Airplane Normal Landing

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There’s an old axiom in aviation that says, “A good landing is usually preceded by a good approach.” This statement is still true today. A normal landing, the one you learn before going on to the other advanced types of landings, is like all other landings. It is merely the end result of a transitory period from the approach, through the flare, to ground contact. But before you can execute this transition to a landing, you have to arrive over the runway threshold at approximately the correct altitude and with proper alignment. Therefore, you first need to execute a good approach before you can attempt a good landing. And you can either land or you can arrive. Arrivals usually bring forth much laughter from your flying comrades and another gray hair for your instructor. Sometimes arrivals strain the landing gear, bend props, flatten tires, etc.

The normal landing begins long before the actual touchdown. It starts with your preplanning for your pattern, airspeed, traffic spacing, flap usage, and all the basic flight techniques you have previously learned. “A good landing is no accident,” says the FAA.

On the downwind leg, you should go through the prelanding checklist, set your aircraft up at the proper distance from the runway, check traffic, and note that you are at traffic pattern altitude. You should be exactly on your altitude, not close to it. About halfway down the runway on the downwind leg, pull on the carb heat so it has time to work. Remember that the heat from the exhaust warms the carburetor when you pull on the carb heat, and the air is not exactly hot enough to melt steel. Even a blowtorch takes some time to melt ice.

When you are directly abeam of the approach end of the runway, reduce your power to an approach setting and trim your aircraft to maintain the recommended approach speed. After you have set up your glide and the airspeed is definitely in the white arc (flap-operating range), lower the first 10 degrees and retrim the aircraft as necessary to maintain approach speed.

Now comes one of the most important decisions you have to make to keep your traffic pattern uniform: When do you turn onto base leg? A good rule of thumb is to turn base as soon as you arrive at a point where the end of the runway is at a 45-degree angle behind the wingtip nearest the runway. This procedure prevents you from getting into the bad habit of turning over a certain tree, house, bend in the road, etc. Remember that particular reference point won’t be available at another airport.

After you turn to base leg, another important judgment must be made: Are you too high, too low, or just right? This is called the key point in the approach. If you are just right, add another 10 degrees of flap, retrim as necessary, and continue on. And one other important thing —use your power, as you need it. That is why the throttle moves. Small power changes, introduced at the exact time they are needed, do much to smooth out the approach. Don’t be timid with the power.

Let’s break here for a moment and try to answer one of the most frequently asked questions concerning the traffic pattern. What do you do if you are too high or too low? The answer is about 50% common sense, 48% experience, and 2% instruction. Since there are so many possible combinations of errors, here are some general pointers.

If you are gliding in with constant power, constant airspeed, and flaps full down, and you are getting low, the first thing to do would be to add some power. Chances are this solution would take care of the problem. Fly the aircraft up to the point where you reintercept the glide path, reduce the power back to approach setting, and continue on to land. If a little power doesn’t work, try a lot. Use it as you need it. I find it much preferable to add a lot of power and land on the runway than to maintain a beautiful constant glide with the airspeed and attitude constant and land in the mud. It’s hard to taxi that way.

Most people don’t have too much trouble deciding what to do when they are too low. I guess it’s the ground coming up at them that shakes them into action. And if you find yourself too high, there are many things you can do to alleviate the situation. However, when some students are too high, it’s an entirely different matter. They just sit there. I guess they figure it will come down sometime. It will, probably in an orchard or subdivision. So you see, there is as much reason to act if your aircraft is about to overshoot as there is if you are too low. If you don’t put it on the runway, the results are usually the same—trouble.

If you are too high and have not yet put down all of your flaps, add some more flaps to increase your rate of descent. Or you can opt to remove some, or even all, of your power. Maybe you need to do both, add flaps and take off some power. Yet another option, used less and less these days, is a slip. A moderate forward slip will increase your sink rate a great deal and turn a possible overshoot into a workable approach. Of course, if you see you are still going to overshoot, nothing replaces the go-around, try-it-again method. In any case, don’t just sit there and wait to see what happens; take action.

Back on base leg, we left ourselves in the key position with 20 degrees of flap and normal approach speed. The next step is to start the turn to final early enough so you can make a shallow turn from base leg to final approach, keeping the runway in sight throughout the turn. The most common error in this area is a pilot who starts the turn too early and makes the turn so shallow that he or she actually angles toward the runway instead of squaring the corner to complete the rectangular pattern. This results in actually arriving at the runway threshold at an angle to the runway instead of being aligned with it. All this does is further complicate an already difficult situation for the student pilot.

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