Friday, January 24, 2014

Welcome To 2014, The Year To Fly Better

Welcome to 2014. We all made it to another year. So what’s new? You know what they say: ”Nothing New Under The Sun”. Well that may be true in general, but here is one specific that may be new to some of you younger pilots: Don’t Land On The Nosewheel. In a very recent listing on the FAA preliminary accident reports, there were THREE incidents of planes doing just that. They were a Cessna 310, a Bellanca/1419 and a Diamond/DA20. Other recent similar fiascos were: a Pa24 and a Lear Jet 24 (ouch). Another variety of this landing error was a prop strike in a Cessna 172. And don’t forget the biggie: the Southwest 737 at LaGuardia (LAG). This latter incident was rather horrific injuring passengers and causing major destruction of the front of the jet. I read that this plane was traveling at 133 knots with a downward pitch angle of 3 degrees as it hit the tarmac. That’s a lot of kinetic energy to dissipate in a few feet. The pilot flying must have had to force the plane down as it probably still wanted to fly.

I won’t attempt to write a treatise on how to land properly, but will just mention a few basics. The whole idea is to touch down on the main gear at the point when the plane loses its lift. This is somewhere around the Vso, stall speed with flaps and gear down. I don’t want to trivialize the landing process. It is probably the hardest thing for a new pilot to learn. It is the culmination  of a proper approach and the attainment of a proper landing attitude right before touchdown. If one really wants to learn how to land one should fly a tail dragger like Piper J-3. This most basic of planes won’t let you get away with nonsense. If you don’t do it right it will bite you.

In keeping with landing at the approach end of the runway, literally on the numbers, I will bore you with a bit of reminiscence.  As I was getting used to flying a new model of twin ( I had gone from a Beech Baron to a Cessna 340), I decided to practice some take offs and landings. The key thing to making a good landing is to approach the runway properly. That means proper speed, approach angle and altitude. The latter is key as you really can’t force a plane down if too high or too fast. An important part of the approach to land is to pick a spot where you will plant the main gear. I chose the numbers at the approach end of the runway. This takes some planning and coordination, and is excellent practice. Things that can really challenge one are cross winds and gusty winds. Anyhow, after about half a dozen landings and take offs, I began to feel much more confident about my flying the 340. Next I want to look at how one manages to land at the wrong airport.

What causes me concern are the two recent landings at the wrong airport, by supposedly very competent professional ATP’s. I still can’t fully understand how one lands at the wrong airport in a plane outfitted with all the latest electronic gadgets. On one of the large screens or monitors in front of the pilots there certainly has to be a map with all the pertinent details of the area airports. In the days I flew the A-36 with a Garmin GPS, there was a small screen with more than enough data to know exactly where everything is, including the AIRPORT of destination. To refresh my memory, I just looked at a demo of the Garmin 430. It showed how one gets vectored to the airport and to fly the ILS. The moving map display clearly shows the pilot where to go, and if coupled to the autopilot, will do it for you.*

So fellow pilots and onlookers. No excuse for landing at the wrong airport, none at all.
Have a safe and fun 2014.

*Google: Flying the Garmin 430 GPS and surf around a bit.

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