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Training Tip: Don't relax too muchTraining Tip: Don't relax too much

I’m sitting in a comfy chair in the pilot’s lounge, my left hand held high over my right hand as I grasp an imaginary control yoke. My feet perch on imaginary pedals, the left foot pressed hard to the floor, the right foot resting loosely on its heel. What does this piloting performance-in-pantomime purport to portray?

Pilots must overcome the tendency to let their guard down once the wheels touch the ground. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Sideslipping to land in a right crosswind is the correct answer. The show continues: My hands and feet alter their positions as I taxi the chair clear of the “runway” via a theoretical taxiway on the downwind side of the runway. I adjust the imagined control inputs again while swinging onto the parallel taxiway for the slow, careful slog to the airport’s general aviation ramp.

A quick rewind, and now we’re back on short final approach. Only this time, after I flare and touch down—note the restrained but firm pitch inputs I am applying as appropriate for the gusty conditions—I abruptly let the nose drop and neutralize the other control pressures, as if surrendering control and trusting to luck to finish the job for me.

Why did I stop flying at such an ill-advised moment? To demonstrate what some student pilots (and other pilots) do in this scenario. Whether from distraction or from releasing the stress of completing a difficult landing, the tendency to let one’s guard down when the wheels touch the ground must be overcome, because loss of control is lurking.

Two accident accounts paint the picture. “After my initial touchdown I let out some of my crosswind correction and bounced. When I bounced, the cross wind pushed me to the left and I went into the grass,” a student pilot reported to the Aviation Safety Reporting System, recounting a mishap experienced at the end of a first solo cross-country.

In the second example, a pilot who was instructed by the tower to proceed directly to the (runway) numbers to follow another aircraft for landing also ended up in the grass. “I forgot to account for the basic cross-wind once I was close to the runway. I was just focused on reaching the numbers. I believe this can be summarized by saying that I was NOT in my normal, stabilized approach,” the pilot informed the ASRS.

Bottom line: Fly relaxed, but don’t relax your flying. Part one of that reminder makes controlling your aircraft easier. Part two keeps you focused on part one.

How do you stay focused when distractions dare you to deviate?  Share the secret at AOPAHangar.com.

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: Takeoffs and Landings, Loss of Control, Flight Training
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