The Best Soft Field Landings
With summer almost here, many small airfields will be coming alive with the buzz of light aircraft visiting much more regularly.
If you’re not usually based at an airfield with a grass strip, but intend to visit some, it’s time to brush up your theory ahead of your summer flying to make sure it goes without a hitch.
Here are some tips on making the best soft field landings:
1. Do Your Research
Before you fly to an airfield that you’re unfamiliar with, take time to look up the chart and data in your favourite flight guide, or by using websites which cover different airfields.
Look at how long the strip is, whether it has a slope, and what the required (or recommended) approach to landing is.
This will help you anticipate your arrival and take away and undue surprise or pressure when making your approach.
2. Be Ready for Landing a Long Way Out
The best soft field landings involve stabilising your approach well before arriving at the runway threshold.
Where you may be used to normally having a long runway, a short, soft strip does not give you as much freedom to play around with speed or height if you have not got them under control.
So try to nail these far out on your approach and keep it stabilised all the way down to ensure you arrive at exactly the position, height and speed you want to.
Complete your checklists, make your radio calls, brief passengers, and plan your approach in plenty of time for a nice, safe arrival.
3. Make a Gentle Touchdown
When the ground is uneven it can often cause extra stress on the wheels and suspension of an aircraft. So when it comes to touching down on a soft runway, you need to do it as gently as possible.
During the round-out and flare, you should hold the aircraft a few feet above the runway and allow it to slow down in ground effect before gently touching down. By reducing speed you will put less stress on the wheels.
Pilots will often leave a little power on during touchdown to make sure they can keep the aircraft in ground effect as it gently descends to the runway. Once on the ground, you can reduce the power to idle.
4. Hold the Weight Off
Once the main wheels have touched down, keep back pressure on to hold the weight off the nosewheel of the aircraft as long as possible.
The nosewheel in tricycle aircraft is notoriously fragile and any extra stress from rough ground could cause it to collapse, resulting in a prop strike.
5. Be Gentle on the Brakes
One of the worst things you can do when landing on a soft field is to brake heavily.
This can cause the nosewheel to dig in, and result in a prop strike.
Because of the nature of soft fields, the rough texture of the ground and the grass is often enough to help you slow down naturally and in plenty of time to exit the runway safely.
If you need to use the brakes, so do gently and sparingly to bring the speed under control.
6. Taxi With Weight Off Too
Once you have slowed to taxi speed, continue to keep the weight off the nosewheel by holding back pressure. This will help you to steer easier, and makes sure you put as little pressure on the nosewheel as possible as you manoeuvre around the airfield.
At this stage you can also raise your flaps as they will also add more pressure to the wheels.
Here’s a great video showing a soft field takeoff, circuit and landing, with direction from an instructor