Safety Publications/Articles

The Rewards And The Risks

Teaching Touch And Goes

What is the purpose of a touch and go? What are the risks? How can we teach so the rewards are worth the risks of a touch-and-go landing (see "Remembering the Go-Around," August AOPA Flight Training)?

Touch-and-go practice provides the advanced student and certificated pilot a technique for an emergency go-around should he or she detect a runway hazard after touching down - such as an animal or another airplane on the runway, or the inability to meet a land-and-hold-short requirement. Touch and goes can also reduce training time and student costs - but are these benefits worth the risks?

There are two schools of thought. Most commonly cited is the "more practice per hour" argument. Proponents say that touch and gos speed the process of learning to land an airplane by compressing more landings into the typical flight lesson, because they take less time than stopping and taxiing back for takeoff. Depending on traffic and the airport, a student flying touch and gos might log seven or eight takeoffs and landings in an hour-long session, as opposed to only five or six if making full-stop landings and taxiing back. It also shows the pilot's capability to handle the aircraft in changing phases of flight.

The other school of thought cites lower costs associated with touch-and-go landings. If your goal is to "log three for currency," they'd say, you can do it in less time on the Hobbs meter with touch and goes than you could with full stops. Outside the United States, some airports offer financial incentives for touch and gos in lieu of full stops. Brisbane, Australia, for instance, charges an $11 landing fee per full-stop landing - making an hour of full stops much more expensive than an hour of fee-free touch and goes.

The Risks

To evaluate the risk level of flying touch and goes (as opposed to full stops), take a look at just what your student has to do, in a very short period of time, when flying a touch and go:

Directional control: The touch and go student has to maintain directional control, crosswind-correcting (as necessary) control inputs of the flare; through the touchdown; and then while reconfiguring the aircraft, reapplying power, and transitioning to initial climb. Control pressures will change continuously with changes in airplane speed, power setting, and configuration. Directional control is seldom lost when the winds exceed the pilot's ability to correct, but when the pilot is distracted during takeoff or landing. Flying a touch and go is a very workload-intensive maneuver, and often the pilot is overloaded to the point he or she does not adequately compensate for directional control forces.

Power: Power for most piston pilots can consist of up to four control inputs - throttle, propeller speed, fuel mixture, and/or carburetor heat. The touch-and-go pilot has to quickly, smoothly, and correctly manage these power controls to get full thrust for the takeoff portion of the maneuver. All that potential flailing of hands in the cockpit can lead to undesirable results. The thoughtful pilot realizes he/she can often preconfigure some of the controls so as not to require movement during the short run on the ground. A constant-speed propeller control, for instance, can be placed in the full forward position on final approach, ready for the next takeoff. Same often goes for mixture control, depending on the engine type and the field elevation.

Flaps: Most pilots land with full (or near full) flap deployment, and take off with little or no flaps extended. The change has to happen quickly during a touch and go. Many airplane designs can't climb with full flaps extended, especially at high density altitudes, and many more will have seriously degraded climb performance. Other designs - notably heavier multiengine ships - may not achieve acceptable climb performance taking off without some amount of flap extension. Follow the pilot's operating handbook (POH) advice, but more important, be certain it's the flap handle they're moving, and not some other control - like a landing-gear handle.

Trim: Change the power and change the flap configuration, and chances are you'll have to change the airplane's trim. The amount of change needed may be negligible, or it may be substantial - but it will affect controllability and performance. For instance, a typically loaded training Cessna 172's trim will end up near the takeoff setting, if you trim most of the elevator pressures off during the flare. If you're a little slow on resetting the trim during a touch and go it likely won't be critical. If your student then loads up the same Skyhawk with two adults in the back and some luggage, though, and burns most of the fuel out before landing, he or she will find the airplane is loaded toward its aft center of gravity limit. He'll have to trim the nose farther down than normal on landing, putting it in a position to resist a positive rate of climb if not reset before taking off.

Regardless of the airplane, the trim will likely require at least some adjustment during a touch and go - something more to do, and yet another potential distraction, in a very short period of time.

Landing gear: Gear down and locked for landing. Gear up on initial climb. Leave the gear down all times in between...well, at least that's the theory. Often an "inadvertent gear retraction on the ground" happens during touch-and-go practice - more than 10 percent of the time with a CFI on board. The pilot thinks he or she is resetting the flaps or some other control, but in the heat of action pulls the landing gear handle instead. Almost as common is the pilot who forgets to extend the gear on the fourth or fifth time around doing touch and goes, about the time complacency seems to set in for both the pilot-in-command and his/her instructor. History shows that "safety" devices like squat switches and landing gear warning horns don't adequately protect against inadvertent gear retraction.

Checklists: Touch and goes provide no time for proper checklist use. Your student relies solely on memory to accomplish the tasks of landing, reconfiguring, and taking off. Tossing the checklist into the back seat and hot-dogging a dozen touch and goes reinforces the common notion that checklists and other safety and precision techniques don't really apply in the "real world."

The risks of touch and gos are loss of control due to excessive pilot workload and, in retractable-gear airplanes, inadvertent gear retractions on the ground. In fact, the FAA reports that as many as half of all accidents involving piston-powered, retractable-gear airplanes result from landing-gear mishaps - half of those being gear collapses on the runway, most frequently due to improper pilot activation of the gear switch. In my opinion, touch and goes are an unacceptable risk in retractable gear airplanes, and I don't routinely teach them except as an emergency go-around exercise as described above.


There are several alternatives to the touch-and-go landing:

  • Perform only full-stop landings. This not only avoids the risk of touch and gos, but it positively reinforces the proper sequence of events for takeoff, landing, and after-landing cleanup. In fact, touch and gos tend to reinforce improper techniques that can get a pilot in trouble when otherwise distracted.
  • If traffic at the airport is light, perform "stop and go" landings, where the airplane is brought to a complete stop on the runway, calmly reconfigured for takeoff, and then makes a normal takeoff from the point where it stopped on landing. Do this only with adequate runway length, and after coordination with air traffic control and/or other pilots at nontowered airports.
  • Exercise cockpit management with your student. If you as the instructor handle the tasks of reconfiguring the airplane (flaps, all power except throttle, and trim), your student need only add power and fly the airplane.

Touch And Go Discipline

In my opinion touch-and-go discipline should dictate:

  • Touch-and-go practice only after the student/pilot has mastered full-stop landings and takeoffs.
  • Prohibiting solo students from flying touch and goes solo, at least until very near the checkride preparation stage.
  • Teaching touch and gos, very carefully, as an emergency go-around maneuver in all airplanes.
  • Prohibiting solo touch-and-go practice in all retractable-gear airplanes, except for such emergency training.
  • Proper use of the instructor as a cockpit resource, if conditions or the operating environment require touch-and-go practice in retractable airplanes.
  • Prohibiting touch-and-go practice in tailwheel airplanes, or any airplane at night.

Instructor Responsibility

Touch and goes are more risky than full stops. In some cases you may not want to assume the risk - in those instances, simply don't try to fly, or to teach, touch and goes. Your job is to teach and evaluate, but you're also ultimately responsible for what the student does with his or her hands, and the controls. Remember, as CFI you're usually the pilot-in-command. It's your reputation that's on the line if you don't actively manage the outcome of a training flight.

Remember that the ultimate objective is to develop lifelong, safe flying habits in your students.

Reducing Workload

You can teach your students to reduce the workload associated with a touch and go by discussing these items:

  • Don't sweat the flaps. You don't need to direct a lot of your attention to flap retraction during the touch and go. Most electrically operated flaps run slowly enough that you can simply move the flap switch from fully down to fully up, without intermediate steps. Check the POH for guidance. Remember that some airplanes, and some operations, may call for something other than zero flaps for takeoff, and get your student ready to make the proper adjustment without having to look. Remember also to confirm that you've grasped the flap handle, and not some other control, before changing its position. Some aircraft may become airborne early as the flaps are retracting. If the power is applied early and the aircraft has enough airspeed, it may become airborne and then settle as the flaps continue to retract.
  • Preset the prop. Once the manifold pressure is below the propeller governing range (usually from 12 to 15 inches of manifold pressure) of a constant-speed propeller, its control can be moved fully forward without a change of propeller pitch or, more important, noise level for those blessed to live beneath the traffic pattern. The propeller will spin up to provide full thrust in the takeoff phase, once full power is added.
  • Preset the mixture. You can (and should) also preset the mixture control for power and engine smoothness before you touch down.
  • Apply throttle smoothly. I've heard a lot of engine popping and surging over the years while watching touch-and-go practice. Encourage your students to observe the rate at which they apply power at the beginning of their first takeoff of the day - and challenge them to apply power at that (usually) smooth rate all of the time.

By Thomas P. Turner

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