Pilot's tip of the week

Highway Landing

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Subscriber question:

My instructor tells me I need to look all the way down the runway and hold the airplane off longer. I feel like that’s what I’m doing, but I’m still landing with a thud. What am I doing wrong?

Jeff:

“The last few seconds of a landing challenge almost all student pilots—and many rated pilots. Part of the problem is that the right sight picture is only visible for those same last few seconds out of each landing. This means your brain is trying to learn the right place to focus while simultaneously trying to fly the airplane within inches of the ground. Is it any wonder it takes so long to get it right?

There’s another way to lock that sight picture in your mind and you probably do it all the time. Next time you’re driving on the highway, notice where your eyes rest as you drive. Most drivers spend the majority of their time looking two or three car lengths ahead of them. Don’t do that.

Instead, look as far ahead as you can. Quite often this means looking a bit over or through a few cars ahead of you to see the furthest car in the distance. Try to focus on a point as far down the road as possible. The cars closer to you won’t be in crystal focus, but you’ll still see them just fine. If something happens, you can shift your eyes back in an instant. If the highway bends slightly left or right, that’s OK, look a bit left or right but still as far as you can. If it’s a big bend, just wait until the road straightens out.

It takes practice, but on the highway, you have the luxury of time. As you focus as far down the highway as possible, notice the lane stripes on either side of your lane and how they converge as they extend away from you. They form a trapezoid that’s much easier to see when you’re focusing in the distance. If you let your car drift a bit to the left or right of your lane, it’s immediately obvious in this trapezoid. In fact, it’s easier to stay centered in your lane while looking far ahead of you.

Now—as you drive—think about the last seconds of the landing. The view you see on the highway—looking past the cars ahead of you as far down this highway as you can see—is where you should look during the roundout and flare when you stop descending and skim a foot above the runway. Ideally, you’ll even look even a bit higher, slightly above the horizon, as you lift the nose just before the airplane’s wheels touch down.

Lock that view in your mind on the highway and the next time you fly, start this process as you turn final. Look to the far end of the runway and use the trapezoid formed by the runway sides to align yourself just as you did while driving. Only look down to the runway threshold to check your descent angle, and inside the cockpit to check your airspeed—just a glance like you check your speedometer on the highway. The ground seems to approach slower when you spend most of your time looking to the end of highway/runway, and the transition to landing is less stressful and more consistent.

The technique should improve your landings, and possibly your driving as well.”

How often do you go out just to practice landings?

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