Misconceptions About Landing

Wednesday, I wrote about a pilot flying a light twin who made a hot approach and floated down the runway.  I think there are many pilots who carry misconceptions about flying into the cockpit with them when they learn how to fly.  Unfortunately, it has an impact on the way they fly—and not for the better.

For instance, take a look at that fast approach.  Sometimes pilots think airplanes are fast.  If it is an airplane, it must be fast.  It has to do everything fast.  Everything about the airplane is fast.  Well, one thing an airplane should not do is land fast.

I don’t know how many times I have stood at the end of runways all over the United States and in some foreign countries and watched inexperienced pilots fly landing approaches—you guessed it—too fast.  For pilots who really are expert at flying, watching an inexperienced pilot try to land an airplane too fast is like listening to someone scraping and scratching their fingernails along an old-fashioned blackboard.  (Some of you “experienced” pilots can relate to the blackboard comment; those of you younger pilots raised with “whiteboards” have probably never even heard the term “fingernails scraping on a blackboard.”)

There is a number advertised in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) as the speed the pilot should use to land the airplane.  Use it.  I don’t know who is teaching pilots to come in too fast, but I have to tell you, flying the approach and landing too fast can have the same consequences of getting too slow.

Landing the airplane fast will not work with short field landings.  Excessive float negates the possibility of working into and out of a short field.  The soft field landing actually depends on the pilot being able to fly the airplane slow just above the ground.  Even with a crosswind landing, you must control the speed.

If you feel as though you need a little extra airspeed for gusty conditions, keep in mind the increase should be minimal.  If it is so gusty as to cause you doubts about flying the approach, is it possible that maybe you should not be out in those conditions? 

Here is the secret to landing.

As the pilot, you want to minimize the time it takes to transition from flying to rolling.  In the air, you have aerodynamic control of the aircraft through the flight controls.  After the airplane is on the ground, you have static control of the craft through the tires, wheels, and brakes.

It is in this “in-between” place that presents danger to the pilot.  It is here, when the airplane is not quite flying, but almost flying and not under control of the tires and brakes, that the airplane is susceptible to runway excursions and groundloops.  These are the fender-bender type of aviation accidents that probably won’t hurt you physically, but they really do a number to your pride. 

It also affects your record, whether you are a professional pilot or Sunday afternoon puncher. 

Fly, fly safe, fly for fun.


© 2011 J. Clark

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1 Response to Misconceptions About Landing

  1. midlifepilot says:

    On my checkride just before my GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Test) I brought my Warrior in for a flapless landing a full 10 KIAS above the recommended approach speed (75 KIAS when flapless). I truly felt as though I was fighting my poor aircraft all the way down to the ground – it was like I had a tiger by the tail.

    Ironically, I completely greased the landing, which probably saved me from a complete bollocking from my instructor. He tore strips off me, but was a bit more restrained than he otherwise might have been.

    I think I’d unconsciously been afraid of reducing my airspeed too much given higher stalling speed with no flaps. Had I done the right thing at the top of descent – throttle back to 1500 rpm or so and then control airspeed with judicious mix of attitude and throttle – I would have been OK.

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