by Chris Findley, CFI, CFII
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Learning to land is one of the greatest thrills in flying. In fact, I think most pilots, even if they have been flying for years, still love the challenge of making a great landing. It is a common misconception (particularly among students) to think that the main thing we have concentrate on is the round-out and flare. Certainly these are important, but a great landing really begins in the pattern, specifically on the downwind leg.
In most trainers, when we are abeam our touchdown point, we reduce the power, add our first flap setting, and establish an appropriate descent. Learning to establish this configuration enables us to arrive at the roundout and flare in a condition that allows for a great landing.
Many students are reluctant to allow the plane to descend on the downwind, therefore they are high on final approach. Others stay much too fast and carry excess airspeed into the roundout. They float and float down the runway waiting for the plane to settle. Others make the opposite mistake –they are low and drag the plane in over the trees and plop it onto the threshold.
Landing is all about energy management –airspeed and altitude. If we set up the airplane the same way every time we practice landings (winds/weather permitting) then we develop our skills at establishing a solid final approach which will lead us to a much better chance at that smooth landing.
I had one pilot I flew with who was very frustrated that his landings were all long –using up 2/3 of the runway. After one trip around the pattern I saw that he was high in the pattern, didn’t use a consistent flap setting, and was trying to land 15 knots over the recommended approach speed. That will make you land long every time.
After a few more trips around and a review of the recommended speeds, his landings were 100% better.
So don’t neglect the importance of flying a proper pattern. It’s a great help in the quest for that perfect landing.