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Landing

My name is Rob Chipman and I’m a realtor and pilot based in Vancouver, BC. I AM NOT A FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR AND I AM NOT OFFERING FLIGHT INSTRUCTION! I am sharing my study notes and other things I’ve learned while getting my education as a pilot. You’re welcome to make use of this information, but do not treat it as expert advice.

I really enjoy flying, real estate and the Chilcotin.  My company is Coronet Realty Ltd., located at 3582 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, V5K 2A7. I have a C-150L that I own with two other pilots, based out of Pitt Meadows. Do not hesitate to contact me by email if I can help you do anything, especially if its likely to be interesting or concerns selling remote property in British Columbia.

Landing the Plane

There’s a joke that the flying school charges you $1000 to learn to take off and $10,000 to learn how to land. The punch line is that it’s true.

Landing is pretty important, and it is harder than taking off, but its not the final goal and its not the most important thing that there is. However, getting the plane & pilot on the ground is, like many other parts of flying, critical (yes, you heard me, not the most important thing, just critical!)

Landing has several parts, depending on where you start counting, but for me a regular landing has 16 steps:1) establish the downwind cruise (or equivalent) atittude, 2) do the pre-landing checks, 3) make the call, 4) set power for “slowdown to go down”, 5) set flaps, attitude and trim, 6) make the turn, 7) attain approach speed and descent rate, 8)turn and get on glide path, 9) line up, 10) maintain glide path, 11 ) monitor power, 12) round out, 13) flare, 14) “don’t let it land”, 15) keep pressure off the nose gear, 16) flaps up.

Now some of these steps run together. You might set the power from cruise to 1500 rpm while you’re applying flaps and setting the attitude. You’ll probably pin your approach speed and descent rate at the same time, more or less.

Some aren’t always done. You might not have to turn because you might have a straight in approach, for example, or you may not need to establish yourself in the downwind leg cruise configuration because you’ve already been cruising from another airport instead of doing circuits. Still, you need a clear understanding of the steps and a routine that you follow, at least in the beginning.

Additionally, some of these steps won’t apply for float plane flying. A float plane pilot flying float planes has some additional challenges. One of the first differences flying float planes is what you land on, and what it looks like. We know a wet runway can be decieving but water is even more decieving, especially if its really calm, because its hard to judge exactly where the surface is. Float plane training addresses that (as well as the take off) so we don’t have to talk about it much here.

If you go to bush pilot school you might learn float plane flying, or you might just learn STOL wheel landings, whether short field or soft field or both, but you’ll learn a lot more about them than you will in the private pilot license program. I’m just talking about how I learned to execute regular landings, which is really only the beginning.

So, step 1 is get established in the cruise (on the downwind in cicuits, or otherwise just on the cruise). The plane should be trimmed out, in a stable attitude, and pretty much flying itself.

Step 2 is to do the pre-landing checks: primer in and locked, masters on, mags both, circuits/fuse ok, carb heat hot, mixture set (full rich where I am at sea level), fuel on, harness and doors secure, and test the brakes.

With that done step 3 kicks in with the call to the tower . Calls are almost always in the form of who you are, where you are, and what you want. “Tower this Gulf Alpha Bravo Charlie on the downwind for a touch and go on 36 ” Tower will advise what order you’re in, and what traffic to look out for – “Alpha Bravo Charlie you’re # 2 after the Fleet Canuck on 1/2 mile final” to which you answer “Alpha Bravo Charlie with the traffic” if you see the other pane, or “Alpha Bravo Charlie looking for the traffic”if you don’t see the other plane.
If you’re not number 1 you can’t turn base until you know its safe or until Tower tells you you can (Tower telling you to turn base doesn’t relieve you of any responsibility for separation. Keep looking for the traffic). If you’re number 2 or 3 you need to see the other traffic and let them be past you before you turn base.

Assuming its time to turn base I slow down by setting the power to a specific setting (it changes with conditions, but I decide that I’m going to 1700, 1500, 1400, etc, before I start pulling the throttle back, and when I get to my pre-determined setting I stop. As soon as the power drops I may pull back a little on the yoke (just to maintain the pitch) while I start applying flaps. Reducing power makes the nose drop, but pulling flaps makes it rise, so you have to come back then forward with the yoke. I try to only do what’s needed to keep the plane smooth.

Once flaps are down you’ll be pushing the yoke, so trim the plane. A lot of time this happens while I’m making the turn, but it’s worth trimming even while you’re executing the turn. You control the yoke with your left fingers and drop the flaps with your right hand and then trim. Its like double clutching (more so, since you’re also keeping lively feet on the rudders to keep the ball in place during the turn).

This gets us to step 7. I like to pin it on 70 mph and with a rate of descent of about 500 feet per minute descent rate if the downwind has been consistent (longer downwind means we have more distance to cover before coming down, so we need to adjust accordingly).

All things being equal, more or less calm winds, 70 mph and 400-500 ft/mn gets me on a great approach, and a great approach means a way easier landing. Step 7 could be said to get us on the glide path, but I think of it as a separate step that happens once we turn base. Sometimes I’m high or low at that point so I have to adjust to get on the proper glide path. If I’m low I give it power. If I’m high I drop the power. Once I get back on the glide path I adjust as required to stay there. So, step 8 is getting established on the glide path.

Step 9 can happen while you’re setting up the glide path on final. You can line up the cowel rivets at the front and back of the cowling with where you want to go, or just get accustomed to the way the runway looks when you’re flying straight at it. Do what works for lining up, and then try to keep on that line there.

Cross winds can require some inputs, and chopping power can cause yaw to the right, so you have to look with your eyes and respond with your feet and hands for opposite rudder and aeleron inputs. This will become easy with practice, and one way to practice is to do it on calm days when you don’t have to. If the approach is going smoothly you can slip a little back and forth to build your skill.

If power, descent rate, glide path and line up are good, just maintain it. Time may drag because nothing is happening, but that’s good. The main thing is to pay attention and stay on the right approach.

That’s step 10, and its a step all on its own because sometimes crosswinds, gusts or up and downdrafts require your attention.

Step 11 is to monitor power. You control speed with pitch, but you control the rate of descent with power. You have to get comfortable with adjusting the power up or down based on how the glide path and runway looks to you over the nose.

12 is the round out. Until now we’ve been flying down to the runway with a slightly nose down attitude. When we get about 15 feet off the ground we need to level off smoothly and start flying level, in a slightly nose up attitude.

This should happen smoothly, and transition into 13, where we reduce power to idle and pull back on the yoke to raise the nose. Taking off all power lets the plane yaw right slightly, so we need to keep it straight, but all adjustments should be smooth and minor.

Step 14 finds you almost on the ground, trying to bleed off energy. You can’t force the plane to land (well, you can, but its a hard bump) but you can easily get it back flying, especially if you’ve still got energy.

If you yank back too hard you’ll start going back up in the air, then run out of energy and plop yourself down hard. The key is to “not let the plane land”, and keep the nose up with ascending. That way you stay maybe 5 feet off the ground until the energy bleeds off and the plane settles naturally to the runway. If you do it right you’ll feel the wheels touch down once only (or, in a crosswind, one side, then the other, but still, softly).

Step 15 is to keep the nose off the ground. Let it settle on its own, and keep the pressure off it. This increases braking power and makes the nose gear last longer.

Step 16 is to slow down and exit.

That’s it. It seems very hard, at first, to execute everything properly, but practice (with an instructor) will build the skills and the whole process will seem to slow down the more you do it, and you’ll feel like you have lots of time to do what you need to do, and you’ll start noticing much more of the airplane’s behaviour while landing. Once that happens you won’t be far from soloing!


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