspeed indicator, but a familiarity with the airplane’s feel at the proper speed and configuration makes it far easier for a student to keep his eyes outside the cockpit.

4. Turn final at least a half-mile out. The FAA’s guideline for final is 3,000 feet, and there’s a reason for that. Navy pilots chasing a carrier steaming into the wind at 35 knots may fly curving approaches with virtually no established final, but we lesser aviators need more time to track the centerline. A typical general-aviation single approaching a runway at 80 to 90 knots from 3,000 feet out will have about 25 seconds to prepare for the landing. That should be plenty of time to stabilize, configure and recognize the proper landing sight picture. A VASI can help identify the ideal glide path (usually three degrees). If traffic is heavy and ATC does extend the downwind four or five miles from the airport, don’t blindly begin descent when you turn final. Maintain your altitude until the VASI suggests it’s time to descend.




0 Comments

Add Comment