Pilot's tip of the week

Common Landing Errors

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Subscriber question:

"What are the some of the common errors that lead to bad landings?" - Alan R.

Tom:

“No matter what happens in flight, passengers judge their pilot—and pilots judge themselves—by the quality of the landing. Popularity contests aside, there are good reasons to be smooth and accurate on every landing, to avoid some common landing mishaps such as landing short, landing long, hard landings, bounced landings, pilot induced oscillations and loss of directional control. Any of these events can have results that range from minor pilot embarrassment to major aircraft damage and injury to its occupants. So the adoration of our passengers is not the only reason to make good landings.

common_landing_errors.pngConsistently making good landings is a result of mastering three things on final approach: flying the proper airspeed, in the proper airplane configuration, along the proper glidepath. Let’s briefly look at each:

The proper airspeed is that computed for the conditions, including airplane weight, the amount of flap you’re using, and any airspeed adjustment for wind gusts. You’ll find recommended airspeeds in the Pilots Operating Handbook. In most complex airplanes the “book” will provide different speeds for varying landing weights. It may also provide speeds for partial-flap landings, but if it does not you’ll have to adjust the “book” speed for your variation from “normal.” Although most POHs don’t discuss it, accepted practice is to add one-half the gust factor to “book” final approach speed. That’s not as much as it sounds—if the reported surface wind is 14 gusting to 22 knots, that’s only an eight-knot gust factor or four knots added to your final approach speed. Windy or not, it’s my experience that most pilots fly way too fast on final approach, which leads to landing long, ballooning upward at the beginning of the flare, or bouncing the landing. Fly the right speed and you’ll make much better landings.

Flying the same airplane configuration every time, that is, flap and (in retractable gear airplanes) landing gear position, makes it much easier to make consistent landings.

Lastly, flying a consistent glidepath means you’ll be able to judge your approach and flare more easily. Follow visual glidepath indicators when they’re available. Pick a touchdown spot; on final approach, if that spot remains fixed in your windscreen you’re aimed right for it. If it appears to be descending toward your glareshield you’re high on glidepath and overshooting. If the spot looks like it’s climbing toward the top of your windshield you’re low and undershooting. This goes for the centerline as well—keep your landing spot in the center to help with crosswind control and drift at touchdown.

Avoiding the common landing errors means having targets for airspeed, the configuration, and glidepath on final approach. If you haven’t hit your targets on short final, go around and try again”.

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