Getting better at landings: Some reflections

Lately – specifically, in the last 2 weeks and covering my last 3 or so flights – I’ve been feeling happier again with my landings. Just thought I’d take a few moments to reflect and try to figure out what I’m doing better.

Back just after I’d done my first solo, I’d done 11 or so hours in the circuit and my landings were getting fairly polished (for a beginner). I specifically recall that during the hour of circuits I did during my fourth solo, I did probably 4 out of 6 landings that I was really happy with.

Then I moved onto the other stuff that preceded the GFPT – forced landings, emergency procedures, crosswind landings etc. And while some landings were good and some not so good, I felt that the standard of my landings during that post-solo period slid back somewhat. There were certainly 3 or 4 shockers, including one during my GFPT! (Fortunately the CFI saw fit to let than one past, evidently my other landings during the test were at least of “acceptable” grade.)

But in the last couple of weeks, coinciding with the start of my cross-country navigation flights, I’ve felt happier with the landings than for several weeks. I feel as though I’m really starting to sort them out. The acid test (at least the first of many) was the other day when I took my son up for the first time. He wasn’t feeling too hot halfway through the 30-minute flight, so I hightailed it back for home and landed in a 10-knot crosswind under a bit of pressure, wanting to get him back on the ground and hoping I did so before he became physically sick. (Thankfully this didn’t eventuate). I was keeping half an eye on him at all times but also of course focused first and foremost on getting home and down safely.

It was just a sweet, lovely landing. Clearly comfortable for my son – just after we touched down he asked me what the “chirp” sound of the tires was, so he was not at all stressed out by the landing and apparently had found it comfortable. I felt very good about that.

I’m not naive enough to believe that my landings are now smoking good, that I’ve got it all sorted and that I’m never going to do another poor one! Far from it, I’m fairly sure. But I do feel as though a small corner has been turned.

What things am I doing, better, consciously or unconsciously?

  1. Not crowding myself in the circuit. One of my worst flying habits is not leaving myself enough room on the downwind leg. Rule of thumb in a Warrior is to fly downwind with the runway about one-third in under your wing. Any more under the wing and you’re too close – any less and you’re too far away. For some reason I instinctively seem to want to fly too close to the runway. Now I’m attaining enough situational awareness to catch myself, if too close, early on downwind and flying a bit further away from the runway to give myself room.
  2. Controlling my airspeed on base and early final. In a standard landing you want to put out 2 stages of flap and get down to about 70 KIAS on late downwind, maintain 70 KIAS on base and on final over the airport fence, then down to 65 or or 60 by the time you’re over the runway threshold. On the base leg, part of the technique and art of maintaining correct airspeed is to monitor your height and figure out the right combination of attitude (nose up or nose down) and throttle (more power or less). I found this incredibly difficult particularly in my early lessons in the circuit. I now find it a reasonably smooth, nearly unconscious and mostly smooth process.
  3. Making good use of my rudder pedals on final approach to set up and maintain runway alignment early. This is especially useful, of course, when approaching in a crosswind. My rudder inputs are firm, positive and early. Result: less, and less drastic, corrective action needed on late final.
  4. Not flaring too early for the landing. I realise now that one of my poor habits has been to flare for landing immediately I’m over the runway threshold, out of an apparently unconscious anxiety to get down early. Inevitably this practice has led to my bleeding off airspeed when I’m still well upwards of 20 or 30 feet above the runway, result: thumping down every time! I’m now quite intentionally and consciously holding off on the flare until 15 or 20 feet above ground, with my eyes on the far end of the runway so that I’ve got a much better appreciation of the right time to start the flare. Result: smooth easy landing, and at its best, the stall warning horn sounding just second or so before touchdown.
All of the above will be bleedingly obvious to anyone with experience in the air! But it can only be taught up to a point, after which it can only be learned through experience. I definitely feel that in the last couple of weeks my landing experience has consolidated. It’s probably been helped by the enjoyment I’ve found in the cross-country flights and the added confidence that this has brought – especially when out by myself. It’s a great feeling to really believe that you’ve got the makings of a decent pilot.

2 responses to “Getting better at landings: Some reflections

  1. Pingback: Getting better at landings: Some reflections (via MidLifePilot’s Flying Blog) « Calgary Recreational and Ultralight Flying Club (CRUFC)

  2. This is true. The learning curve in my PPL journey was never linear. I had so many ups and downs that I forgot about keeping score. What that did do for me was breed a healthy regimen of treating every flight with total respect – almost religious you could say. Because by then, I knew one thing to be true – at any time, things could go wrong in the blink of an eye.

    So prepare, prepare, prepare. Follow those checklists without exception.

    The PPL is, as the saying goes, a licence to learn.

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