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CFI to CFI: A better way to touch down

Teach them to land like a butterfly with sore feet

Learning how to make consistent, very good landings need not be the nemesis of student pilots. It is never too late for your student to learn--or relearn--how to make better landings.

I have found that the most successful way to teach good landings is to explain carefully and thoroughly all the aspects of landings, both good and bad, in a detailed ground school class, relying on the adage that the airplane is the worst classroom but the best training aid. I use a model airplane to show the different effects of landings, and that when the pitch attitude is changed even slightly during the approach, the airspeed, rate of descent, and glide ratio all are simultaneously interconnected and affected.

Before starting the approach to landing, at a safe altitude practice changing airspeed from cruise to slow flight with different flap settings and controlling the rate of descent with different power settings, leveling off at a specific attitude while maintaining the assigned airspeed, and flying exactly at that airspeed for at least 30 to 60 seconds. In this descending exercise it is very important to show that even if the pitch is slightly below the horizon, adding power will slow the rate of descent and extend the point of touchdown. Learning and internalizing this concept will prevent your student from wanting to raise the nose to "stretch the glide," since raising the nose of the aircraft will slow the airplane, ultimately resulting in an increased rate of descent and shorter gliding distance.

This is a hard concept to teach since initially raising the nose of the aircraft does at first slow the rate of descent, giving the "seat of the pants" feeling that the airplane will stay in the air longer. The alternative correct action is hard to imagine unless you carefully demonstrate how adding power, even if there is a slight nose-down attitude, will reduce the amount of the descent against the forward ground covered. Instrument pilots know this very well; when they are slightly below glideslope, they maintain pitch attitude and add power to slow or stop the rate of descent to hold the existing altitude in order to "fly into" and intercept the glideslope.

Once your student has mastered the concept of descending with a constant pitch attitude and constant rate of descent, and then leveling off and flying at a constant airspeed, have him do the exact same maneuver flying down to 10 feet above the airport and fly the length of the runway. Impress upon your student that it is critical to pick an appropriate ground reference point outside the cockpit that is about 15 degrees to the left of the nose and about 200 relative feet in front of the airplane, so that this reference point will be useful throughout the entire landing sequence. If the student wrongfully chooses a point directly in front of the airplane, he will not be able to determine the height above the ground as the airplane approaches a landing, since the aircraft will appear to be ascending as pitch attitude of the airplane increases. If the student chooses a reference point that is to the left and too far ahead of the airplane, he will tend to fly into the ground, whereas if the student chooses a point to the left and too close to the airplane, he will tend to level off too high above the ground. (I have found that most students have a tendency to look straight ahead and too far forward.)

Once your student is able to descend to just above the runway and fly straight ahead maintaining altitude and pitch attitude, reducing the power in small increments will result in an excellent landing.

Demonstrate to the student that by adding back-pressure to maintain or slightly raise the pitch attitude as the power is gently reduced will yield the desired result of landing like a butterfly with sore feet.

Carl Dworman is a CFII and ATP who teaches flying in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

By Carl Dworman

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