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How To Fly An Approach To Landing Through Turbulence

Every pilot dreams of perfectly smooth air, but turbulence often interferes with your approach to landing. Here's how to fly the best approach possible through rough air.

Don't Let Turbulence Ruin Your Landing

Maybe it's from the mountains nearby, a front moving through, mechanical turbulence from obstacles near the airport, or just thermal convection. Turbulence can make an otherwise easy approach-to-landing exhausting. While the bumps might rock your flight, most turbulence isn't severe enough to prevent you from making a safe, smooth landing.

Here's what you need to know to fly the best approach with the smoothest touchdown possible...

Jason Pineau

Fly A Power-On Approach

According to the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook (8-18), "for landing in turbulent conditions, use a power-on approach at an airspeed slightly above the normal approach speed. This provides for more positive control of the airplane when strong horizontal wind gusts, or up and down drafts, are experienced."

When you fly on a gusty day, you know that your airspeed indicator can have some pretty wild fluctuations. And when you're getting beat up in the pattern, it's better to be a little bit on the fast side than too slow. The idea is to counteract turbulence with your momentum and positive control of the airplane.

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If you're on speed or a little slow on final approach, a sudden loss in headwind from a gust could get you closer to stall speed that you'd like. And if you're like us, that's a pucker factor you'd rather not deal with.

So what's the solution? Add some speed.

When you're dealing with a gusty day, the FAA recommends that you add half the gust factor to your final approach speed.

For example, if the winds are reported at 18 knots, gusting 30 knots, it means you have a gust factor of 12 knots (30-18 = 12). So if you take half the gust factor, you get 6 knots (12/2 = 6).

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Use Less Flaps

In some aircraft, reducing flaps can help with turbulence too. When you land with less than full flaps, you have two advantages. First, your plane will have a higher pitch attitude, requiring less of a pitch change as you transition from final approach to touchdown.

And second, you'll land at a higher airspeed, which gives you more positive control of the plane throughout touchdown. But keep in mind that more speed isn't always better. Flying an excessive final approach speed (more than half the gust factor) can cause you to float and miss your landing point.

But by sticking to half the gust factor for your airspeed, your landing will be right where you want it: on point, with little float.

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Avoid Over-Controlling

When you take off or land, you should fly the aircraft with minimal control inputs. In a perfect world, you'd take off, trim the controls, let go, and never touch them again. At least until you need to turn, or climb/descend at a different speed.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. Updrafts, downdrafts, gusts of winds, and changes in configuration mean that we're constantly adjusting controls to match the desired flight path. What happens when you exceed the required inputs? You have to correct for your mistakes and you may begin over-controlling.

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On turbulent days with large gusts, pilot induced oscillations tend to occur as the aircraft gets closer and closer to touchdown. Pilots have a tendency to correct for windy conditions by adding strong left/right, left/right aileron inputs for extended periods of time.

Instead of small corrections, you begin to fight your own large corrections, repeatedly. Not only does this destabilize the approach, it simply makes it harder to touch down smoothly. Just like a flight through turbulence enroute, you should feel comfortable accepting some small changes in airspeed and ground track as you approach the runway. In most cases, the harder you fight the turbulence, the worse it can get. Try to keep your corrections as small as possible.

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Click here to learn everything you need to know about fixing over-controlling.

How To Avoid Hard Landings

When you're landing in turbulent conditions, the FAA recommends you delay bringing the throttle to full idle until your wheels have touched the ground. In turbulence, a sudden decrease of power could exacerbate a rapid descent, leading to an excessively hard landing.

Keep in mind when flying approaches with extra power and reduced flap configurations, you'll touch down in a flatter-than-normal attitude. Once you've touched down on your main gear, avoid applying nose-down pressure to ensure you don't start wheelbarrowing the airplane down the runway.

You also want to avoid heavy braking when you touch down at a faster-than-normal speed. If you get on the brakes too hard, too fast, you can lock up your tires and start skidding.

Take The Next Step With Your Landings...

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 could imagine. Even better, the course is full of tools you can come back to throughout your flying career.


Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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