Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Learning to land an aeroplane is tough and requires a lot of practice. It's usually the case that you can master the circuit in a relatively short time but that last bit is tricky and you may find yourself wishing you could just practice the round-out and flare over and over again without having to fly around the circuit. On the flip-side, getting it right is very satisfying and and will bring a smile to your face. These tips are designed to help the student pilot primarily flying microlight and Rotax 912 types, though they may aide qualified pilots and those flying larger aircraft.
1. Right Rudder
Aircraft equipped with the Rotax 912 often exhibit a significant tendency to yaw left when any power is applied and many also do this at slow speeds when the engine is idling. Sitting in the left seat also gives you parallax which results in the pilot believing the aircraft is straight when actually it is pointing somewhat to the left. Together, these two effects can cause difficulties for the student when aligning the aircraft with the runway during the flare. If you find that the aircraft is moving to the left after landing, or the aircraft rolls slightly to starboard with a jarring effect on the starboard leg, it is likely that the aircraft was not correctly aligned with the runway at touch down. Ask your instructor to show you what straight looks like and you can replicate it on your next landing, even if it feels to you like it is pointing somewhat to the right.
2. Look ahead
Flaring the aircraft and judging your height above the ground is all about depth perception. Your depth perception will be improved if you do not stare at your intended touch down point. It is best to bring your eyes up and look at the far side of the runway. This will bring your wings and the runway into your peripheral vision which will help you judge your height above the ground and you should find it easier to know when to pull back. Staring at a point on the near side of the runway will cause landing point fixation. You will find that as you get close to that point, the ground will suddenly rush up at you and you may well land nose wheel first, or pull back abruptly causing the aircraft to balloon.
3. Understand and avoid a pilot-induced-oscillation
A PIO is caused when the pilot tries to land the aircraft with excess speed, suffers landing point fixation or simply misjudges the flare, landing on the nosewheel first. In the case of landing with excess speed, the pilot may tend to push the aircraft on to the ground. Unfortunately if the wings are still producing enough lift, the aircraft is likely to become airborne again and an oscillation will occur where the aircraft bounces down the runway.
A similar effect occurs when the aircraft is landed nosewheel first. The aircraft bounces back into the air and comes back down on the nosewheel.
In both cases, the oscillations get bigger with every bounce until the nosewheel collapses.
The avoid a PIO, the pilot should ensure that they approach at the correct speed and hold the aircraft off long enough in the flare to dissipate excess energy. They should also ensure that they land in a nose-high attitude on the main gear.
Recovery from a pilot-induced-oscillation is to apply full power and go-around.
4. Fly a stable approach
It is very difficult to get a good landing from an unstable approach. If your approach angle and speed are varying significantly on final, you are flying an unstable approach and it is likely to result in a poor landing. This is why airlines require their crew to have a stabilised approach by a certain point otherwise they need to abort the landing and go-around. Flying a longer final approach will give you more time to stabilise it. Ensure that your speed, alignment and approach angle are stable and you should find it easier to land. It should help to ensure that the aircraft is in trim. Small fluctuations are inevitable and do not constitute an unstable approach.
5. Don't chop the power or raise the nose too soon
Light sports aircraft and microlights will lose energy quicker than heavier aircraft. If the power is reduced too soon during the approach, the airspeed may reduce rapidly and you may find yourself approaching the ground without enough energy to properly hold off and achieve a nose-up attitude. Reducing power to idle at 30ft may get you in trouble in a microlight, especially on a gusty day. Similarly, if you begin to flare the aircraft at 5ft above the ground, it will eventually stall and fall 5ft to the earth which will result in a heavy landing indeed. For most fixed-wing microlights and light sport aircraft, you need to bring the aircraft down to one or two feet above the runway during the flare.
6. Ensure that you are good at going-around
Incidents have often happened when a pilot should have gone-around but didn't - we all know that one. However, there have been numerous accidents over the last few years where a pilot elected to go-around but lost control. Ensure that you are proficient at aborting landings and understand how your aircraft performs in the landing configuration. Many fixed wing types are able to climb with landing flap, though it is in a flat attitude and any attempt to raise the nose above the horizon will result in rapid speed loss potentially leading to a stall. Make sure that you know the go-around procedure as detailed in the pilot's operating handbook and practice it so you are familiar with the aircraft's handling in this configuration.
7. Don't be afraid to lower the into-wind wing during a crosswind landing
When applying rudder to line up with the runway, you will need to apply opposite stick to counter drift. Pilots often don’t apply enough and end up drifting somewhat downwind at the point of touch down. This puts a side load on the undercarriage and makes for an uncomfortable landing.
Don’t be afraid to dip the wing significantly and land into-wind wheel first. This is the correct method for a crosswind landing.
8. Know your limits (and the aircraft's limits)
Ensure that you know your own limitations when it comes to strip length and wind conditions. Exceeding these will make for poor landings or worse. As a student or low hours pilot, your limitations should be somewhat tighter than the minimum figures published in the Pilot's Operating Handbook. As you gain experience, you will be able to slowly expand the range of conditions that you are happy to operate in.
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