Knowing Where to Land

One thing about landing an airplane is knowing where to land. Of course, all pilots will land on an airport, but the question becomes one of where on the airport. Or maybe where on the runway.

It makes little sense to land on a runway a mile and a half from your destination on the surface of the airport. If you have the opportunity to land near the FBO or facility on the field, it makes sense to do so to save taxi time.

In order to accomplish this safely, a pilot must know the performance of his or her aircraft, and more importantly, they need to be capable of executing the landing within those parameters.

Additionally, a pilot must be able to measure the distance on the runway in order to know where to land.


This is where knowing airport runway and marking becomes important. On a hard surface runway, the centerline stripes are 120 feet long. The space between the stripes is 80 feet. Therefore, the distance from the beginning of one stripe do the next is 200 feet.

For most light, single-engine airplanes such as Cessnas and Pipers, landing ground roll at mean sea level on a dry, hard surface runway is typically 600 to 800 feet. From the cockpit on downwind, a pilot can easily convert this information unto usable knowledge simply by looking down at the runway and counting stripes.

More importantly, a pilot can see where he is going on the airport surface and count the stripes back from the taxiway nearest to the ramp.

My Cessna 170 uses about 600 feet for landing. I always know where to go on the airport and when I land, it is always three stripes short of that turn off. I have enough space and time to allow the 170 to touch down and naturally decelerate without having to use the brakes.

Using this technique accomplishes a couple of important objectives in aircraft operations. First, it saves wear and tear on the brake system, wheels, and tires. Secondly, it minimizes engine operation on the ground, which can lead to fouled spark plugs and engine overheating. 

By the way, this technique is more appropriate for more experienced pilots. For one, the pilot must possess the skill to land the airplane exactly on a predetermined touchdown point. The pilot must also be absolutely confident of the skills required to control the plane through the landing rollout all the way to the point of stopping.

Now, a word of common sense: don’t plan a landing on the last few feet of a runway. This technique should only be used at large airports on runways at least 6000 feet long. In other words, if the nearest taxiway to your destination is at the end of the runway, use the next one up from the end. You should always have at least 1000 feet of runway remaining after getting the airplane under control.

If you run off the end of a runway on a landing, you are going to look pretty silly and it might be difficult to explain to the alphabet agencies – the FAA and NTSB.

Keep in mind you are always responsible and remain the pilot-in-command.


©2011 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Knowing Where to Land

  1. Harrison says:

    I can tell that all your learning didn’t come from a book. A little common sense and simple planning goes a long way. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

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