Too Short?

September 6, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

There are some immutable laws of physics that come into play when we fly. One of them that really should be respected is the landing distance required. There was an accident last week at Falmouth Airpark (5B6) on Cape Cod, Mass., involving a Cirrus SR22, a young CFI, a student pilot, and his wife. My usual caveat applies that this is perhaps slightly educated speculation on what happened since the NTSB factual report is months away.

The SR22 is a high-performance aircraft with a high wing loading and relatively high stall speeds. Most aircraft are able to land at an airport but then may be unable to take off in the available distance. The Cirrus is one of the few where the opposite is true—it needs more runway to land than to get airborne.

According to the SR22 Pilot Information Manual, under standard day, sea-level conditions, which would be close to those at 5B6, the landing distance to clear the 50′ obstacle is 2,636’ at a speed of 78 knots with additional speed added for wind as needed. The runway is just under 2,300′ and about 40′ wide which doesn’t allow much maneuvering in a crosswind. As can be seen in the photo, there’s not a lot of overrun, and most of us typically will clear the obstacle by at least 20′.

Short, narrow runway, perhaps some gusty winds, and pilots with unknown experience add up to a very high-performance situation. The Air Safety Institute recommends starting with a 50% margin over the best the test pilots can do during certification with a brand new aircraft using maximum braking. Call it 2,600′ plus 1,300′ equals just shy of 4,000′.

The epilogue, for what appears to be a slight miscalculation, is the 24-year old CFI was fatally injured, and the student and his wife were severely injured. This is not always a benign activity, and it’s good to remember that.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Brian Turrisi

    Bruce: Obviously this accident hits close to home as I fly an SR22 myself. This is not just a case about runway length. This was a student pilot with very little previous SR22 experience and he was on a flight lesson with his instructor who was a Cirrus certified instructor. In addition, he the student has his wife on board as a passenger during the lesson.
    The prelim data indicates the crash was actually caused by a bad go around rather than the landing. The plane was observed to have a very high AOA when full power was applied and the plane torqued to the left with a failure to adequately lower the nose and apply right rudder. So plane, in all probability, had a departure stall with too high a nose attitude and full power. It crashed off the left side of runway (not an over run) and hit tress with a lot of engine power. the plane flipped and caught fire and the instructor could not get out.
    There are too many lessons to discuss in this short comment section. But lets just say that short runway was only the tip of the iceberg and did not directly cause the crash. So sad!

  • http://BruceLandsberg paul cullman

    It all depends on the type of flying you are doing! If this is a week end once amonth excursion than your rules may be ok. If you are one with your aircraft it is hard to say how very short or long the runway should be.There is an Island here in the San Juans that I have seen the willows at the end cut off at the ground by some aircraft that needed just little more room.

  • http://na Sam Beale

    I left one of the “Other: See comments” responses, but did not see any opportunity or place to leave the comments. I went into Jacksonville, AL, (the airport is no longer in existence) on business. Runway was about 2500′ or so, don’t remember exactly, and I was in a Mooney 201. I was spoiled flying out of PDK with its wide and long runways, and as a result did not approach the Jacksonville runway with the airspeed at the short field recommend airspeed, and was probably a little high also. Fortunately when I did touch down and start rolling out, I saw that there was not enough runway and added power and went around. Second approach was at the correct airspeed and altitude over the numbers, but still took literally all the runway to stop, with heavy braking.

  • Bart

    Brian: it was not “a bad go around” and this accident didn’t hit “close to home”‘ it hit my home (not the house itself). Had they decided to go around, we wouldn’t be talking here. I have learned a valuable lesson that it is never too early to execute a go around.

  • Dale Tubbs

    Troubles with base to final turns ? (accident statistics) Glide slope as runway final picture develops ? Too high for runway available ? This seems like a classic departure stall. A 10,000 foot runway would not have prevented Even if it would have, small G/A aircraft simply cannot expect to have airliner facilities to be available everywhere. Should, perhaps, instruction technique/qualification be expanded?

  • Carl Dworman, CFIIA

    I have landed many times at 5B6 in my Mooney Rocket. Correct approach speed for a short field spot landing is essential.

    This runway is a slot cut out of the woods. Expect a wind shift as you descend T the beginning of the runway as you descend below the tops of the trees. Not a bad idea to practice short field landings at al ger runway first.

    Calculating the density altitude before co side ring landing there is very important. This is done automatically for you by the iPhone
    app iATIS. found at Calculates your headwind and crosswind component, too.

    5B6 is a very nice airport, friendly people.

    See my copilot at

  • Carl Dworman, CFIIA

    Sorry for the typos from my little keyboard on my iPhone.

  • Elbie Mendenhall CFIASMEL A&I

    Another accident that could possibly been prevented by use of an AOA. The industry still doesn’t realize an AOA MUST automatically correct for flaps to be accurate in all conditions. Hoprfully the ASTM F-39 committee will allow these fantastic instruments to be installed in Part 23 aircraft. I have been an instructor for 50 years, retired air carrier pilot and mfg.AOA instruments for 17 years. We need to teach “flying” not button pushing, but some instruments will save lives

  • Gary B.

    I actually flew with this CFI once, about a year ago during my commercial pilot training. I found him to be a competent and safe instructor, and as was previously mentioned, he also went to Cirrus’s training course.

    We can only speculate as to what happened (I’ve been hearing a lot of contradictory reports), but I think more than anything, regardless of the aircraft, conditions, and runway length/width, it serves as a reminder that we must always be prepared for the worse. I’m also finding as a recently-minted CFII that things can quickly go from safe to unsafe, especially during takeoff or landing.

    Flying is a lot of fun, and with proper, dedicated practice and training, it can be made relatively safe. However, this accident particularly served as a strong reminder to me that it’s not an activity we should be doing if we’re not fully prepared to handle whatever may come our way.

  • Adrian Gilbert, retired 17,000 hour airline pilot

    Greetings from New Zealand, Bruce.

    In response to your question; “What’s the closest you’ve come to running out of runway?” I clicked “Other, See Comments” so here they are.

    It was February, 1967: I was about to join my first Squadron in the Royal Air Force and was doing my conversion onto the Avro Vulcan B.2 bomber. With all of four flights completed, I was rostered to fly as Co Pilot to a very senior Group Captain who was about to take command of RAF Waddington. This was to be his first flight back in command after three years of ‘flying a mahogany bomber’ (doing a ‘desk job’ at RAF Headquarters).

    On our 0700 hours maximum weight takeoff from RAF Finningley, while accelerating through 165 knots – still prior to V1 – we got an indication of multiple failures of the Powered Flying Controls. The Vulcan had 8 ‘Elevons’ – combination elevator / aileron units, each driven by a separate electrically operated hydraulic motor. An early example of ‘fly by wire': clever idea but prone to failure.

    In the Simulator, we would practice flying with all four ‘Elevons’ failed on one wing but, in the circumstances, an abort seemed a good call. The Captain called ‘abort’ and closed the thrust levers – no reverse thrust on the Vulcan – while I flipped the brake chute lever.

    Initially, it appeared that we would have no problem stopping in the remaining distance available. However, a successful abort close to V1 on the Vulcan was predicated on the successful deployment of the brake parachute and, unfortunately, on this occasion, the chute failed to deploy…

    Without the assistance of the brake chute, the brakes couldn’t handle the job of arresting the heavy bomber and, as we sailed on down the 9,000 foot runway, they burst into flames. The Tower reckoned we were only doing about 30 knots as we left the runway and started sinking slowly into the soft Lincolnshire bog.

  • frederick boyd

    Danielson in CT. Runway was short and narrow. Made landing/TO with ease in my Tripacer but there was no room for error.

    Same for Old Rhinebeck when you could fly in. I did it with my Cherokee 180. Precision landing required.

  • frederick boyd

    Danielson CT. Runway short and narrow. No problem with my Tripacer but no room for eating up the runway for TO/Ldg.

    Old Rhinebeck when you could fly into it. Went in with my Cherokee 180. Requires precision on TOO/ldg.

  • Daniel Schlenger

    I learned to fly a Lancair 360 after having just a couple hundred hours under my belt in the usual garden variety Cherokees and Cessnas. In the first 50 hours or so, I nearly made the papers a couple of times due to underestimating the distance required to land on short runways with obstacles. Only after about 100 hours in the Lancair would I count myself as a capable Lancair pilot meaning that I then had the skills to exercise a decent short field landing with predictable and safe results on appropriate runways. I do not have any Cirrus time but my son who flew both my Lancair and has some Cirrus time says they feel very similar in landing performance, that is you need to be ahead of the plane and your approach doesn’t have a lot of room for error.

    I learned to land the Lancair at Castle near Merced because I had about 10,000 feet of runway to work with. If I did it over, I would have purchased something more like a Turbo Arrow. The Arrow isn’t nearly as exciting or fast but is a much safer ride and much easier to master.

    I question the wisdom of putting a student pilot in such a high performance plane in the early days of training and even more so in an exacting runway environment. I told one student pilot who was doing his primary training in an SR22 that I considered that to be a mistake. It is way too easy to overestimate one’s flying skills, especially with an extra dose of testosterone that younger men have to deal with. Everybody is God’s gift to aviation until something goes awry.

    I am saddened to hear of the demise of this dedicated flight instructor and probably the loss of another potential pilot or more as a result of the injuries of the student and his wife. I hope their recoveries are complete.

  • Mark C

    I don’t necessarily add the 40 – 50% but I’m cautious. I treat every landing as if it were a short field landing, to keep sharp on the technique, barring conditions like the need to land long to avoid wake turbulence. I used 3000 feet of a 3300 foot runway once when I was a student pilot, and disliked the feeling enough to make a determined effort to never let it happen again.

  • Don G

    I’m a high time CFII – now retired. Rather than always practicing a short field landing at low air speeds and margins every landing, how much better it is to decide on a landing spot every landing and make that a practice. When competent then go with a good, high time instructor to hone your short field practice. My experience has been that misjudging the “where landing” is the primary error in blown short field landings.

  • John

    Was this a recurrency flight? A familiarization flight? or a BFR? or a “let’s go fly” event?

    What are the stats for BFRs? Do BFRs really improve accident stats compared to no BFRs? I’ve been told that BFRs haven’t really (in themselves) improved GA – non Professional pilot – accident rates. I’ve even heard a couple of people assert a “study” was done by AOPA or someone who does those things that strongly suggested the BFR format used in the past was ineffective. Do these studies exist? and if so, what’s the citation?