FAQ: Takeoffs and landings

I’m having trouble with the flare. Any Advice?

First of all, you must have a stabilized descent. That means nailing your target airspeed and descent rate and maintaining them with very small pitch and power inputs. If you’re working hard at that part, ask you CFI to spend more time with you in slow flight. Without that stabilized descent you simply cannot develop any consistency when it gets to the end game of transitioning to the flare and touchdown.

I find that it often helps to think of the “flare” in two parts, the second of which is really the flaring part: “level off” and “flare”.

Leveling off involves flattening your downward motion – you transition the airplane from it’s descent to level flight. Thinking of it this way tends to help helps with ballooning problems since changing to the familiar level flight attitude tends to help avoid over-rotating. How high is the level off? Well, it’s usually somewhat lower, but you’re generally safe if you begin about a wing span off the ground – you want to level off into ground effect. The level off will start the process of bleeding off speed, and the final descent to the ground. Once it begins, you can start the flare.

The flare itself involves slowly (so you slow but do not stop the descent) bringing the nose up to the exact same position it was in when the mains left the ground on takeoff. I’ll repeat that. The flare itself involves slowly bringing the nose up to the exact same position it was in when the mains left the ground on takeoff. It’s easy to visualize and the best part is that if the nose is in that position, you will land mains first. (BTW, noticing my attitude when I take off is how I teach myself how to land an airplane type I never flew before).

Once you get the nose in that position, keep it there. Keeping it there will require you to continue to apply back pressure. It will also help you apply the correct amount of back pressure. I think that’s important to understand. CFIs constantly tell pilots to “hold it off” or continue pulling the yoke back. I know this is a standard instruction. I hear it all the time. It’s essentially correct, but I think it misses the point and leads to some very interesting ballooning as someone brings the stick all the way back because that’s the way it’s “supposed” to be done. But what happens when you bring the nose back to the takeoff position and do whatever is necessary to keep it there until it won’t stay up any more? Go back to slow flight. What happens? As the airplane gets slower, controls get less effective — more deflection is necessary to get the same effect. So you’re in the flare and getting slower and slower and slower. This means that in order to keep the nose in the same place, you need to pull back more and more and more. You don’t bring the yoke to your belly because that’s the way you’re =supposed to= do it, but rather it’s more or less the way you have to do it. If you do what is necessary to keep the same pitch attitude, you will be “holding it off”

How Come I Always Land Left of Centerline with the Airplane Crooked?

Back in high school physics, you may have come across a concept called parallax, “the apparent displacement of an object as seen from two different points that are not on a line with the object”. Essentially it means that if you are trying to line up two points, you have to be in line with them or your perspective is skewed. In landing, we are trying to line up the center of the airplane with the runway centerline. If we were sitting dead center in the airplane, in line with the other two points, there would be no problem. But we are sitting a bit to the left, so it becomes more difficult. (BTW, CFI trainees tend to land to the right of the centerline for exactly the same reason)

Fortunately, the solution is easier than explaining the problem. Our eyes and brain are designed to adjust, if we do one simple thing: keep ourselves rather than the airplane centered. There are a number of ways to do this, using various parts of our body and the airplane. I teach three different ones due to differences in the way different people tend to visualize things:

  • centerline between the feet and square to the chest
  • centerline through the heart and square to the chest
  • centerline through the center of and square to the yoke.

Doesn’t matter if you like your nose or forehead or whatever better: the key is to line up something that is in the center of you rather than in the center of the airplane. Once we line ourselves up, then we use the rudder and ailerons as needed to keep us there.

Prove to yourself that it works: Pull the airplane out of its parking space and place it on a taxiway center line, absolutely centered and nose on the line. Get in. The taxi line will look like it’s between your legs (middle of your chest, centered with your nose…). Now move to the right seat – the taxi line will still be between your legs.

BTW, this is not the only way to solve the problem. In fact, it’s not the most common way. The more common way is to practice enough that you eventually figure out what the nose looks like when everything is fine. Only problem is that you have to figure it out all over again when you move into a different airplane and if you ever decide to become a CFI, have to figure it out all over again from the other seat when everything is reversed.

Should I Slip or “Crab and Kick” for Crosswind Landings?

I think it’s great when people start talking about “slip all the way” vs. “kick it at the last minute” as thought they were two completely different things. In many online groups (not yours of course), the flame throwers start next and each side tells why it’s selected method is the best. Being completely wishy-washy (Charlie Brown is my hero), my take is somewhere in the middle: “Crab & Kick” and “Slip All The Way” aren’t different from each other. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum. When I teach crosswind landings (is there really any other kind?) here’s the approach I take:

  1. As you turn final, you should still be in coordinated flight. That, at least initially, means crab in order to track the runway centerline. The direction and degree of the crab is a excellent indication of the general direction and strength of the wind. Comparison between this and the wind sock 300-400′ below will tell you a lot about what to expect (especially if they show the wind in opposite directions!)
  2. At some point you will transition into a slip. That point may be very early on final, somewhere down the middle, or in the flare. Where you do it will be a matter of personal preferences and your preference may change depending on flight conditions. For example, if the wind is particularly strong and you haven’t had a lot of crosswind practice lately, you might set up the slip earlier to test control effectiveness. If you have passengers on board (especially in the back seat) you might transition into the slip later since passengers don’t tend to enjoy the yaw of a slip that much. Use your rudder to turn the airplane so that your chest is square with the centerline. Use the ailerons to keep the centerline right between your feet. Make the corrections you need to keep it that way: rudder for your chest; ailerons for your feet.
  3. An important lesson to take home. Whether you transition to the slip at the last moment or a mile away, you have to move your ailerons into the crosswind correction configuration. And when you touch town, you must immediately moe the ailerons to the correct crosswind taxi position. If not, at best, you will sideload the airplane; at worst, the wind will lift your wing and/or push you off the runway. Most crosswind accidents happen once you are on the ground, not while you are still in the air The important things are pilot proficiency, pilot (and passenger) comfort level, safety, knowing that you have to transition to crosswind taxi on roll out, and understanding the aerodynamics involved in each end of the spectrum. (For example, a longer slip requires more power.)