Cessna 172 in the landing flare. Photography courtesy of Nicole Lund.
Mastering landings is one of the tougher parts of private pilot training. Learning to land consists of repetition with a few botched landings thrown into the mix. Are you learning to fly or experiencing a plateau with landings recently? It is important to pinpoint the cause of the mediocre landing. Here are seven of the most common landing mistakes.
1. A too fast approach speed
Flying a faster than recommended approach speed can cause you to eat up valuable runway due to floating. Increasing approach speed due to wind gusts is acceptable and encouraged. The rule of thumb is to only increase the approach speed by half of the gust factor. Remember to pitch for your airspeed!
2. A bounce in your landingAn aircraft bouncing while landing results from touching down at a fast speed. Not enough energy was bled off in the flare resulting in the airplane bouncing after the mainwheels touchdown. Some instructors teach remaining in the flare until the stall horn is heard. This is a safe method as long as the airplane remains in ground effect.
3. Landing the plane in a crab
Landing a plane in a crab will sideload the aircraft. Crabbing is a great technique on final when there is a crosswind. If the wind is blowing from the right, pointing the aircraft to the right will help prevent the wind from pushing the aircraft left of the runway. However, landing in a crab can overstress the gear and even cause the aircraft to tip on its side. The rudder will straighten the plane out of the crab and using right aileron will help land the right mainwheel tire first which is ideal when the crosswind is from the right.
4. Wheel Barreling
Wheel barreling can occur for a couple of different reasons. Not adding enough elevator pressure in the flare can cause the plane to land on all three wheels or even the nose wheel. If the airplane has enough energy, it can start to porpoise down the runway. This increases the chances of the nose wheel collapsing and a propeller strike. Make sure to land on the main tires.
Landing with the nosewheel off the ground will prevent wheel barreling. Photography courtesy of Nicole Lund.
5. Ballooning on landing due to flaringBallooning while landing is something all pilots have experienced. This is a direct result of flaring too much. The airplane climbs out of the ground effect, airspeed bleeds off, and the airplane ultimately hits the runway hard. Try using less elevator pressure, stay in the ground effect to bleed off speed, and finally lift the airplane's nose up prior to touching down.
6. Unstable approach
An unstable approach can throw off the landing. Flying a faster or slower than normal speed on the final makes it harder to land the plane. Approaching at a higher or lower altitude than normal can also attribute to an unstable approach. Make sure to pitch for the target approach speed and use power for altitude.
7. Not performing a go-around when one is needed
If an approach does not look right, you can always perform a go-around. This gives the pilot a second opportunity to be on the target airspeed and glide path. Go-arounds are often looked down upon, but they should not be. They should be performed for numerous reasons such as a gust of wind pushing the aircraft off centerline, windshear, fast approach speed, or being high on final.
Landing is one of the harder parts of learning to fly. Taking long periods of time off from flying can induce landing plateaus. Many pilots working on their instrument rating also often experience troubles with landings after performing low passes in instrument training. It is easy to beat yourself up over a landing plateau. One of these seven landing mistakes might be causing you to be off your A-game.