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Training Tip: Trouble underfootTraining Tip: Trouble underfoot

The trainer seemed poised for a nice landing as it rounded out, beautifully positioned above the centerline, squarely within the runway’s touchdown zone.

Photo by Christopher Rose.

As observed from the flight school lobby, it must have looked like a textbook landing was unfolding—right up to the instant when a harsh squeal emanated from the main landing gear, followed by a puff of tire-rubber smoke.

“Ouch,” said someone over the common traffic advisory frequency, departing from proper communications etiquette, but in a compassionate sort of way.

You can probably guess that the cause of the awkward arrival was the pilot making ground contact with one or both brakes inadvertently applied by having one or both feet positioned slightly too high on the combination rudder/brake pedals found in most modern aircraft.

Fortunately, no accident resulted from the misapplication of brakes—a far better outcome than has sometimes arisen from this error, which can have a variety of causes such as a tensed-up pilot unwittingly applying pressure to the pedals, or a panicky overcorrection during a takeoff or landing that is going awry.

Whether a pilot is taxiing, using differential braking combined with nosewheel steering to get somewhere on the airport, or applying the brakes after a landing, a light but firm touch gets the job done.

Even a maximum-braking landing requires the measured approach; anything more can raise a loss-of-control hazard, or worse, if a tire should blow out or a brake become locked during extreme application.

Add a bit of runway surface contamination, such as a wet grass landing surface, and it could take much less abuse to rob aircraft brakes of their ability to keep you from overrunning the runway, or losing control to one side.

Brakes in need of maintenance are another setup for trouble, so attend to discrepancies without delay.

How to correctly use brakes together or separately, and practicing the footwork necessary to switch between braking and using the rudder or nosewheel (or tailwheel) steering for directional control, traces back to a pilot’s very first lesson.

In a moment of distraction, however, or when your body is tensed with alarm, awareness of the position of your feet on the pedals can fade—and your flight instructor probably can’t see what’s going on down there.

Nothing is more gratifying than learning to relax and fly, but beyond the comfort factor, fine footwork plays a command role in maintaining control.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Training, Takeoffs and Landings, Student
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