Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner, Mastery Flight Training, Inc.

 “It’s ironic that in so many “landed long” accidents, the runway is far longer that needed for the airplane being flown. It may be that a pilot who flies most or all of the time from very long runways (relative to the “book” landing distance requirement) develops a type of landing complacency which, left unchecked, can contribute to an off-the-far-end runway excursion. 

 Most lightplane pilots have very little need to fly from short runways. But even if you are flying a Skyhawk or a Cirrus or a TBM … or even a Falcon 50 … exclusively from airline-sized airports, it’s a good idea to practice at least as if you need to get the airplane down in a distance as described by your Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or Airplane Flight Manual (AFM). 

 Why is that? 

A precision, by-the-numbers approach and landing will have you flying on speedon glidepath, and on target to the touchdown zone every time. More importantly, assuming you have done your homework and computed the expected landing distance, it will put you in a position to always know whether you have sufficient runway remaining to come to a stop, regardless of airplane weight or the density altitude. 

 It’s the sloppy pilot who does not pay attention to landing targets, even (or especially) on more-than-adequate-length runways. Conversely, flying precisely will keep you from adding to the “landed long” statistic. 

 So how should you practice approaches and landings?

First, get out the Landing checklist and the Landing Distance chart for the airplane you’re going to fly. They will probably provide guidance on the airspeed to fly on final approach. Note this will be higher than the speed you’ll fly in the flare; if you aim for the 50-foot or “over the fence” speed at that point in your landing and flare normally beyond that point, you’ll be slowing through the appropriate speed as the wing’s lift can no longer overcome the airplane’s weight and the airplane settles that last couple of inches (hopefully) to the surface. 

 Now that you know the speed, put the airplane in the landing configuration (flaps and landing gear position as applicable) and find the power setting that results in a 500-600 foot per minute descent. This is a “normal” landing (we’ll cover short field approaches another day). Look at the position of the airplane’s nose relative to the horizon while you’re on speed, in configuration to land. 

 This is similar to the oft-touted concept of a stabilized approach. However, it’s not precisely the same as the technique of setting power, flaps and airspeed several miles out for a continuous-speed descent as practiced in air transport category equipment - it’s modified for lighter aircraft, and usable in a standard circuit or traffic pattern as well as on a long, straight-in approach. 

 Get comfortable with this “sight picture” at altitude - you have precious seconds to practice if you do this only an actual landings, but given enough altitude you have all the time in the world when you practice. Drill the flight condition: configuration, attitude, power, and the resulting airspeed and rate of descent. Work until this is natural for you. Then practice to keep it fresh. 

 Now take that practice to the runway environment and practice holding configuration, attitude, power and airspeed while you remain aligned with a visual approach slope indicator (VASI) or other runway glidepath guidance. Most VASIs, PAPIs, etc. are aligned to have you touch down 1000 feet from the approach end of the runway or one-third the total runway length, whichever is shorter. Practice landings until it is second nature for you to stay on target all the way to flare over the touchdown zone. 

 Once you have this masteredtry a runway without a visual glidepath indicator. Pick a touchdown zone - I like the second runway stripe, close enough to the threshold to get full use of the runway but far enough away to accommodate a slight undershoot - and practice holding speed, attitude and configuration until you can consistently flare and touch down on your runway target. 

 The spot your airplane is aiming for will appear to remain motionless in your windscreen. If you are coming up short your spot will appear to move away, or up on the windshield. If you’re overshooting the spot will appear to be coming toward you, and toward disappearing under the airplane’s nose. 

 Of course, as you flare and settle onto the surface you’ll actually touch down a little beyond this aim point on short final. The key is that the spot that appears motionless in your windscreen should be just before the point you’ll actually touch the surface.


Now you’re ready to go back to that airline-sized runway and still touch down smoothly in the touchdown zone, with minimum sink and at the slowest safe speed to minimize distance covered in the flare and on the landing roll. 

 Every time you land, aim precisely for speed, attitude, power and configuration to the touchdown zone you identify. Now, even if the airplane is heavy or the density altitude is high, you’ll instinctively know what “looks and feels right,” and can make minor adjustments if necessary to keep the plane on target all the way to touchdown. If conditions call for “landing long” on a long runway to accommodate some operational imperative (such as landing “on the dot” at Oshkosh), you’ll know exactly what to do to touch down where you want, at the speed you need, so you won’t overrun the end of the pavement. 

 Most importantly, mastering the landing approach and disciplining yourself to do it “on target” each time will tell you instantly if you are in danger of running off the end of the runway while there’s still time to do something about it. Is your speed too high? Are you not in the landing configuration? Is your power setting too great? Is your pitch attitude wrong? Does the landing zone appear to be coming toward you and disappearing beneath the airplane’s nose? If any of these is the case within about 500 feet of the ground, power up and go around before you find yourself landing long and rolling off the far end of the runway. 

 Practice these skills and you won’t end up like the pilots in at least four FAA-reported incidents this past week”.  


Tony Birth