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A pilot demonstrates skillful aircraft control during a landing on a limited runway.

How To Perform a Short-Field Landing Safely

So, you’re thinking about starting flight school in Arizona. Just as it’s important to think about how you’ll start your flight, it’s important to think about ending them. Arguably, it’s one of the most important parts to think about — a professional pilot can’t afford to not stick the landing, after all, especially for short-field landing. Proverbially and literally, your landing will need to be pitch-perfect. You’ll need to get it right on the very first try; otherwise, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride.

First, you’ll want to consider two points when making your short-field landing:

  1. Your aiming point: The angle where you’ll be pointing your nose to the plane. This is crucial for the trajectory of your landing.
  2. Your touchdown point: The point slightly above the aiming point. You’ll need to raise the nose right on time to prepare the plane for a proper landing.

But you’ll also want to consider a lot more factors when ending your flight. We think there are four key ones in particular worth focusing on. You’ll need to be mindful of them, slow your flight speeds, and aim accordingly to land on target.

1. Consider Your Approach Speed

To stick a short-field landing, you’ll need to stick your speeds just before the landing. Cessna has defined the ideal short-field landing speed at 61 knots. When flying different types of aircraft, particularly smaller aircraft, it’s worth considering a landing speed of three to five knots slower.

Your landing airspeed needs to strike a happy medium. You don’t want your plane to stall before you land, but you also don’t want to full-throttle it into the touchdown.

For a short-field landing, you need to hold steady. A private pilot will need to hold the right balance of pitch and power to properly nail this maneuver. The higher you raise your pitch, the slower your descent on the way down. 

At low angles, your flight power will primarily inform your speed. Your flight pitch will inform your landing trajectory. Both will inform your sink rate, or how fast the aircraft is descending into the targeted landing zone.

For a cohesive landing, your pitch and power will both need to have a cohesive relationship. Bear in mind that this relationship will be inverted at higher angles; your pitch will inform your speed, while your power will inform your trajectory. In either case, when you adjust one, you’ll need to adjust the other.

2. Think Deeper About the Touchdown Point

In football, the touchdown point is at the 100-yard line, covering a 300-foot span. When it comes to flight, the ideal rule of thumb for a touchdown is a bit different. The ideal ACS (airman certification standards) call for 0 + 200 feet to nail a touchdown on the landing mark.

That means no less or more than 200 feet. However, concerning the touchdown point, the stripes on the landing strip will be 150 feet in length. Aim a precise 50 feet within those white stripes — no more, no less.

The white touchdown stripes will denote your target. Your goal isn’t to touch down as softly as possible. That said, you don’t want the landing to be aggressive, but firm.

What’s the best way to strike this happy medium? In our experience, careful aerodynamic braking should do the trick. The second you touch down, apply careful back pressure on the yoke as you apply brake pressure.

3. Apply Maximum Braking Pressure — But Not Too Much

This might sound like a bit of an oxymoron. But harkening back to our original point, your landing can’t be too fast or slow. You’ll need to engage full flaps at just the right time to steadily stick the landing.

The designated airspeed must be held at the VSO times 1.3 at plus 10 minus five. Your private pilot’s manual will provide a useful point of reference for crunching those numbers. Slow down at the maximum comfortable point to do so, but not too slow.

You won’t want to brake so aggressively that you risk popping your tires. Your goal is to touch down at just above the stall speed. You don’t want to brake fast enough to risk a rough ground roll, but rather, the shortest possible roll in which you could comfortably touch down. 

As you touch down, you’ll want to apply the maximum possible pressure that won’t lock your wheels. Braking too hard and fast can do more harm than good. Just as you’ll need to find a happy medium with your speed, you’ll also need to do so when braking.

4. Consider Obstacle Clearance for a Stabilized Approach

Are there any obstacles in the flight path leading up to your short-field landing? You’ll need to aim for a shorter, steeper, and steadier landing. To clear the obstacle, don’t descend too fast, too hard, or too slow.

Like many things in life, the landing strip will best be met with balance.

Ready To Earn Your Stripes With Leopard Aviation?

Piloting and managing your crew members effectively requires a balance of confidence and competence! We’re happy to meet commercial pilots in the middle.

Call 480-372-8967 to learn more about short-field landing procedures.

Leopard Aviation