All new pilots and many experienced ones are challenged by landings. You are not alone! For some time to come you will seek the “perfect flare,” and find it only occasionally. That being said, here are a few pointers for improving your landings.
Most success in landing airplanes of every size comes from establishing a “stabilized approach” well before touchdown. By approaching the runway the same way each time, you minimize distracting last minute adjustments near the landing point.
1. Fly your landing pattern the same way every time.
2. Perhaps the single most important factor for making good landings is to establish and TRIM for the proper airspeed on final approach. Too fast? You’ll “balloon” or float in the flare. Too slow? The plane will drop in like a rock. Trimming is critical because it stabilizes the plane at target airspeed without much attention from you. (You have plenty else to do at that point, right?) The airspeed will automatically drop off as it’s supposed to, on flare.
3. Correct your final approach path long before touchdown. You’ve probably noticed that along with airspeed variations, coming in high or low tremendously changes how you must flare. That makes it tough, because ideally you’d like to flare similarly every time. The trick is to IDENTIFY AT THE MOMENT YOU TURN FINAL IF YOU ARE HIGH OR LOW, LEFT OR RIGHT, AND CORRECT IMMEDIATELY WHILE STILL FAR FROM THE RUNWAY. Stabilizing your normal airspeed and approach path well before reaching the runway makes flaring easier and more consistent. (The high-or-low part can often be identified and addressed on base leg, even before turning final.)
4. As for the flare itself, your goal is not so much to do a specific maneuver (“Here’s where I need to flare; I’ll do it… now.”), but rather to cause the plane to stop flying and stall at “one inch” above the ground. So think of the flare as a “round out” rather than an abrupt pitch change. Smoothly and gradually pitch up as you approach the touchdown point, in an effort to keep the wheels from touching. Then HOLD THE PLANE “ONE INCH ABOVE THE GROUND” AS LONG AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN. It takes self control but continue pulling back on the yoke to keep the plane “1 inch” above the ground, until it “lands by itself.” This smooth, continuous transition from final approach to touchdown indeed constitutes “the flare.”
5. Keep your eyes focused well down the runway, NOT immediately in front of the plane. Flare is largely judged through peripheral vision, so looking down the runway gives you the “big picture” required for good landings.
When you master the above building blocks, you will master landings. Let me know how they work!
PS: Here’s an additional tip on how to deal with runways of varying lengths and sizes. Don’t fly the pattern based on sight picture alone, because doing so will put your downwind too close to short narrow runways, and unusually far from long, wide ones. Rather, always fly downwind about 1/2 mile from the runway. To estimate that, establish yourself at pattern altitude and visually compute your downwind distance from the runway based on runway length. Downwind to a 5,000 foot runway should be about half a runway length away. Downwind to a 2500 foot runway will be about one runway length away. Downwind to a 10,000 foot runway will be about a quarter of a runway length away, and so on. That gets you flying a similar pattern and approach to every runway no matter what its length, because you’re always starting from a half-mile downwind, turning base at 45 degrees past the numbers, etc.
©2009, 2013, 2014 Gregory N. Brown