Friday, January 4, 2013

Three Skills in Perfect Landings – Private Pilot Training

There are just three fundamental skills you need to know to land an airplane safely and consistently. They are airspeed control, projected glide control, and controlled slow flight. You can learn each separately. But you use them all to land safely and consistently.

If you want to send me a comment or ask a question, please do. You can reach me the easiest at: . The most fundamental and easiest to learn is airspeed control. You should start with it. Then you should master slow Dutch roll thoroughly at various airspeeds, aircraft configurations and angles of bank. Concurrently you can learn to control the projected glide point while maintaining a constant airspeed. Airspeed control and projected glide control bring the pilot to the right place at the right airspeed to start the transition from the approach glide to the landing phase. 

Control airspeed with the elevator; fine-tune airspeed with power, flaps and landing gear. Monitor airspeed with the airspeed indicator, and then adjust your pitch attitude with the elevator to change your airspeed. If you add to the airplane's drag, you will be forced to pitch down to maintain constant airspeed. The opposite is true, as well. If you add power, you must lift your nose some, and so forth. 

Once you have learned to control your airspeed in various flap, landing gear, and power settings you are ready to move on to controlling either your projected glide point (PGP) or mastering slow Dutch rolls (SDR). 

Controlling your PGP is only slightly more difficult than controlling airspeed. During a constant airspeed approach, you will see a point on the ground that is staying absolutely still in your field of view. This is where you would go if nothing changed and you continued your downward glide. This is your PGP. If you keep your airspeed steady, your PGP will move farther away from you when you add power and it will come closer to you when you reduce the engine's power setting. More drag brings PGP closer; less drag pushes it away. There is really not much to controlling PGP, but when a pilot runs off the far end of the runway almost certainly poor PGP control, poor airspeed control, or both was the problem. You have to control them both to arrive at the right place and the right airspeed to execute a good landing. 

Ironically, once you have flown the proper approach, you no longer need to control either airspeed or PGP. A new set of skills is required to execute the landing itself. Fortunately you can learn most of these skills with one exercise conducted at a nice comfortable attitude. You learn it by doing SDR in slow flight and in a landing configuration. 

Pick a point on the horizon, hold it steady, and very slowly change your angle of bank without letting the point move. Repeat this exercise while transitioning from an approach glide to level slow flight.

Add power as required to maintain a constant altitude while keeping that point steady. Now you are ready to start landing practice. You learned how to keep the airplane from turning left or right in various angles of bank while flying in a landing configuration at speeds just above a stall by practicing SDR. This is a very good description of the technique used to land an airplane. If you have a simulator, you don't need an instructor. That is the nice thing about simulators; you botch up and try again. Airplanes are not so forgiving. 

In either airplane or simulator, here is how to learn to land. You have successfully flown the approach so you are about one wing span above the runway, over its center line and at just the right airspeed. From now on, forget about airspeed and PGP. 

Looking forward and from side to side like you were driving on the open road, you start raising your nose to slow the airplane's descent. Using your rudder pedals you keep the nose pointed at the far end of the runway. Using your ailerons you keep the airplane centered over the runway. Use your pitch attitude first, and then throttle, to keep the airplane off the runway. 

You are NOT going to land! This is just an exercise. The objective is to get as close to the runway, at as slow airspeed as possible, without touching it. You are now doing that SDR in level slow flight that you did earlier. Just to prove you have mastered the situation, slide the airplane from side to side just above the runway without touching but as close as you can get. Be certain that you continue to keep the airplane pointed at the far end of the runway and the airplane's body parallel to the runway. As you approach the end of the runway, smoothly apply full power and execute a go around. 

Each time you do this, fly the airplane as slowly as you can. Keep that stall warning screaming. It is really a fun thing to do. As you develop skill with this maneuver, try touching the runway but without landing. 

Touch it very gently but at as low a speed as you can. At some point you will realize that all you need to do is to touch the runway very gently at a very slow airspeed, then close the throttle and you will have landed. Easy, wasn't it? 

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