Safety Publications/Articles

Touching base

Instructors weigh in on touch and goes

When the AOPA Air Safety Foundation asks the flight instructor community for its opinions on an issue, the results are never disappointing. Dozens of you responded to our request for your thoughts on the subject of teaching touch-and-go landings ("The Rewards and the Risks: Teaching Touch and Goes," October 2002 AOPA Flight Training). If you didn't save the article, written by Thomas P. Turner, it is available on AOPA Online.

Your responses fell clearly into three camps. Fifteen percent of CFIs responding are opposed to touch-and-go landings under any circumstances. Thirty percent heartily endorse the concept. And a whopping 55 percent of you report that you utilize touch and goes selectively, depending on the situation. Bill Castlen probably summed it up the best with his comment, "Let's not try to make one size fit all situations."

Although many excellent points were raised, instructor thoughts on when to introduce touch and goes - and when not to - made for the most interesting reading. Here are excerpts of what some of you had to say.

Why we should

"Performing only full-stop landings is wasting the student's time and money. There are enough full-stop landings during training, especially the first several lessons when you're teaching takeoffs, procedures, and cockpit management," said Dick Savold. "Many of us don't have a runway long enough to do stop and goes, but that can be a good exercise in performance."

"Touch and goes work for the majority of students. Very few can't handle the transition from the landing phase of flight to the take-off phase of flight," commented Stephen Ames.

John Ford cautioned against too quick a touch and go. "Upon landing the aircraft should be slowed to 25 kt or less prior to starting the takeoff roll again. This allows for the student to transition completely from the flying to the taxi phase and then to takeoff phase."

Why we shouldn't

"There are times when a forced touch and go is mandated, e.g., deer on the runway, etc.," observed Walter Carnes. "But the savings in time and developing student response from teaching touch and goes, particularly in twins, is just not warranted. High risks, like so many things in life, are not worth some petty reward."

"In working with CFI candidates I have found that nearly all grew up with touch and goes, but all had reservations about them. After a thorough examination of the procedure with me, they determined that in their future teaching there would be a limited and focused use," wrote Ian Worley, who teaches rejected landings, stop and goes, roll and goes, and touch and goes as distinct procedures. "I find the extensive use of touch and goes to not only teach bad procedures but to be exceedingly inefficient in teaching in all but a few circumstances.

"A huge concern I have is with the difference between a touch and go and a rejected (balked) landing. Nearly all the students and pilots that I encounter who have done touch and goes commonly in their training or personal practice use a different procedure for a touch and go than for a rejected landing if the aircraft is equipped with flaps. The rejected landing is being taught to get power in at once, then reconfigure - while a touch and go is being taught to reconfigure, then add power. It is clear that the point of liftoff is much sooner if the power is input first, and can be much later if one waits for flap retraction and other control inputs."

"I taught for more than 8,000 hours before I decided this maneuver has no place in primary training or almost any other flight training environment," said Kirby Ortega. "Seldom does any takeoff begin at 55 kt or any landing completed at the same speed. The arguments such as saving time or ATC convenience just don't justify the additional risk exposure. How can anyone argue the additional minute it takes to do a stop and go is too much of an added expense?"

A touch and go does not properly replicate either a landing or a go-around, noted Chuck McGill, who instructs primarily in Mooneys. "I never perform touch and goes in a Mooney as a method to teach someone to land a Mooney. I don't believe a Mooney is landed until it is clear of the runway and stopped. The only way to learn how to land a Mooney is to practice full-stop landings. Land and stop.

"Performing touch and goes teaches you how to do touch and goes, an event that rarely occurs in real life," McGill continued. "Even if you do a thousand of them a year, they won't teach you how to land and exit the runway, or how to do go-arounds under circumstances we normally experience."

Striking a balance

"Only after the student is competent in the aircraft should touch and goes be done - and preferably not solo until almost at the checkride point in training," said John Irwin. "Stop and goes are much better choices. For landings in complex and multis, I prefer to use one of the ex-military bases with lots of runway. The extra time to get to one of them is saved by stop and goes and the lack of taxi-back time. If the controller - or other aircraft in the uncontrolled pattern - knows that you intend a stop and go, spacing can easily be created at all but the busiest fields."

"I agree that the use of touch and goes for students with low experience levels are an ineffective way to teach proper pattern work and aircraft control throughout the takeoff and landing phase. However, I do not believe that properly executed touch and goes are inherently dangerous," said Timothy P. Strand. "I think that touch and goes and balked landings, from short final all the way through initial touchdown, are extremely valuable training aids in helping pilots learn to prioritize, manage high-workload situations, and recognize their own limitations."

But Strand suggested watching for task overload and adjusting when necessary. "Why is the full-stop/taxi back technique so effective? Simply put, the technique matches task loading to the student's ability."

"My guidelines are, no touch and goes by a solo pilot until he/she demonstrates almost checkride readiness to handle the situations that may arise," said Gary Woodall, who ensures the airplane is on the ground in the first third of the runway - or it's a go-around. "Always be able to think ahead of both the airplane and the student, allowing him/her to learn safely and learn from their own mistakes - which they must be allowed to make, up to a point."

"My immediate response was, 'Let's not try to make one size fit all situations,'" said Bill Castlen, who usually introduces touch and goes just before solo. "At this point in the training, the student is pretty competent at taxiing, climbs, turns, straight and level, configuration and speed changes, and the sight picture for final approach. What the student needs practice at is that 30 seconds of final flare, achieving the attitude for touchdown, holding it off, and touching down. However, I insist that my students do full stops and taxi backs on their first and second supervised solos."

Jean Runner teaches touch and goes, and she listed occasions when she considers them inappropriate:

  • Without a thorough preflight briefing.
  • As a first or second landing lesson or with a student who is "slow" to catch on.
  • When introducing a new style of landing such as soft field, short field, or no flap.
  • In certain high-performance or complex airplanes where the high cost of maintenance is an added incentive to do full stops.
  • If the approach results in flying too far down the runway (more than about one-third of available landing distance).
  • At the end of a long practice session or return from a cross-country flight.
  • At night when there is the added danger of illusions.

Benefit of full stops

"Over some 30 years of doing flight reviews I find that about 50 percent do not know or have forgotten how to taxi," wrote Thomas K. Mcbride. "Full stops give a student more opportunity to learn how to use the brakes properly. As a result my beginning students do not do any touch and goes until immediately before solo."

"I fly out of an airport with a 3,500-foot runway which has some noise-sensitive neighbors. I will only do touch and goes there with a certificated pilot or advanced student," Tom Walker said. "I fly to one of two nearby fields which have much longer and wider runways. This allows the student to make a poor approach and still have runway left for a leisurely takeoff. In most cases there is a lot of runway left and I have the student complete the landing (although usually not to a full stop) before starting the takeoff."

The case for taxiing back

When Scott Gardiner learned to fly, his instructor taught full-stop landings only at the end of the flight, and Gardiner adopted that technique as a CFI. "When I was about a 3,000-hour flight instructor, someone suggested I try full stop and taxi back. I thought, 'This is silly, it can't possible be better than touch and goes.' As we taxied back, I took the controls so the student could relax for a while. That student said, 'Whew, thanks,' and sank into the seat. Then he asked a question, something about the pattern, or the traffic, or communications with the tower....I had time to answer the question."

Gardiner did the same on the next pattern. "This time he asked another question. I was amazed, and ashamed! I realized that all my previous students had the same questions, but, with touch and goes, I never gave them a chance to ask them. I soon realized that I could be far more effective and could teach far more with six full stop and taxi backs in an hour then I could with 10 touch and goes in an hour. There does come a point when all of the questions have been asked and touch and goes are appropriate. But it comes several hours into landing practice when the student has mastered full stop and taxi back."

Not a go-around

"Thomas speaks of 'teaching touch and goes as an emergency go-around maneuver.' In my view, a touch and go is nothing like a go-around," observed Mark Kolber. "A touch and go is a landing followed by a takeoff. It's strictly a time saver, nothing more than that. The only difference between a touch and go and a stop and go and a full stop landing is that you don't come to a full stop. You reconfigure the airplane for a new takeoff on the roll.

"The emphasis is on good landings and good landing procedures. So we completely reconfigure the airplane for takeoff on the ground and then do a regular takeoff. If you can't do all of that on the roll, maintaining good directional control in the process, don't do a touch and go."

Tailwheel perspective

Lucius Day addressed Turner's comments about tailwheel airplanes. "In my opinion, he has it absolutely backward. In the case of tailwheel landings, I consider it doubly important to master touch-and-go landings before attempting full stop for the reason that good rollouts are virtually impossible without a good touchdown. It is essential to first perfect the touch and go before attempting the rollout for a full stop. Of course, I'm talking about 'touching' and 'going' almost immediately. In the case of wheel landings (in a tailwheel airplane), I do not lower the tail to the ground before initiating the 'go.'"

"I too teach touch and goes after full-stop landings have been mastered. They are inappropriate if taught before the student has mastered full-stop landings. This is especially true in a tailwheel airplane," Rob Mixon said. "One of the most difficult tasks is to get the [transitioning] tricycle-gear pilots to keep the yoke or stick all the way back in their lap during the landing roll. Practicing touch and go landings will not require them to do this through the landing roll."

Compiled by Mike Collins

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