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Learning Landings

Set yourself up for smooth touchdowns

As pilots we have every incentiveTo consistently land well. A good landing can be a bringer of jollity, resulting in admiration from your passengers, respect from your fellow pilots, perhaps even the rare compliment from your flight instructor. And bad landings can be the bringer of grief: bruised ego, lowered confidence, and, in the most egregious cases, bent metal or torn fabric and a hefty bill to follow.
Photography by Chris Rose.
Zoomed image
Photography by Chris Rose.

You will spend many hours in pilot training learning all sorts of maneuvers such as turns, slow flight, and stalls. But you will spend the most amount of time putting all those pieces together and learning how to land. And there’s a reason for that. Landing remains the leading phase of flight for accidents, although most landing accidents aren’t fatal. They’re tough, and you’ll have to earn those nice hand-churned butter landings.

Here are some tips and tricks to set yourself up for successful landings.

Seat and shoes

It may seem basic, but taking the time on the ground to make sure your seat is set up will make a huge difference, especially for my pilot friends who fall outside that narrow band of “average” height. Make sure your seat is comfy and at the height and distance from the rudders that you prefer. If you can’t see over the panel, it’ll be pretty hard to keep your eyes looking down that runway to make that greaser of a landing. And if you’re too close to the rudders, you could have trouble controlling yourself on the ground or in high winds, both of which are especially critical in a taildragger.

And your shoes will make a difference. If they have a tendency to slip off or if the heel gets caught on the floor of the airplane, it could make it hard to quickly move your feet around. Again, this is especially important in a tailwheel airplane (and extra important in one with heel brakes where you will have to move your feet to brake). Personally, I’m a Converse gal, but I hear HeyDude shoes are good too (the only exception I will make).

There’s no shame in a go-around

There is no shame in a go-around, but there is shame in landing halfway down the field and then going off the end of the runway. If you find yourself floating past the first third of the runway and especially the halfway mark, you are better off going around and trying again.

Don’t keep the controls pegged

You will have days where the atmosphere is so stable it feels like floating through butter, but those days are rare. Most of the time, even with light winds, the conditions on landing will constantly be changing. When we are learning to land, there’s a tendency to keep the controls locked up. But in the dynamic flight environment, small adjustments will be needed throughout. Don’t lock up on the controls, keep them moving, and don’t forget to keep your feet dancing. A quick tap to the left and tap to the right on final will help keep your feet alive and can also help you make sure you have the correct crosswind correction.

Don’t be afraid to make big changes to fix your position

Did you get a little behind the airplane? Are you low? Off centerline? Too much airspeed? When you’re in the pattern and close to landing you have limited time and altitude to fix your position. So as soon as you notice you’re off, begin to fix it immediately. And don’t be timid—make big changes if you have to and stay committed to that perfect glideslope. In time, you’ll have to make smaller and smaller changes, anticipating what the airplane will do next, and the days of being way behind the airplane will be a memory.

There is no shame in a go-around, but there is shame in landing halfway down the field and then going off the end of the runway.

Practice the real thing

Working on soft and short field landings? Once you have a good grasp of the basic procedure, branch out to actual fields that have the conditions you’re training for. You don’t have to choose gravel strips where only souped-up short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) airplanes land. If you’re east of the Rockies, you’ll likely be able to find a grass strip easily to practice soft-field technique. And if you’re west, dirt fields or dry lakebeds are around if you know where to look, and you can ask a CFI for advice for some beginner fields. And for short field, start with fields shorter than your home airport. Comfort with more airport surfaces and lengths will make you more prepared in the event of a diversion, and the training itself is fun. You never know, it could inspire you to make your next adventure to the backcountry.

Never, never, never give up

Too often in training, students can just give up on a landing and expect the CFI to “save” it. But really, it is far better to struggle through it and know that your CFI will save you if needed rather than giving up. Stick with it and don’t create the habit of giving up. Stick with it, even when the training gets tough. Eventually it’ll click, and one of the most stressful parts of flight training may turn into your favorite.

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Staying in line with the extended runway centerline and on glide path helps set you up for a good landing. Don’t be afraid to make authoritative corrections early to commit to a stabilized approach. Photography by Chris Rose. Photography by Chris Rose. Practicing short-field technique on short runways helps prepare you for real-world conditions and the variety of airports you may fly to.
Alyssa J. Miller
Alicia Herron
Publications Content Producer
Publications Content Producer Alicia Herron joined AOPA in 2018. She is a multiengine-rated commercial pilot with advanced ground and instrument flight instructor certificates. She is based in Los Angeles and enjoys tailwheel flying best.

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