Use Your Senses to Improve Your Landings
Posted in Flight Training
Tags: landings, cross-wind, final approach, side-slip
I've read many articles that explain how to improve landings and I note that they tell us it is important to fly stabilized approaches, controlling the airspeed on final, flaring at the correct altitude, and landing on the man wheels in a tricycle aircraft. Although this is good advice, the articles leave out things that I think are difficult to convey which should improve our landings.
So, what is missing? Have any of the articles you’ve read discuss how approaches and landings feel, sound, look, and smell? OK, smelling a landing may not always be a good clue to a good landing, but in a few airplanes I have noted particular "smells" that helped me know that I'm landing at the proper speed.
Use Your Senses to Improve Your Landings
written by: Marc Nathanson (DPE, CFI, CFII, MEI, Ret. Lt. Col USAF)
I have read many articles that explain how to improve landings and I note that they tell us that it is important to fly stabilized approaches, controlling the airspeed on final, flaring at the correct altitude, and landing on the main wheels in a tricycle aircraft. Although this is good advice, the articles tend to leave out things that are difficult to convey which I think should help to improve our landings.
So, what is missing? Have any of the articles you’ve read discuss how approaches and landings feel, sound, look, and smell? OK, smelling a landing may not always be a good clue to a good landing, but in a few airplanes I have noted particular "smells" that have helped me know that I'm landing at the proper speed.
The smell of a good landing:
Some aircraft emit a fuel smell in the flare. I think it's odd that I remember this, but I do recall the odor of fuel from aircraft, most notably, tail-draggers when they are slow and in the flare. I believe this fuel smell comes from the fuel tank mounted in the nose section of aircraft such as the Piper Cub and Pitts Special. I remember the Stearman I learned to fly in emitted an odor that smelled like something oil based. This was one of the clues that I was at the proper airspeed in the flare, especially on a warm summer's day. I would not smell anything (except for an occasional twinge of fear) if I were too fast. The odor would be recognizable when the Stearman was at it’s slowest speed just before touchdown. This was one of the clues that I was at the proper speed in the flare. Admittedly, not all aircraft will give you this clue so lets move on to the next sense, what a good approach and landing "feel" like.
Feeling the aircraft:
My Dad, who taught me to fly his Stearman, likened the flare of the Stearman to a hawk spreading its wings as it came in for a landing. Over the years I realized that there was a specific feeling to this "hawk" landing feel and attitude. It was on speed which gave the same feel every time no matter what the winds were. Although when windy days made it tougher to hold this feeling, I could still feel it there. It felt like the wings were at a greater angle of attack and the power was truly controlling vertical speed while the elevator was controlling the airspeed and the combination of the two were controlling the aircraft on the glide path.
At first, when I was learning to fly, this felt foreign to me. It felt like I was driving in a 65 MPH speed zone then entering a 25 MPH zone as it was difficult for me to slow down and, although I knew I needed to slow the aircraft to make a controlled landing, I just couldn't do it. It just felt wrong. It took several hours before I became comfortable flying at the slower correct approach speed, but what I found was that the aircraft was much more controllable at this slower speed. Why? Because there was less energy to expend. She didn't bounce as high if I had too fast a descent rate. The rollout was much shorter and the air run before the landing flare was less.
I’ve found that there is a different feel between such aircraft as the Cessna 172 and the Decathlon (for example). The Decathlon and other tailwheel aircraft will give a feeling of petering or playing out just as they stall when landing in the 3 point attitude whereas the Cessna does not, at least not unless you are really (read fully) stalled. This “petering out” feeling is much like the aircraft flying through molasses so-to-speak as the wing passes through L/Dmax. See if you can feel this.
Speaking of speed, do you have established speeds you fly in the traffic pattern? In the Cessna 172 and Warrior, 90KIAS on downwind, 80KIAS on base and the appropriate airspeed for the type of landing flown according to the POH or owners manual works fine. There are those that teach to fly final at a higher speed, but, then, why do the aircraft manuals give us specific speeds or speed ranges to fly? Because they work.
Of course, when it is gusty it is a safe practice to increase the speed using the appropriate wind gust factor such as adding half the gust factor. For example; if the winds are reported as 290 degrees 10knots gusting to 20 knots the gust factor is the difference between the steady state wind, 10 knots in this case, and the gust of 20 knots. 20-10=10 and divide this by 2 = 5 knots which is added to the normal final approach speed. If you are using 65 knots in your Cessna 172 your new speed with consideration for gusts would be 70 knots. Fly this speed on your airspeed indicator.
Faster airspeeds on final and in the traffic pattern may make us feel more secure, but the landings will suffer unless one knows how to properly slow down using a slip for example. I land my Pitts Special S1T at 80MPH while most Pitts pilots use 100MPH on final. My air run is short as is my landing roll. The secret is, I use some power to control the rate of descent if necessary. Of course, I practice power off 180 degree power off landings as well.
Head winds will always help slow the ground speed down and the landing rollout will be shorter, but never let your guard down as a sudden gust from the side could cause the aircraft to weathervane into it requiring a positive correction to keep on the centerline of the runway.
Listening to your aircraft:
We know that the noise level increases, sometimes dramatically, when we add power and head down the runway on takeoff. Why does the noise increase so much? Don’t forget that, along with the noise the engine(s) make, there is wind noise. The faster the aircraft and the more gaps in the aircraft fuselage in the cockpit area, the louder the wind noise. In the landing as we slow down, this wind noise dies down as does the engine noise. In an open cockpit aircraft you may hear a whooshing sound as the aircraft stalls as it touches down.
What does a good landing look Like:
Try this; watch others land, especially aircraft similar to what you fly. Note when the main wheels touch down. Do they touch the ground at the same time as the nose wheel or do they touch first followed by the nose wheel? Does the upwind main wheel touch first in a crosswind or does it touch at the same time as the other main? or does it touch down after and on the downwind side which is of course not good.
I teach to set up for the crosswind landing far enough out on final to set the crosswind controls to correct all the way down final and into the flare and rollout. Practice this method and you should find that your crosswind landings will improve as you will have time to practice the technique. Remember that if the number of the winds is less than the runway number, the winds are from the left and vice-a-versa. On final after you roll out, the nose will “weathervane” into the wind and to a greater degree in stronger winds. Use you rudder to correct this and to align the aircraft’s longitudinal axis with the center line and stop the drift with up wind aileron. It works! If, after touch down, you skip to the left or right, you are not using enough aileron! Simply turn the ailerons more into the wind which will be opposite to the drift. If you drift left, use more right aileron.
Modern aircraft such as the Cessna 172, 182 and Piper Warrior have high instrument panels which makes it very difficult to see over especially if one does not have a very tall sitting height. As a result the flare attitude is normally flat resulting in the aircraft landing flat and on all three landing gear which results in a tremendous tress on the nose wheel. Here is a trick you can try; on final as you are about to flare for the landing, lean hard to the left against the door and look down the runway the same as you do when looking over the nose. You will see more of the runway. Of course, you must see the runway to land on it and looking over the nose with a rising instrument panel blocking the view results in a flat landing as one must land flat to see the runway. Looking out the side allows you to see the runway much better. Don’t forget that you must take care of the crosswind and runway alignment. Always try to land on the centerline. Airline Transport Pilot applicants are required to straddle the runway centerline to pass this flight test. With practice you can do it too.
How do I get to Carney Hall? Practice, practice, practice.