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How To Fly A Perfect Short Field Landing


Are you landing on a short runway? Does your runway have an obstacle 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 of 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 descent 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 your plane has a Vso of 47 kts and your POH doesn't list a final approach speed, you'd use, 47 X 1.3 = 61 knots. Fly 61 knots on final, and you'll have a good setup for landing.


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.


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.


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.


Once you touchdown, you want to use maximum aerodynamic braking. After you touch down, slowly start pulling back on the yoke, being careful not to lift back off. As you increase your aerodynamic braking, 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.


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)

Improve your landings for less than the cost of a flight lesson.

Do you have a perfect takeoff and landing every time? Neither do we. That's why we built our Mastering Takeoffs and Landings online course.

You'll learn strategies, tactics, and fundamental principles that you can use on your next flight, and just about any takeoff or landing scenario you'll experience as a pilot.

Plus, for less than the cost of a flight lesson, you get lifetime access to tools that increase your confidence and make your landings more consistent.

Ready to get started? Click here to purchase Mastering Takeoffs and Landings now.

Colin Cutler

Colin Cutler

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

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