Flying magazine for pilots flying airplanes and helicopters in the Southwest
SW Aviator Magazine Aviation Magazine - Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah
General aviation flight magazine
current past airport classified events links contact
SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
SW Aviator Magazine is available in print free at FBOs and aviation-related businesses throughout the Southwest or by subscription.
- - - - - -
Airshows, Fly-ins, Seminars
2001 Aviation Events Calendar
The web's most comprehensive database of Southwest area aviation events.
- - - - - -
Site of the Minute
Featured Site:
A continuosly changing collection of links to our favorite aviation related web sites.
- - - - - -
Used Aircraft For Sale
- - - - - -

By Jay Wischkaemper

I’ve often said that a monkey could be trained to take off and fly an airplane, and I still contend that’s correct. Landing, however, is an entirely different matter.

I once took some non-general aviation friends on a flight. After bringing the plane safely to the ground, one of them asked me, “How do you do that?” referring to my feat of making the ground and the end of the runway arrive at the same time. Had I been thinking, my smart answer would have been, “Occasionally.”

Not being a technician, this is not a technical treatise on landing an airplane. For all the wisdom of the pundits that you might read, anyone who has ever gone through the exercise of bringing an aircraft back to terra firma realizes that while skill is involved, and that while some are perhaps better at the exercise than others, making a really good landing depends about as much on luck as it does on skill. It is my contention that out of 10 landings made by the average pilot, 2 will be landings that you hope someone was watching, two will be landings you hope no one saw, and the other six will fall somewhere between. No one should have more practice, and consequently make better landings, than professional pilots, yet we know that even they will, on occasion, lay a brick. I’ve sat in more than one airline seat where the landing could have been better described as an arrival. I figured it had to be an ex-navy pilot who had forgotten he wasn’t landing on a carrier.

It seems to me that a good landing starts about five minutes before touchdown. The key is in the approach. I’ve seen bad landings after a good approach, but rarely do you see a good landing after a bad approach. If the approach is on profile and on speed, there is a lot better chance of making a good landing.
The speed part of that equation is pretty much a given. You read the manual for your particular airplane, and if it says to approach at 80 knots, you approach at 80 knots, unless gusty winds dictate otherwise. The profile however, is another matter.

When I was first learning to fly, the aircraft of choice was a Cherokee 140. The technique taught then was to pull the power abeam of the numbers, and if you did everything right, which I rarely did, you would land on the numbers without additional power. Instructors today teach a different technique. Normally, students are taught to turn base when at a 45-degree angle to the numbers, and to adjust the glide by using power. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you have power. In most high performance airplanes, the sink rate is such that you’re going to have to use power to make the runway, regardless of when you turn base. The important thing is to do what is comfortable for you. My brother has a habit of using a “count the jackrabbits” approach profile. He’ll be at 200 feet AGL on a two mile final. If there had been a 7-11 on final, I usually felt we were low enough to reach out the side windows and pick up a Big Gulp. On the other hand, I prefer the “dive bomber” approach. It happens that the Bellanca, having the glide ratio of a brick, is suited to high approaches. You wouldn’t want to try that in your 172, but I happen to like the extra air between the ground and me. My friend and Bonanza driver Ed Solomon insists that unless the glideslope needles are crossed, you’re either too high or too low. Ed’s a little anal when it comes to flying. Which is right? Whichever you prefer. So far, none of us has bent an airplane.

The main thing is, take your time. Often, when a controller tells me to “make short approach,” I’ll kindly decline. I decline because the worst landings I’ve ever made were when I was trying to hurry things and when I knew there was someone breathing down by neck. My advice? Be nice about it, but tell the controller that you would prefer to make a longer downwind and take as long as necessary to have adequate time to set up the approach properly, and you’ll be happy to follow the traffic he’s trying to put you in front of. We may fly to get places in a hurry, but being in a hurry is a recipe for mistakes, and mistakes are a recipe for disaster. Never let anyone rush you regarding anything to do with flying an airplane.

Crosswinds? Good luck. My technique? Crab into the wind. Kick out at the last moment. Drop a wing. Say a prayer. Hope for the best. Chances are that landing may fall into the category of the two you hope nobody saw, but as long as it’s right side up and still on the runway when it stops rolling, and it’s the wheels and not the fuselage rolling, it was a good landing. There are times when style points don’t count. A landing in a 30-knot, 45-degree gusting crosswind is one of them. Depending on where you fly, crosswind landings are a part of the mix, and if you don’t learn to handle them, you don’t do much flying. It would be nice if the wind were always right down the runway, but it isn’t, so you have to learn to deal with it. If you aren’t comfortable with crosswind landings, get a good instructor who is, find a good gusty day and go practice. If you fly much, you’re going to get into a situation, like it or not, when you’re facing a stiff crosswind, and it’s much better to have had some experience with someone holding your hand first before you face it alone.

There’s really only one way to improve your landing skills, and that’s practice. Riding with other pilots, I note that none of us do it alike, but that doesn’t mean any of us do it wrong. Being able to use the airplane again is the goal. Being confident in your ability to do that is mandatory. Unfortunately, I’ve seen people in possession of pilot’s licenses who lacked that ability. We don’t all have to be at the same skill level, but if a lawyer who writes wills hands you his card after observing your landing, it might be worth getting some additional training.

Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas. He is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure. Jay is a Texas Tech alumni, where he earned a degree in public address and group communication.
Click here to return to the beginning of this article.
The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
SW Aviator Magazine • 3909 Central NE • Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031 • Fax: 505.256.3172 • e-mail:
©2001 Southwest Regional Publishing, Inc.