August 8, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
A flight instructor and a student pilot are reviewing for the student’s private pilot flight test. The discussion has turned to landings in the student’s trusty trainer, a Cessna 150 Commuter.
“Tell me: When do you retract the flaps after landing?” the CFI inquires.
“Flap retraction is on the after-landing checklist,” responds the student, adding, “And you always tell me not to distract myself by putting my head down to raise the flaps while the aircraft is still rolling on the runway, because I could lose directional control."
Lesson well learned! But now the instructor asks the student if there are any exceptions to that safety-minded, distraction-fighting operating method.
There is no reason for a ground session in preparation for a checkride to be a closed-book exercise. (Knowing where to find necessary information—weather, notams, aircraft performance, regulations, airworthiness and other maintenance subjects—is the mark of a qualified pilot, after all.) So the student pilot looks up the answer in the pages of the aircraft’s pilot’s operating handbook.
There, among the checklists for normal procedures, the trainee points out the checklist for a short-field landing: It calls for brakes to be applied heavily, followed by flap retraction.
Why retract the Cessna’s flaps so soon after touchdown?
The chapter’s section on amplified procedures explains what to do immediately after touchdown—and why: “For maximum brake effectiveness, retract the flaps, hold full nose-up elevator, and apply maximum brake pressure without sliding the tires.”
Overlooking the early flap-retraction step is a common error. Whether the lapse reflects task saturation—after all, a short-field landing is a pretty demanding operation—or the need for better checklist awareness, the omission can cause an aircraft to use more runway than necessary during deceleration.
That would put the landing at odds with the practical test requirement for a short-field landing, which dictates that the aircraft “stop in the shortest distance consistent with safety.” It would also suggest that the test applicant did not comply with task objective 13: “Completes appropriate checklist."
Understanding the why of the items on your checklists will help you remember steps required to meet a flight operation's performance goals.
But hold on, we’re not done: The Cessna 150’s after-landing checklist still needs attention, once the aircraft is taxied clear.
What does the “appropriate checklist” for your aircraft say?
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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