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Training Tip: The eyes have itTraining Tip: The eyes have it

A student pilot makes safe, controlled landings, but try as he may, the Cessna 172 always seems to end up slightly left of center on the runway at touchdown. That won’t work on the upcoming checkride, so today his instructor suggests they swap seats to see if the change of pace can shake loose a different result.

It's not uncommon that a student pilot develops a habit of looking over the spinner while lining up for a landing. However, the proper sight picture is looking straight ahead out of the windscreen. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Indeed it does: Flying from the right seat, the student pilot finds himself touching down slightly right of the runway center. What’s going on?

The student pilot’s first reaction is discouragement—but his CFI is smiling (and it’s not like him to show amusement at his pupil’s struggles).

It’s not amusement. It’s confirmation of the suspected cause of the problem. Consciously or otherwise, during the landing sequence the student pilot has developed the habit of looking at the runway centerline over the propeller spinner, instead of looking straight ahead out the windscreen. Trying to keep the centerline visible while sighting it over the spinner tends to offset your trainer a wing length or more to the side of the centerline from which you are viewing it. (It’s true that in an airplane with side-by-side seating, each seat is slightly offset from the aircraft’s longitudinal axis, but it’s a slight difference—literally inches—and can be disregarded.)

You can prove how different are the two sight pictures—straight ahead, or over the spinner—that each view creates when you sit in the aircraft when it is shut down in the parking area. Note that only one sight picture is aligned with the aircraft’s longitudinal axis (and its direction of movement when landing).

It’s a common error. Fortunately, the visual adjustment is a simple remedy. Practice until the new habit replaces the old; then remember not to revert to the bad habit in moments of stress or distraction.

Speaking of the sight picture during landing, a sure way to further smooth out your landings with eyes only is to truly look “down” the runway, that is, not too close to the aircraft, during the roundout and flare. Taking the far view reduces the blur of motion that sighting the surface closer to your aircraft creates, helping you establish the perfect landing attitude as you bleed off the last few feet of altitude before the main wheels touch.

There they are: Two small adjustments that pay off with big results that you can see for yourself.

Have you found a small correction that produced a big payoff in your landing technique? Share it at

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, Flight Training, Student
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