Airplane Short-field Takeoff and Landing

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The short-field takeoff and landing is used for one of two purposes:
1. To get you into or out of fields that are actually physically short.
2. To take off or land in fields that have some type of obstruction that reduces their effective useful length.
In either case, the short-field technique should be used to take off or land safely.

Short-field takeoff
The very first consideration for anyone contemplating a short-field takeoff is to find the distance it will take for your aircraft to accelerate, lift off, and clear any obstacles. The first place for you to look would be in your aircraft’s flight manual in the performance section. Here you will find a chart disclosing takeoff distance information allowing for such conditions as type of runway surface, temperature, and wind. The figures will show you the required distance both to lift off and to clear a
50-foot-high obstacle for a given set of conditions. And remember, the distance in the flight manual is determined under controlled circumstances. In other words, these distances are not an absolute guarantee of the distance it might take you to get airborne and over the obstacle.

Assuming you are taking off from a short field or a field with an obstruction, you should strive to learn to fly your aircraft by airspeed and attitude control rather than letting your instincts take over. If you are caught trying to clear an obstruction or take off before the aircraft is ready to fly, the results can be less than desirable. If you try to force your aircraft into the air before it is ready to fly, it might drop back onto the runway and actually lengthen the time needed to clear the obstruction.

When learning the short-field takeoff procedures, use every available inch of runway as you line up to practice short-field takeoffs. Any runway left behind you might as well be in another country. It will be of no use to you.

Utilize the manufacturer’s recommended flap setting if the aircraft is so equipped. Line up, using the entire runway, and smoothly, but firmly, add full power. Don’t hold the brakes. Get going! Studies have shown that, unless you are in a turbine-powered aircraft, holding the brakes while running the engine up to maximum RPM before brake release does nothing to enhance the short-field takeoff distance.

Smoothly apply full power and let the aircraft accelerate until you arrive at the best angle-of-climb airspeed (Vx ). Keep the aircraft directly parallel to the centerline and let it seek its own pitch attitude. That is, don’t force the nose down while you are accelerating because it will likely give you a negative angle of attack and increase the distance it takes you to arrive at Vx. When you arrive at Vx, rotate and maintain that attitude until you have safely cleared any obstruction. After clearing the obstruction, the angle of attack should be reduced and the aircraft allowed to resume its normal climb speed (Vy ). The flaps should be left alone until you have safely cleared any obstacle, accelerated to Vy and then they should be brought up very slowly.

Short-field landing
Short-field landings should be practiced assuming a 50-foot obstacle exists on the approach end of the runway. The approach to a short-field landing should be made with power as needed and at a speed no slower than 1.3 Vso (1.3 times the poweroff stall speed with your gear and flaps down). A competent pilot should be able to execute the approach as if it were “descending slow flight.” The key to final approach is one of obtaining a clear mental and visual picture of a straight line from your position on final, over the obstruction to the point of intended touchdown. Once you have set up this mental picture, attain the desired airspeed and control the descent using coordinated power, flaps, and proper pitch attitude. If it works out right, your power should be slowly reduced until it reaches idle in the landing flare.

While on final approach, if you see that you are going to be low, use additional power to reestablish your glide path. If you find yourself a bit high, merely reduce your power a little in order to attain a higher rate of descent until you arrive back at your proper approach angle and proceed normally. If you are way off either way, too low or too high, you would probably be wise to go around and try it again.

The touchdown should come at minimum controllable airspeed, with power at idle, and with little or no float. Your flaps should be retracted as soon as possible after touchdown to place all of the weight on the wheels and aid in braking. 

Aside from improper pitch and power control, there are two very common and potentially dangerous errors in the execution of the short-field approach and landing. One is the tendency to lower the nose after clearing the obstruction, which results in an increase in airspeed and causes the aircraft to float, using more runway than you would have used if the attitude had been held constant all the way to the flare. As you might imagine, this could lead to an overshoot that could be as deadly as landing short.

The second error is reducing the power to idle as you cross over the obstruction. This procedure can be very dangerous because if you are approaching at a very low airspeed, the sudden loss of thrust can lead to an immediate stall. Keep your attitude constant down to the flare, and use your power as you need it. Do not reduce your power to idle until you are in the landing flare and are very close to the runway.

Strong or gusty winds can cause the short-field approach to become a little treacherous. It is wise to carry a little more power and airspeed in these conditions. A strong wind will slow the ground speed of your aircraft so a little more airspeed will bring about the desired results with an added amount of safety. Gusty winds are even more troublesome. Again, the power and airspeed should be a little higher than normal. On the approach, if the wind you are riding suddenly dies, the aircraft is likely to sink rapidly and leave you little or no time to recover. More than one pilot has been the victim of this bit of treachery. Remember, there is a huge difference between a shortfield landing and landing short of the field.

If you have trouble with normal short-field approaches, return to approaches at 1.3 Vso and gradually work down to slower speeds. Don’t try to force proficiency from yourself before you are ready to handle it. Short-field techniques require a high degree of reflex and feel for the aircraft. These are things that cannot be taught by the best instructor. They must be acquired by trial, practice, and time.

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