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Learning to Land

I just responded to a student on another website who is having trouble landing and I thought it would be useful to cross-post here. They are having trouble with so many areas, it could be that, like me, they don’t multi-task well. What they may need to do is master each part of landing separately, then combine them together.

If you airport isn’t busy you can do these exercises over the runway, but when I am transitioning to a new airplane or helping someone with their transition, I like to find a straight stretch of highway (or a pier) and practice there. Add 1,000′ to your airport’s elevation and then fly as if you were in the pattern. (Don’t forget to pick an area where you are legal as well—500′ AGL in unpopulated areas or 1,000′ AGL in populated areas.) Try this first with a little bit of wind if you can. For the first part have the instructor handle the yoke and you do rudder and power. Remember that pitch plus power equals performance.

1. Set up the plane for slow flight with flaps at takeoff setting. Add power and right rudder to keep the airplane on the roadway. Have the CFI pitch up to the appropriate takeoff attitude. Determine when you need to pull the power to level off. The rule of thumb for leveling off is 10% of Vertical speed is when you start the level off. I haven’t flown a C150 so I don‘t know how soon or how much to pull the power. (You should already know this and if you don’t that could be part of your problem.)

2. Set up the plane for the downwind. You should already know the power setting that you need. Ask the CFI to set neutral pitch. Use power to fine tune the altitude. Look out the window to get the sight picture for level flight. Glance at the VSI. Look out the window. Glance at the Altimeter. Look out the window. Make adjustments. The objective here is to figure out the sight picture for level flight at pattern altitude. With practice you should be able to be within 100′ or less of pattern altitude without even looking at the instruments,

3. Pick an intersection to act as the numbers. When abeam the numbers reduce the power and add the first notch of flaps. You should already know the power setting you need for about 500fpm descent. From here on, you need to be verbalizing three things, airspeed, altitude, and scan for traffic. I don’t know the airspeeds for a C150 but let’s assume they are the same as my Cherokee. You should probably be aiming for 90mph, so tell the CFI to pitch up or down.

4. 45° point. Start your turn to base leg and add the second notch of flaps. Remember to use rudder. Adjust your power to keep the 500fmp descent going. Start slowing to 80mph. Look out the window to get your sight picture. Ask you CFI how it looks to them. I’ll bet you forgot to use your rudders. Glance at the ball.

5. Tell your CFI when they should start the turn to final. Monitor airspeed, altitude, and scan for traffic. I’ll bet you forgot to check the ball in the turn. How’s the sight picture? Do you need to add or remove power. Start slowing up to 70mph. Add the last notch of flaps. That’s going to add a bunch of drag, so you might have to adjust power. Did you notice that the CFI has been trimming the whole time? Have them take their hands off the yoke and fly the plane to the “numbers” using just rudders and power. (If there is a strong crosswind they may need to hold the crab in with some yoke pressure.) Normally you’d also start slowing down to approach speed, but unless there is a runway below you get ready to go around when you hit the “numbers”. You should also be at 1,000′ plus the airport elevation.

Do it a couple more times and make a written note of the pitch and power settings. Then cover up the VSI and Altimeter and do it a few times.

Repeat the whole thing a few times with you using the yoke and the CFI handling the rudders and power. Then combine them.

When you have mastered the pattern try it at the airport. I personally hate touch and goes and never do them. I spend the taxi-back time reviewing what when wrong (and right) with the instructor or friend.

Remember the point of the roundout. It is to fly the airplane close to the runway and then let it lose enough energy so that it no longer feels like flying. Ideally it stops flying when the wheels are just above the runway and the nose is pointed up. Depending on how tall you are the end of the runway may disappear from view.

One of the reasons I hate stop and goes is that this is the point where you add power and start to around. But especially as you transition to heavier aircraft or tailwheels, this is also the part where it is easy to lose control, especially in a crosswind. The ailerons should remain where they were for the wind correction and gradually lower the nose. Gentle but quick application of the rudders is essential to keeping it on the centerline.

The nosewheel of a Cessna drops down when you lift off and is aligned with the airplane. If the airplane is aligned with the centerline when you touch down, the nosewheel will also be aligned with the centerline. If you are correcting for a crosswind with a crab, you need to kick it out before the nosewheel touches. If you are landing with a slip, you need to neutralize the rudders when the nosewheel touches down. Either way, when the nosewheel touches down, it is important to have the rudders neutral—otherwise you go careening off the runway.

Remember that the wind doesn’t stop when you are getting close to the runway. Use your rudders to keep aligned with the centerline. You don’t have to worry about keeping the ball centered here because you aren’t turning so aren’t going to start a spin.

Get of the runway and stop. Clean up the airplane using a checklist or pneumonic. I like BCFLAGS since it works for all the airplanes I fly. Boost pump. cowl flaps, flaps, lean, air, ground, squawk VFR.

Gary Wing has lots of 5 minute videos and he mostly flies a C172 so they should apply directly to you. Here’s one on how to land a Cessna.

Jason Miller at The Finer Points has some good videos on landing as well. If you are having trouble hitting the aiming point, he recommends using a whiteboard marker to make a mark on the windshield so you can keep the aiming point stable. Here are a couple.

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