Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot, May 2003
There are only three essential ingredients to making good landings and those are practice, practice and more practice. In that order. It does help, however, if that practice is done with a few tips tucked in your back pocket to make it more productive. So, here are a few tips. There will be a quiz at the end, so pay attention.
Have a plan
Dont let the approach just happen. Have it well scripted in advance.
Visualize your path
Look ahead of the airplane and imagine your flight path as a narrow, rectangular funnel with the runway at the end.
Dont approximate anything.
Keeping the ball in the middle in all phases of the approach will give maximum efficiency.
Keep downwind consistent
Put your airplane in the same place on downwind every time, regardless of traffic.
Make power reductions same place and same way
Have an exact method for making power reductions and dont vary from that method.
Do flap extensions in the same place
Be consistent, drop notches of flaps in the same place on every landing, e.g. 1st notch on downwind abeam, 2nd on base, last notch on final.
Establish and hold POH approach speed
The POH gives an exact speed for approach. Use it. Anything above or below it is wasting altitude and energy and can cause heartburn in the flare.
Make love to the airplane and caress it into position, dont wrestle with it.
Be firm when needed
Turbulence or gusty crosswinds require being immediate with your control inputs but do so in a firm, but smooth fashion.
Fixate on touchdown point
Visually fixate on the point on the runway where you want to touch down.
Use number movement to control glide slope.
If the numbers are moving towards you (down the windshield), youll go over them. If they are moving away (up the windshield), youll land short of them. Works every time.
Accept nothing but the centerline
Get in the habit of splitting the centerline with your nosewheel (or tailwheel). Itll help develop precision.
Dont over-think crosswinds
Intellectualizing crosswinds ahead of time doesnt help. See what the airplane is doing (drifting, skidding, etc.) and correct it.
Dont trim to neutral
Dont trim all the pressure out. Leave just a little in so any turbulence has less of a tendency to pitch the nose up and disturb your approach speed.
Nail a given nose attitude
The nose attitude is the primary speed control. Nail it in one position to establish a datum.
Dont chase the airspeed
Moderate to severe turbulence can cause airspeed fluctuations. Dont chase them. Hold the nose attitude and average out the fluctuations.
Complete checklist while on downwind
Do all of your office administration work early, not while youre actually flying the approach.
Have ground control already on back-up frequency
So you dont have to process more information as the landing roll is ending, already have the ground control freq waiting for you.
Visualize point to be level
Have a specific point, about five feet over the runway, picked out where you will have the airplane level.
Have go-round point selected
Designate a segment of the runway (first quarter?) as the touchdown area and, if you arent down in it, go around.
Dont wait too late to go around
Going around is the sign of good judgment, not a character flaw.
Use forward slip to fine tune touchdown
Dont be afraid to use a gentle, short-duration slip to burn off 10 feet or so to put you where you want to be.
During flare, fixate on edges of runway
While in the flare, the edges of the runway a distance in front of the airplane give better height perspective than the centerline does.
Hold it off for minimum-speed touchdown
Try to get rid of all of the speed and touchdown on the mains and hold the nose gear off for a few seconds. Minimum speed touchdowns mean fewer problems on roll out.
Be sensitive to sound
The wind noise of an airplane indicates a speed change before anything else does. Be aware of it
Educate your Butt
If your butt is sliding across the seat, the ball isnt centered, and the airplane is being inefficient. Listen to what your butt is telling you.
Warn your passengers to minimize moving around
The last thing you need during flare is a back seat passenger deciding to reach over the back of his seat or leaning forward for something. They usually wont, but warn them anyway.
Set up power approaches for steady power reduction
The ideal power approach has the power being steadily reduced through the entire approach as the speed is reduced and glide slope maintained.
Make power changes small
The best power changes are small and made smoothly.
Correct mistakes immediately
Whether its speed, position or whatever, if it isnt right, fix it right that instant. Dont let needed corrections pile up.
Dont get in a position where big power changes are needed
Its part of the concept of planning ahead: dont put the airplane where lots of power will be needed to correct the position
This is a biggie: constantly compare where the airplane will go if you dont change anything to where you want it to go. If the two dont match, make them match.
Get your head into landing mode
If on a cross country, before entering the pattern, stretch your arms and legs, flex your feet and your hands. Get your body and brain awake and ready to land.
Dont over-do speed increase for gusts
Dont blindly add speed to cover a high gust spread. Too much speed promotes ballooning, which increases gust problems.
Dont fly downwind too fast.
If a high performance airplane, get it slowed down to pattern speed early, otherwise downwind will be unnecessarily long and difficult to manage.
Set-up retract configuration early
Get a retract set up in gear-down, landing configuration on the entry leg into downwind so you dont have so much going on that you might forget. This also helps control speed.
Hold it off
In the final part of the flare, the yoke comes back, only if the airplane is trying to settle. If the airplane isnt trying to settle, any backpressure will cause a balloon.
Decide on landing type needed ahead of time
While still on downwind decide whether itll be short, soft or normal landing
Correct for P-factor
Power off, most airplanes will slide the nose right, ball left. A little left rudder may be needed throughout the approach.
Fine tune downwind
Make some landings from downwinds that are different distances from the runway and decide which is best
Make as many power-off approaches as practical
Power-off approaches teach references necessary for emergency landings and promote judgment.
Use length of pattern, not width to control traffic spacing
Extend downwind before turning base to compensate for traffic.
Use flaps to help control glide slope
Configuration changes dont require power to control glide slope. Stay a little high and let the flaps bring you down.
Dont fight the airplane
If turbulence is beating you up, fighting the airplane with exaggerated control movements will make it worse.
Coordinate in turbulence
If youre wracking the ailerons back and forth in turbulence, your feet have to be right there with them to keep the nose in position.
Dont be forced to correct your corrections
When making a correction, creep up on the right number or position. If you make the change too aggressively, you may over shoot the position and then have to correct your correction.
Control speed with trends
Dont jerk the nose up and down to control speedyou may over do it. Just start a trend in the right direction by changing control pressure.
Think of ailerons as drift killers
If the airplane is drifting sideways, lean a little aileron into it but dont think cross control, unless its needed.
Think of rudder as centerline control
Use the rudder to keep the tail right behind the nose, independent of what youre doing with the ailerons.
Ignore the runway
Dont use the runway as your reference. Thats like shooting at a barn and expecting to hit a specific window. Home in on specifics: centerline, touchdown point, etc.
Measure every landing length
Know how much runway there is to each taxiway turn off and mentally keep track of how long each landing is.
Use 1800-2000 feet as maximum goal
Set a goal to make every landing less than 1800 feet to promote touchdown precision and speed control.
Practice some landings on actual 2000 foot strip
Practicing landings on the first part of a long runway is not the same as turning final to an actual shorter runway.
Minimize pattern size
Little airplanes should fly little patterns. All flying a long pattern in a little airplane does is increase your exposure to problems, if the engine quits.
Watch for traffic behind on long pattern
If youre extended because of traffic, watch that traffic behind you doesnt cut you out.
Avoid wide patterns
If youre too wide on downwind, traffic inside of you is likely to miss seeing you and its harder to judge the approach.
Get a tailwheel check-out
Flying a tailwheel will raise your visual acuity and make you more aware of what the airplane is doing while in the flare.
Check-out in a different type
Do the Cessna/Piper transition and see how much more aware it makes you of all aspects of the approach.
Practice at full gross and light weights
Get familiar with the way the airplane handles with differing loads
Practice at different CGs
Load for full forward CG and then do the same for full aft CG and familiarize yourself with the difference.
Seek out, dont avoid, crosswinds
Conquer crosswinds, dont avoid them. If necessary, take an instructor and fly in the nastiest crosswind you can find. Youll be surprised how well youll do.
Practice short field landings
Use a decelerating approach to a predetermined threshold speed to put the airplane down100-200 feet past the threshold at minimum speed. This will make you more aware of attitude, speed and touchdown point.
Practice soft field landings.
Using power to put you on gently gives more ground awareness and develops a feel for the airplane when its flying at the edge of the envelop in ground effect.
Seek out unpaved runways
Land on different surfaces, grass, dirt, etc, to get a feeling for how the airplane reacts in those situations.
Land on sloping runways
Landing up or down hill is different than on a flat runway. Practice on sloping runways increases your perception of where the ground is and what its doing.
Log gust spreads and sock activity
While practicing crosswinds, keep a mental record of the gust spreads and how they made the sock behave to develop an understanding of what the sock is actually telling you.
Coordinate during flare
Adverse yaw goes up as the AOA goes up, so, in flare, as you level the wings or reposition left and right, more rudder is needed to keep the ball centered and the nose in front of you.
Shoot some landings form the other seat.
Move to the other seat and make some landings so you are using the other hand and have different references. This will force you to concentrate and will broaden your perception.
Stay in trim right to flare
Re-trim, as needed, all the way down to the flare to avoid excessive control pressure build-up in the flare.
Notice elevator pressure differences at different CGs
When flying at different weights, notice how much lighter the elevator becomes at aft CG and work it into your mind-set when coming in to land.
Practice landings at different flap settings
If you practice landings with different flap settings it will increase your understanding of what is happen during the flare. This is especially true in Cessnas.
Use tapered recovery from slips
Dont use abrupt slip recoveries. Reduce the slip angle very slowly and use it to position you exactly the height you want to be.
Use rudder independently to center nose
Dont be afraid to use the rudder at the last second before touchdown to put the nose exactly in front of you.
Ease into base-to-final turn early
To avoid overshooting, start the base-to-final turn early with a gentle bank and increase bank, as needed, to roll out right on centerline.
Put in crosswind correction before flare
On short final, pull the nose straight with the rudder and use whatever aileron is necessary to kill the crosswind. Do it well before starting the flare so the wind doesnt surprise you.
Constantly refer back to runway numbers
After cutting the power on downwind, keep watching the runway numbers and asking yourself what if I turn now, will I be high or low? What if the engine is dead can I make it, etc.?
On approach turns consider effect of crosswinds
Remember that a crosswind will change the placement of the turns, e.g. a left crosswind on a left hand approach will move both base turns away from centerline while a right crosswind moves the turns towards centerline.
Remember different radii of turns
Base-to-final is often flown at a slower speed than downwind-to-base so it has a tighter radius, which has to be planned for.
Delay flap extension, if too low
If you see youve placed base leg too far out, delay putting the flaps down until youre on final and see you have the runway made without using power. Dont rely on power.
On gusty days approach slightly high
Gusty winds can pick you up or drop you down, so stay a little high knowing slips or flaps can get you down more safely.
Eliminate wind drift on downwind
When you kill the power on downwind and slow down, the crab angle you were carrying to cancel out the wind will have to be increased or youll drift away from centerline.
Have a clean windshield
Landing into the sun with a dirty windshield is not only distractive but can be dangerous.
When slipping, maintain approach speed
Monitor the speed in a slip and keep it at approach speed. Dont dump the nose for more speed because the airplane wont come down any faster and will float on recovery.
When slipping, monitor nose attitude
Hold a firm nose attitude in the slip. Some airplanes drift their nose up, some down. Dont let it drift.
Check for wind clues
On short final look for something that tells what the wind is actually doing on the deck. Trees, grass, smoke, flags, water, etc. work well.
Dont over-correct in a crosswind
The wind at touchdown will be less then at ten feet in the air so dont leave the correction in that you started with. Watch the airplane movement and respond accordingly.
Watch out for gust produced balloons
Right at touchdown a solid gust can lift you and then drop you. Be prepared to unload the backpressure for a moment so you dont make it worse.
Watch for dust devils
In the west, dust devils are common summer time occurrences. Watch for telltale columns of dust or debris near the runway. Go around and dont try to land through one.
Dont let the nose fall on touchdown
When rolling on the mains, dont hold the nose up so long that it falls of its own accord. Gently lower it while the elevators are still alive.
Fight the urge to force it on the ground
If fast, the airplane wont want to land. Do not force it on or you can slam the nosewheel on or start a porpoise
Once down, keep yoke back
After touchdown, keep the elevators back.
Dont try to save a bad bounce, go around.
If you get a bad bounce and try to save it, you stand a chance of making it worse. Power up, nose down, gain speed and fly away.
Dont rely on tri-gear to straighten you out
Dont accept crooked touchdowns. Get the nose straight before you contact the runway.
For maximum braking raise flaps
If on a grass or unprepared surface and braking is needed immediately, raise the flaps. If in a retract, however, verify which control your hand is on before moving the control.
On a slick surface be prepared to pump the brakes
Locked brakes and sliding wheels offer less resistance than wheels just on the edge of locking. Gently pumping the brakes on a slick surface is more effective.
On a go-around get speed first, altitude second
Nothing counts but speed. Put forward pressure against the trim, get speed, ease nose up and re-trim.
Break glide first, then set up flare
On approach, dont fly right down to the runway and flare. Itll balloon. Break the glide a little early and start the de-acceleration process before actually flaring.
During flare, pretend youre driving on ice
Be sensitive during the flair and feel the airplane through your fingertips as if youre driving on ice.
After crosswind landing, dont relax aileron
The wind doesnt go away after touch down. Keep the aileron into the wind until stopped.
On a crosswind roll-out be prepared to use rudder
All airplanes want to weathervane, some more than others, so be prepared to hold a little rudder to keep it straight.
If you porpoise, dont chase it.
It takes good hands to stay in synch with a porpoise so dont try. Get the yoke back and either ride it out or add power and fly out of it.
Okay, so now you have a bunch of tips. Now go out there and make it happen.