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How To Make A Perfect Short Field Landing

Boldmethod

Are you landing on a short runway? Does your runway have trees at the end of it? Then you need to put your short-field landing skills into action. Here's how you'll do it, step-by-step.

How Short Field Landings Are Different

When you're dealing with a short runway, or a runway with an obstacle near the end if it, you need to adjust your approach and landing to safely touch down and stop on the runway.

So what are the steps of a good short field landing? We'll break it down into four phases: approach to landing, clearing an obstacle, touchdown, and rollout.

Approach To Landing

To make a great short field landing, you need to be in complete control of your airspeed and decent rate. When you're stabilized, on speed, and on glide path, you can touch down where you want, prevent your plane from floating down the runway, and stop well before you run out of runway.

All of this starts with your approach.

The Airplane Flying Handbook recommends that you fly a slightly wider-than-normal traffic pattern, so that you have plenty of time to configure your aircraft and make sure you're stabilized on your approach. You don't necessarily need to do this, but it's not a bad idea. The more time you give yourself to get stabilized, the better your landing will (most likely) be.

There are a few more things to consider when flying your pattern: if your POH doesn't suggest a final approach speed, you should fly final approach with full flaps, at 1.3 Vso.

For example, if you're flying a Cessna 172 with a Vso of 47 kts, 47 X 1.3 = 61 knots. As it turns out, the POH recommends a final approach speed of 61 knots for short field landings (Cessna 172S), so the math in this case works out perfectly.

Getting comfortable with flying a stabilized approach in this configuration can be one of the most challenging parts of a short field landing. That's because when you're configured for landing on your final approach, you're on the back side of the power curve. That means you use power to adjust your glide path, and pitch to adjust your airspeed.

It can take a few tries to get this down. A good way to practice is to fly a pattern all the way down to short final, go around, then try it again. After a few trips around the pattern, you'll feel like a pitch/power pro.

Clearing An Obstacle On Final

If you have an obstacle at the approach end of the runway, you'll want to fly a slightly steeper-than-normal approach as well. By flying a slightly steeper angle, you can safely clear the obstacle, and not use up too much runway before you touch down. The steeper your glide path, the more runway you have available to touch down.

But flying a steeper approach has its disadvantages. Since you're flying a steeper descent angle, and you have a high-than-normal descent rate, you really need to judge flare. You'll need to pitch up more in the flare to overcome the descent angle, and to arrest your descent rate for a smooth touchdown.

Timing the flare on a short field landing really comes down to practice. Flare too late, and you'll land hard. Flare too early, and you can stall early and develop a large sink rate. Neither scenario is good, and the best way to avoid either one is to practice, and then practice some more.

The more stable your final approach path, the more likely you are to make a good landing.

Touchdown

Next up is the moment when all your hard work comes together: touchdown. As you approach the runway, you want to slowly start reducing your throttle to idle.

Keep in mind this differs significantly based on the airplane you fly. If you're flying a lighter airplane with light wing loading, you'll want to start reducing the throttle as you approach the runway threshold. If you're flying a plane with higher wing loading, you'll want to keep the power in a little longer, so you don't get too slow or come up short of your landing point.

Pilot MKN

As you approach your touchdown point, keep reducing power and start flaring. Your goal is to touch down on your point at the minimum controllable airspeed, which is just above stall speed. By touching down at stall speed, you have the lowest possible ground speed, and you're setting yourself up for the shortest possible ground roll.

Rollout

Once you touchdown, you want to use maximum aerodynamic braking. By pulling back on the yoke when you touch down, you increase your aerodynamic braking, and you keep more weight on your main gear. That in turn makes your brakes more effective, because you can apply more brake pressure before your wheels lock up.

Be gentle as you apply the brakes, then start increasing braking pressure to slow down. It's easy to lock up your wheels when your ground speed is still high, and you're wings are producing a lot of lift. Keep pressure on the brakes until you know you're slow enough to make your taxi turnoff, then gently start to let up on the brakes. Smooth application of your brakes is the key to a good landing rollout.

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Common Problems With Short Field Landings

Short field landings can take some practice before you're comfortable with them. Here are some common problem areas you'll want to think about before you head out and start practicing:

  • Too much airspeed on final, which causes floating down the runway
  • Excessive descent rate on final, which can lead to a hard touchdown
  • An unstabilized approach, where you oscillate between slow and fast descent rates, flying above and below glide path
  • Over-braking on rollout, and locking up your wheels (nobody likes flat spots on the tires!)
  • Setting the nosewheel down hard, instead of controlling its touchdown (remember, your nosewheel isn't nearly as strong as your mains)

Take The Next Step...

Takeoffs and landings are the first and last impressions your passengers take from a flight. Making one great landing feels good, but making consistently great landings and takeoffs is a challenge.

Lot of pilots get stuck at "I don't know why..." It can be hard to identify why your aircraft is floating, or why you have a hard time maintaining a stabilized final approach.

If you're frustrated with your landings, or if you want to improve them from where they currently are, try our Mastering Takeoffs and Landings course. It's an online course that helps you answer "why," so that you can improve your takeoffs and landings in all kinds of conditions. You'll learn strategies, tactics and fundamental principles that you can use on your next flight. And, the course has tools you can come back to throughout your flying career. Learn more and sign up now.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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