Joined APC: Apr 2013
Position: Retired (6-drawer Oak Desk)
I know just how much everyone on this forum likes to have someone come along and “tell them” how it’s to be done. So, for those of you here who are older than ½ of my age – stop reading and go on down to the next post. OK, maybe you don’t know my age, but I was around when dirt was invented – that should give you an approximation. But, for you folks who are less than ½ of my age, listen up – this may be important to you, and, after a little practice, you just may be able to teach those guys who have now stopped reading how to really land an airplane. This procedure is applicable to every airplane from a C-152 to a B-747 (I haven’t flown a B-52 or the A-380, but I’ll bet it works there, too) – it also works in calm conditions, head winds, tail winds, cross winds, CAVU conditions, snow, ice, rain, simple IMC conditions, and even FLIR-aided IMC conditions.
As almost everyone knows – the last portion of the final approach should be flown in the configuration in which you plan to land, and flown at a constant speed of 1.3 Vs (computed in that configuration), plus ½ of the steady state wind (not to exceed an additive of 20 knots) plus all of the gust factor. I personally believe that this steady-state condition should be established at 1000 feet AGL, but I know that some operations allow this altitude to be lower – but in the passenger revenue world I’m not aware of any that are below 500 feet AGL.
You should cross the runway threshold at what ever is the minimum threshold crossing height – for most transport category airplanes this should be about 50 feet. And at that point you should have been able to bleed off the airspeed additives you’ve been holding for steady-state wind (and only the steady-state wind additives) – you’ll still have the 1.3 Vs plus all the gust factor. This will require you to continue to fly the airplane to the runway. Some operators recommend that you begin to reduce power at this point – if that is the procedure you’ve been taught, fine – but keep the airspeed constant until you begin the flare (if you decide to begin power reduction at this point, it will likely require pushing the nose over a bit – hopefully it will only require nose down pressure and not nose down movement). The point to which you should be flying at this point (the “aim” point – that point that doesn’t move up or down in the windscreen) is a point on the runway surface about 2/3 of the way between the threshold and the fixed distance markers (for the C-150 guys, this aim point should be the numbers themselves and for the B-747 guys, the aim point should be the fixed distance markers or just beyond).
OK, now for the flare. The question that always comes up is, “to what attitude do I flare?” When you start to flare is critical. You will want to reach your flare attitude with the main wheels something between 1 and 5 feet from the runway surface (1 foot or so for the C-152 guys and 5 feet for the B-747 guys … yes, I know how difficult it is to imagine the mains at 5 feet above the runway from the B-747 cockpit – but remember, you’re good at your job! – Make it 5 feet!) The change in the attitude from when you initiate the flare to reaching the flare attitude should take just about 3 seconds (no less than 2 for you C-150 guys and no more than 4 for you B-747 guys) and you should wind up with the main wheels “just off the runway surface. The speed you should have when you reach the flare attitude should be just below (between 5 and 10 knots below) what you carried from the threshold to this point – again, the smaller number is for the smaller airplanes and the larger number for the larger airplanes. The attitude should be just exactly what it would take to MAINTAIN LEVEL FLIGHT from this point all the way down the runway – at the airspeed achieved upon reaching that level flight attitude. What I’d have you practice would be, “do not climb, do not descend, do not accelerate, do not decelerate; fly the entire length of the runway and we’ll go around as we approach the departure end of the runway.” I’d also have you position the belly of the airplane, i.e., that point exactly between the main gear - the body gear for you B-747 guys - over the centerline of the runway, and I’d tell you to fly down the runway (no climb, no descent, no faster, no slower) with that point on the belly of the airplane exactly over the runway centerline – and to do that with whatever crab angle you need to do it. Of course you’d have to add a bit of power to maintain the airspeed you achieved when reaching the level flight attitude (since you had the throttles back to maintain airspeed during that last part of the final approach) but that is OK for practice.
I’d have you do this exercise over and over, as many times as was necessary, to get you comfortable with “when to initiate the flare,” “how quickly to flare,” and “the attitude at which you need to stop the flare and hold that attitude,” with the main gear just off the runway surface. The key here, after getting you to recognize when to start the flare and how quickly to flare, is to get you to recognize what attitude to achieve (and maintain) at the end of the flare – THAT attitude is the LEVEL FLIGHT ATTITUDE – i.e., the attitude that will allow level flight down the runway, at that airspeed, and that distance above the runway surface.
Once you’ve got it, (i.e., you can fly down the length of the runway as I’ve described) and can do it repeatedly. THEN, and only then, you can bring “power adjustment” into your process. By that, I mean, as you begin the flare – some prefer to wait until the flare attitude is reached – (I prefer the first) you begin the throttle reduction. However, NOTE - it is not a “slam the throttles to idle” maneuver. The idea is to get the throttles to the idle position as the mains touch the runway. As you pull the throttles back, you will notice the nose getting heavier – but do not let it move down. Increase the back pressure on the elevator controls – BUT not to move the nose up – rather just keep it from moving down. Over the 3 seconds (+ or -) it takes to flare, the airspeed will begin to decelerate. Also, as you reduce the power setting, and while the airplane continues to descend, it will go from just above the runway to ON the runway. Level Flight Attitude is the attitude from which you want to land the airplane. Your touchdown should be firm but not hard, the kinetic energy of the airplane should be moving in the right direction, the nose should be able to be flown to the runway rather quickly as it is will not be unnecessarily high to arrest a high sink rate. You should be over the center of the runway, with the controls already properly positioned for the landing run.
If you had been carrying a crab angle to counter a crosswind, the crab should be removed in exactly the same time as the flare takes – 3 seconds (again + or -). The pressure applied to the rudder pedal to pressure the nose around to line up with the centerline of the runway should start with the back pressure on the control column to flare. NOTE – don’t “KICK” the nose around – “PRESSURE” the nose around. Also you probably know that this will likely take some “into-the-wind” aileron to counter the tendency of the forward sweeping wing to rise … but, unless the wind is quite strong, you won’t be in the air long enough to have the wind blow you downwind and off the centerline. Of course, if the wind IS quite strong, you may have to add a bit more aileron to slightly (very slightly) dip the wing tip in the up-wind direction.
I offer just one caveat. If you discuss this with your chief pilot or fleet captain and they absolutely forbid you to fly and land this way – pay attention to your company and forget what I’ve said. This is not an attempt to thwart the way your company procedures require you to operate. If this is different from the way you normally approach and land, I do not recommend that you do it without everyone in the cockpit knowing what you are going to do, no matter what position you are flying – if you can swing it, I’d recommend practicing it in the simulator with someone who knows what they are doing. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy this becomes, and how consistent your landings will become as well – night, day, rain, snow, clear, no matter. Consistent landings are good things to cultivate. Also, if you try this and you conclude that this is the epitome of wrong-headedness, let me know and I’ll buy you a beer. However, if you think it is the correct way to land, let me know and I’ll buy you two!