Monday, June 27, 2022
Home Flight Safety Land Safely, Forget "Super-Smooth!" - Aviation Ideas and Discussion!

Land Safely, Forget “Super-Smooth!” – Aviation Ideas and Discussion!


I remember distinctly discovering the secret of obtaining a super-smooth landing in a PA-28; just carry extra speed and”drive it on. Eliminating the flare made landing amazingly simple – why had my CFI not figured this out? This occurred during the solo cross country phase of my flight training (50 years ago) after suffering through the usual first solo commands – “hold it off, don’t let it land!” Needless to say, my instructor disagreed with my new “smooth landing” technique and righteously explained, that a smooth landing was not the objective, safety was. Extra energy on touchdown and the three-point attitude were, he said, an invitation to disaster (something about square root functions and porpoising).

You may be surprised to hear that “smooth touchdown” is nowhere to be found in the FAA test standards (the closest is “minimum sink rate” in the soft field section). The more important objectives of a good landing are clearly described: an accurate touch down on the centerline (aligned with no lateral drift) and properly configured and stablized, and as slow as possible touching in the “landing configuration.” For a pilot, “smooth” is a reward, but not the only goal. Make your landings proper and safe first and after some practice, “smooth” will be easily achievable. Many smooth landings are actually not safe at all.

But of course, it’s the passengers who disagree. The *only* tangible non-pilot standard to judge piloting skill is a super-smooth touchdown. Pilots really need to push back here and get over this for safety! Smooth landings can often involve extra speed and improper technique. It is much safer to stabilize, control the centerline and land properly even if it is with a little bump.

The smooth landing objective also carries on into jet operations. We all want to be a “pilot hero,” and it’s easy to consume a mile of runway milking the last few feet to touchdown in search of the “super-smooth” touchdown. You will indeed impress their clients in back when you run off the end!? Not surprisingly, overruns on landing are the #1 cause of accidents in turbine aircraft.

Whether trying to minimize the “bump” felt by passengers or lulled by landing often on runways much longer than needed, business aviators tend to carry excess speed and float into long landings. The average business jet touch down point is about 1,600 feet from the threshold, and nearly 20 percent touch down beyond 2,000 feet, well past the aim point that is the basis for predicted aircraft landing performance

Admittedly, there are a variety of causes that add risk to turbine landings, most notably the extreme weight and energy in play. Contaminated surfaces are also a huge issue. But ironically, the solution to hydroplaning is a “firm touchdown” to create positive contact with the runway surface.

Lastly, please understand I am not condoning (or recommending) hard landings. I am just advocating for less of a focus on “super-soft” touchdowns as an end in themselves. Go for “safe” first (as described above) and smooth will follow after some practice. Fly safely out there (and often)!


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