December 4, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

Triangles mark end of touchdown zone at ANP.

In the December issue of AOPA Pilot I wrote about Southwest Airlines B737 sliding off the end of Runway 31C at Chicago’s Midway airport. It was a one in a million sequence of events and pointed up significant holes in the system despite a phenomenal safety record. In GA, though, we have aircraft crashing with some regularity off short runways.

John Cutcher, who’s a pilot examiner at the Baltimore FSDO and based at Lee airport (ANP) in Annapolis, MD came up with a clever idea that would mark the end of the first third of the runway. You’ll recall what your first CFI told you about always landing in the first third. The runway here is 2,500 long but only 2,170 feet are available for landing. With obstacles and a 4 degree approach path one needs to be on speed and altitude. And Annapolis has had more than it’s share of accidents – usually with transients.

A different marking scheme at Potomac MD, (VKX).

So, we’re told to land in the first third but it’s not marked in any way. John persuaded the management at ANP to paint a triangle at the appropriate point. See the picture. Not on the ground and braking by the time the triangle marks pass? Go around.

John’s proposal is to make this a standard marking on all runways less than 3,000 feet. I like the idea. What do you think?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Andy Crane

    Another good idea that will create so much additional bureaucracy not to mention another tool to decrease skills. Lawsuits filed by pilots and/or their heirs
    because some idiot landed long on a runway without the 1/3 markers, lawsuits because they hit the 1/3 marker with the wrong weight and balance or the wrong allowance for that aircraft’s performance numbers. You should have been able to demonstrate the ability land within the 1st third of the runway on your check ride and you should have improved that skill over time. We don’t need markers.

  • David Andersen

    I don’t really understand what’s magical about touching down in the first third of the runway. None of the airplanes I’ve ever flown reference that in their performance data, nor does it guarantee enough runway remaining to stop the airplane safely, even if “the book” does consider the runway long enough for your airplane. If “the book” has us touching down at the 800-ft point from over a 50-ft obstacle, why accept the 1000-ft point with no obstacle?

    I think it would be far more appropriate to teach pilots how to relate their own performance to that of the AFM, and make appropriate determinations as to the point they need to be firmly on the ground based on that. I also think this is one area where we fail as instructors. In my opinion, every takeoff and landing in training should be computed, and actual performance compared to the theoretical. This would give pilots a solid basis both for determining the suitability of a particular runway, as well as how to determine whether they’re touching down within the performance-required distance instead of an arbitrary fraction of the runway that’s really meaningless.

  • Andrew Walton

    My first solo was out of a 2400′ strip with 60′ trees 10 feet from the threshold and 40′ trees on the other end.

    We regularly trained students to fly there and used two sets of cones as the land/go-around decision point. If you weren’t down by the first set of cones, you went around. Period.

  • Cary Alburn

    I worry about adding complexity to a really pretty simple situation, and I agree that less bureaucratic nonsense and better training are the solutions, not markers that vary from airport to airport. We tend to tolerate mediocrity in ourselves and in others, and there’s no place for mediocrity on a short strip. While a mediocre pilot can get away with it on a long runway, he/she needs to practice and become proficient before landing on a shorter strip.

    Years ago, I regularly flew a 172 into a private strip at Sundance, WY, which was 2100′ long, sloped, and at 5000′ elev. While not a big deal to any back country pilot, it was challenging enough to me early in my flying career that before leaving for it, I would do a series of landings at my home airport (LAR) using the 1000′ markers as my “runway”. Later as I accumulated experience, that prep was less necessary, and I had no trouble putting higher performance airplanes into it (T210, Mooney 231), using less than half the runway before having to add a little power just to taxi to the parking area.

    The key to any short field operation is the same key to good landings in any environment, airspeed control. Practicing every landing as if it is on a short field, using proper airspeed control (remember 1.3 Vso?), then the real short fields won’t be an issue.


  • Jim Diehl

    I also fly out of Lee Airport in Annapolis and look forward to hearing John and AOPA talk about this visualization effort next month. Last June, I completed the Colorado Pilots Assocation Mountain Flying Course flying out of the highest airports in the United Stated. CPA teaches a “75/50″ for takeoffs where density altitude (runway length) may cause a problem. Identify the mid-point of the runway. If you have not reached 75 percent of takeoff speed by the mid-point, then abort the take-off. This concept gives us a single-engine takeoff decision speed, related to runway length. It works at sea-level fields too!

  • http://www.potomac-airfield.com David Wartofsky

    People sometimes ask why I put ‘Field Carrier Landing Practice’ FCLP aircraft markings on my runway.

    Here are some of my reasons:

    1. Its so familiar to most of our Potomac pilots, it makes them feel more at home.

    2. Last time I did a touch and go on a carrier in the Chesapeake in my Cessna Skymaster, a lot of people got pissed off.

    3. I like the idea of Flight Service having to explain it to everyone who calls.

    4. Every pilot wonders if they could land on a carrier; so at Potomac, they can actually try.

    5. Just to have some fun!

    6 All of the above.

    David Wartofsky

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