A good landing begins with a good approach (see below). Before the final approach is begun, the pilot performs a landing checklist to ensure that critical items such as fuel flow, landing gear down, and carburettor heat on are not forgotten. Flaps are used for most landings because they permit a lower- approach speed and a steeper angle of descent. This gives the pilot a better view of the landing area. The airspeed and rate of descent are stabilized, and the airplane is aligned with the runway centreline as the final approach is begun.

An important element that is learned by the student pilot 'by just keeping on doing it', is to maintain the right attitude and rate of descent during the approach. Gradually one learns to 'see the picture'..... of how much nose cowling can be seen, and the perspective of the runway. It can be difficult at first if you are landing on different sized runways, as one must make a mental adjustment to the 'picture'. The numbers on the runway are an important pointer whether you are going to overshoot or land short.

If the numbers start to disappear under the aircraft's nose, you are landing long.

If the number distance themselves from the aircraft's nose, you are landing short.

When the airplane descends across the approach end (threshold) of the runway, power is reduced further (probably to idle). At this time, the pilot slows the rate of descent and airspeed by progressively applying more back pressure to the control wheel. The airplane is kept aligned with the centre of the runway mainly by use of the rudder.

Continuing back pressure on the control wheel, as the airplane enters ground effect and gets closer and closer to the runway, further slows its forward speed and rate of descent. The pilot's objective is to keep the airplane safely flying just a few inches above the runway's surface until it loses flying speed. In this condition, the airplane's main wheels will either "squeak on" or strike the runway with a gentle bump. With the wheels of the main landing gear firmly on the runway, the pilot applies more and more back pressure on the control wheel. This holds the airplane in a nose-high attitude which keeps the nose wheel from touching the runway until forward speed is much slower. The purpose here is to avoid overstressing and damaging the nose gear when the nosewheel touches down on the runway. The landing is a transition from flying to taxiing. It demands more judgment and technique than any other manoeuvre. More accidents occur during the landing phase than any other phase of flying. Fortunately, most of these accidents bend the aircraft rather than people. Variables such as cross wind, wind shear and up-and-down draft add to the problem of landing. Good pilots can be easily recognized. They land smoothly on the main wheels in the centre of the runway and maintain positive directional control as the airplane slows to taxiing speed.

factors in landing

Every aircraft type possesses its own special characteristics. Fortunately test pilots have already carefully studied these, and the results are enshrined in the aircraft type's pilot operating handbook. The handbook will recommend the best speed of approach and give vital information on all phases of flight and aircraft operation. As a rule of thumb, the best approach speed is 1.3 multiplied by the stalling speed of the aircraft. The pilot must bear in mind that the stalling speed will increase if the aircraft is heavier. If you try to land at a much higher speed, the aircraft will still wish to fly so you are likely to land nearer to the fence at the other end of the runway! Care must be taken to ensure that the approach speed does not deteriorate. A stall on approach is often fatal, as there is no altitude to recover. If conditions are gusty or there is a possibility of wind shear, it is good practice to fly the approach a little faster, say by 5 knots, which gives a bit more control response.

The final (you will hear the incorrect term 'finals' used more often than you have had hot dinners. You are only flying one aircraft, therefore there is only one final!), is flown with the deployments of flaps. The flaps will reduce the stall speed, so you can fly slower, and they will change the attitude of the aircraft, so that a better view of the runway is afforded. Some aircraft have several stages of flap. The deployment of full flap will also act as an air brake and increase the rate of descent. During training you will also have to show that you can make a good flapless landing so that their possible malfunction will not precipitate a crisis.

air density

Air density is affected by temperature, humidity and of course altitude. The result will be that the groundspeed of the aircraft is greater  so that landing runs are longer. The indicated airspeed in the aircraft will remain the same.


Landing rolls can be significantly increased on grass runways. If the runway is sloping, this will also have an effect, as well as perhaps confusing your perception at the flair. A classic example would be the extended runway at Saumur, in France, which has a very steep incline and can be most surprising.


Wind speed and direction is a very significant factor in your landing. The illustration below explains why it is always practice to take off and land into the wind.



Sadly, the wind does not always blow directly down runways, so we have to master the cross wind landing. During the approach, cross wind will push us sideways so if we made the approach with a similar heading to the runway we could land on main street in the town nearby! Wind coming from the side can be divided up into two components; headwind and crosswind.


The aircraft's pilot operating handbook will state the demonstrated crosswind capability of the aircraft. This is not the same as the maximum capability. For instance, Mooney aircraft for many years gave an 11 knot demonstrated capability, but in fact they can land a well more than twice that wind speed. The demonstrated capability however is a good guide to instructors for student pilots. In order to remain on track for the runway, there are two methods; the crab approach and the wing down approach. A combination of both can also be used. Most pilots elect to use the crab approach which simpler to perform

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The crab approach

This is absolutely the same method as a yachtsman would use when crossing a tide. The rudder is used to maintain the aircraft heading in this case rather that the ailerons. As your forward motion is different from the aircraft heading, it is most important to kick the aircraft straight with the rudder just before touchdown, or you might find yourself leaving your undercarriage behind!

The wing down approach

This is in effect a sideslip approach. The aircraft is yawed (rudder) into the runway alignment and the ailerons are used to lower the wing on the windward side. This will increase your rate of descent so more power may be required to check the descent rate.

wind gusts

If there are wind gusts you should increase your approach speed. A good rule of thumb is to add 50% of the wind gust speed to your approach.

As we approach the ground, the wind direction will slow and back a few degrees. This is due to the friction close to the Earth surface. Backing means that the direction of the wind will move anti-clockwise. If the wind is coming from your right when landing, it will be more aligned to the runway just before touchdown. If however the wind is blowing from your left, the crosswind will be greater on touchdown.

things that go wrong

1. the bounce

There is not a pilot who has not bounced on landing. This is caused by too high a rate of descent or not holding off sufficiently. A small bounce can be recovered from, but if the pilot pushes forward the control stick, the outcome will be damage or destruction of the nose wheel. If in doubt, go about.

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2. the wheelbarrow

If you want to remain on good terms with your flying club don't ever wheelbarrow.. If you bounce, NEVER put the nose down to try to hold it onto the ground. This is what can happen:

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2. the balloon

This rather innocuous term can be the start of the barrow sequence you have just watched. This is caused by by flaring too soon, approaching too fast or by not shutting off the throttle. The aircraft will climb again up to thirty feet off the runway, quickly lose airspeed and then stall heavily onto the ground. There is one response to a balloon; apply full power and  GO AROUND IMMEDIATELY.

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By now, if you can't figure this one out take up golf.

going around

If you do not feel right about any aspect of landing....go around. Pride has no place in the cockpit. Always try to make the decision to go around as soon as possible. Apply full power, remove carb heat, (this gives you full power) and as soon as you have established a positive rate of climb, retract the flaps by stages. turn onto the dead side of the runway until clear and rejoin the circuit (pattern).

Once on the ground, you should turn the aileron into the wind to prevent the aircraft being tipped on in a gust.