August 4, 2014
By Dan Namowitz
A flight instructor is talking a student pilot through a landing, exhorting the trainee to keep adding back-elevator pressure as the main wheels settle toward the runway. Still reticent to be aggressive with the controls, the student hesitates, causing the airplane to alight slightly fast and at a slightly too low pitch attitude.
Overall, not bad. With some practice, and a focused post-flight debriefing to flesh out the reason for the hesitation, mastery is within reach.
What issues might emerge? Several difficulties are commonly encountered by student pilots learning to land an aircraft, and tried and true remedies are available. For example, consciously or otherwise, some trainees hesitate to flare because they are not mentally ready to sacrifice forward visibility as required when establishing the landing attitude. (You can develop confidence relying on peripheral vision by sampling it while your instructor performs a landing or two.)
Worries about exceeding the stall angle of attack (AOA) too high above the runway is another reason pilots don’t add full up-elevator until too late. Some practice controlling descent rate and airspeed with small power and pitch adjustments can fix this, with or without actually landing—and remember, a go-around is always an option too.
New pilots may underestimate the physical effort needed to rotate some aircraft to the landing attitude. Maybe too much nose-down trim is being carried, but some pilots simply need to use two hands to flare once control effectiveness decays. Discuss that scenario with your CFI.
Don’t forget that your aircraft’s center of gravity location can be a factor. Trainers are typically flown with the CG near the forward limit. How does that influence flight characteristics?
Review the discussion in Chapter 9 of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge of how the location of the most forward acceptable center of gravity is determined. One limiting factor assures "that sufficient elevator/control deflection is available at minimum airspeed."
Another factor is the amount of control travel needed to control pitch: "When structural limitations do not limit the forward CG position, it is located at the position where full-up elevator/control deflection is required to obtain a high AOA for landing."
Bottom line: Touchdown at the lowest possible airspeed is the proper technique for a normal landing, and depending on the CG, the pilot may have to use full up-elevator to perform the technique correctly.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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