Landing an aircraft is a mountain every pilot has to overcome.
Many people are surprised that this seemingly risk-filled maneuver comes so early in training. However in its basic form it is not overly complicated to pull off, and as they say “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing!”
But seriously, we can all usually get the aircraft back on the ground in a controlled manner from an early stage in our training. But doing it with finesse, and dealing with added pressure from the weather and runway constraints comes later – often MUCH later.
With this in mind, if you’re struggling with this, here are five simple steps to perfect landings.
Get speed and height right on final approach
The key to giving yourself a fair shot at a great landing is being ahead of the aeroplane and set up properly on final approach.
This means that you’re flying at the correct height, at the correct approach speed, with the correct sink rate, and set up with the correct elevator trim. The use of flaps can also be taken into account, but depending on the aircraft, conditions and runway, is not the same for every approach.
Having these factors all under control as far out as your final approach allows will mean that the aircraft flies towards your intended landing spot and gives you the best opportunity for a perfect landing where you don’t have to grapple to adjust your track, height or speed just before touchdown.
Look outside, not inside
If you’ve set the aircraft up correctly on final approach, your eyes should not need to be inside the cockpit apart from brief glances to monitor your speed and altitude.
In visual flying, your eyes should be outside the cockpit as much as possible anyway.
During the final approach to landing, you should be looking at your touchdown point and adjusting your track as necessary the whole way down the approach – especially if there is any form of crosswind to deal with.
You should also be in the habit of looking out for other aircraft and obstructions.
Look at the end of the runway
This is something that never seemed natural to me, and I think it’s the same for a lot of new pilots. Your eyes naturally look towards the nose of the plane and the touchdown zone you’re aiming for.
However, if you’re properly set up, on track and at the right speed, the aircraft is going to naturally find its way to the touchdown zone. Your job is to get it to kiss the ground as smoothly as possible. I guess that’s something most people reading this page will be looking for advice on, as we all get a little embarrassed when we take someone flying and end up dropping onto the tarmac with an uncomfortable thud.
When you’re close to touching down, by moving your eyes to the end of the runway you will be able to sense the height and speed much more easily, and this will help you during your flare and touchdown.
Hold the flare
Another one that I struggled with for a long time was the flare itself. I still find myself falling into this old habit from time to time and need to force myself to do it the proper way.
Hold that flare. It’s simple… the plane will settle down by itself much more comfortably if you hold that nose up and keep it there. If you start trying to feel for the runway by dropping and raising the nose, you’re much more likely to arrive with a thud or even risk bouncing and floating.
It’s often the temptation to do this if you arrive a little fast or flare a little early, leaving the aircraft floating along a few feet up and not feeling ready to land. Obviously at this stage you need to have in mind what is a safe distance to float along given the length of the runway and its condition. Be careful that your speed doesn’t drop off and leave the aircraft stalling and falling from a height that is unsafe. In this case, lower the nose slightly to lose more height before your flare. Never be ashamed to go around and try again if it doesn’t look safe
But on a runway with plenty of length, holding that flare will let the aircraft bleed off speed and settle you on those rear wheels gently.
Keep a bit of power
It is often wise to keep a bit of power on as you approach the runway to give you a bit more control. Each aircraft’s operating procedures are different, and you should learn these. But I find that keeping a bit of power on through the flare, and then killing it just before, or just as the wheels touch, can mean a much more controlled touchdown.
Remember that your aim is to get as low as possible before initiating a flare. Once you’re there, hold that nose up and let the plane settle.
Putting all of this in practice, with your eyes out of the window and hands on the controls and throttle, becomes a coordinated maneuver that you can get good at by practice. Throw in different wind speeds and directions and it makes life a little more interesting. But the ingredients to perfect landings are essentially all the same – you want to arrive at the chosen place, at the correct speed, and touch down safely. Putting these tips into practice should help you with that.
What tips would you offer for perfect landings? How did you overcome bad landing syndrome and start nailing it? Leave a comment below.