Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Last 50 ft.


Making it all come together


the last 50 ftWhen you’re on short final and descending through 50 feet, it really doesn’t make much difference how good you are at centering airways, whether you can spout FARs or if you scored 100% on the written: The only thing that counts is how well you actually fly. Everything else is superfluous because every single thing you know about actually flying the airplane is compressed into a 10-second time span and an ever-decreasing sliver of altitude. This is literally where the rubber meets the road and where every one of your moves has measurable consequences.
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the last 50 ft
On the other hand, you don’t want to start the nose coming up too early on final or you’ll arrive in ground effect with a solid deceleration already in progress. If this happens, you’ll set yourself up for an ugly surprise because when you pull the nose up to flair in ground effect, the speed, which was already in the process of going away, will fall right off the clock. This almost always results in the kind of touchdown we hope no one sees. The same thing holds true for the three or four dribbling touchdowns that result from the first one.

None of this is brain surgery. It’s just a matter of careful attention to detail and pressuring the controls rather than asking for incremental movements. You’re trying to be graceful, and changing the pressures at this critical time will make that happen.

WHAT YOU DO YOU WANT TO DO CAN BE SUMMED UP IN A FEW EASY STEPS:

 

1) ON SHORT FINAL, "BREAK" THE GLIDE.
At about 50 feet, bring the nose up just enough to start the airplane decelerating. This is a very small attitude change.

2) IF THERE'S A CROSSWIND, START CORRECTING FOR IT ON FINAL.
Regardless of the system you use (sideslip, crab and kick, etc.), you should start correcting for the crosswind immediately, generally with a crab. Closing on the runway, however, many pilots will begin a variation of the sideslip method: wing down into the wind and opposite rudder to keep the nose on the centerline. Often, this is done as the glide is broken.

3) GRADUALLY PULL THE AIRPLANE LEVEL AT ABOUT 10 FEET.
At that point, ground effect will be working for you, and the airplane will float. What you’re aiming for is approximately four seconds of float. Much more than that indicates that you were fast. Much less, and you were slow: the deceleration caught up with you.

4) VISUALLY FIXATE ON (BOTH) SIDES OF THE RUNWAY SEVERAL HUNDRED FEET IN FRONT OF THE AIRPLANE.
This creates a visual triangle that increases both your depth perception and your awareness of any drift or tendency to turn.

5) BE AWARE OF THE NOSE ATTITUDE YOU WANT TO ATTAIN.
Contact the runway slightly nose high, but you don’t want that attitude until you’re within several feet of the runway. Be patient.

6) KEEP THE TAIL BEHIND THE NOSE.
You want the centerline of the airplane parallel and, hopefully, right on top of the centerline of the runway. You’ll do that with rudders at the last second. If repositioning the airplane left and right, be sure to coordinate because adverse yaw is stronger at higher angles of attack.

7) KILL DRIFT WITH AILERON ONLY.
Don’t automatically think of cross-controlling in a crosswind. Use ailerons to stop the drift. If the aileron required isn’t enough to cause the nose to move, then you won’t need rudder. If the aileron does cause the nose to move, then you just use your feet to keep the nose straight ahead and you’ll be properly cross-controlled. Simple as that.

8) ON TOUCHDOWN, FIXATE ON THE NOSE AND DON'T LET IT FALL.
If you fixate on the forward edge of the cowling and the sides of the runway, then as you touch down, you’ll see the cowling try to fall. Don’t let it; hold it up with just a little backpressure. At the same time, too much backpressure may cause the airplane to lift off again. All you want to do is balance the airplane on the mains. But, as the airplane slows down, don’t let the nose fall on its own accord. While the tail still has plenty of air in it, gently lower the nose to the runway.

[In the next issue, Budd will address the first 500 feet and how to prepare for a potential emergency.]





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