Troubleshooting Landings

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Written by Dave Scott
Lesson in proactive vs. ractive flying
As seen in the October 2012 issue of Model Aviation.

Lessons in Proactive VS. Reactive Flying

Many pilots think that stick time and getting better at making corrections are the main requirements for better landings, so little thought is given to how they land or whether they are flying correctly.

As a consequence of flying without a plan, i.e. reacting to the airplane, most pilots end up making four to five times more control inputs than what is required when the landing is set up correctly. This type of flying demands more effort and is why pilots get behind their airplanes during the runway lineup and landing flare. Reactive flying is also why certain fliers struggle to land on windier days or when flying a new model.

A characteristic of good pilots is that they seem to make landing look easy. That’s because while most pilots are continually making corrections, better fliers set up their landings so that fewer adjustments are needed altogether, thus allowing them plenty of time to get ready for an easier, smoother touchdown.

Most landing difficulties are not because of a lack of stick time or inadequate reflexes, but are primarily the result of reacting to the airplane rather than proactively controlling the airplane when setting up the landing.

Anticipate the Final Turn

As a rule, the ease of your landings reflects the quality of the final base leg turn that sets them up. Although a person might have the ability to salvage a landing after a poor turn, the experience will be far more stressful. The comfort that coincides a nice final turn tends to stay with the pilot all the way to the ground.

In order to come out of the final turn over the runway’s extended centerline (without needing to make many adjustments), you must account for the effect of the wind on the turn (Figure 1). You need to anticipate whether the wind will cause the turn to become wider or tighter and target where to start the turn from with this in mind. To come out of the final turn aligned with the runway, look to adjust from where you start the turn, rather than adjusting the turn itself (Figure 2).

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Figure 1: Don’t blame the wind for blowing the airplane; anticipate a tighter turn when turning into a crosswind and start the turn closer to the runway’s extended centerline in order to come out alinged with the runway. Turning with the wind results in a wider turn and necessitates flying out wide before initiating the turn in order to line up with the runway.


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Figure 2: When turning with the crosswind, widen out your pattern to account for the wider turn. When turning into a crosswind, start the turn closer to the centerline, anticipating a smaller-diameter turn. Correctly anticipating where to start the final turn will reduce the number of adjustments needed to line up with the runway and afford you more time to think about throttle management and controlling the touchdown location.


Instead of blaming the wind for blowing the airplane, anticipate a tighter turn when turning into a crosswind and start the turn closer to the runway’s extended centerline in order to come out lined up with the runway.

Turning with the wind will result in a wider turn and necessitate flying out wide before initiating the turn in order to come out aligned with the runway.

When turning with the crosswind, widen out the pattern to account for the wider turn. When turning into a crosswind, start the turn closer to the centerline, anticipating a smaller-diameter turn.

Correctly anticipating where to start the final turn from will reduce the number of adjustments needed to line up with the runway and thus afford you more time to think about throttle management and controlling the touchdown location.

Maintain a Level Final Turn

Try to keep the final base leg turn reasonably level. Maintaining a turn at an even speed and not climbing or diving, minimizes anxiety during the turn and prevents excess speed from building up. A reasonably level turn also eliminates the low altitude oscillations, i.e. sharp altitude changes, which can easily distract a pilot from maintaining a good lineup.

If keeping your final turn level results in high landing approaches, simply start pulling the throttle back a little earlier and/or enter the final turn lower (Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Maintaining a reasonably level final turn prevents anxiety and excess speed from building. If your landing approaches are high, rather than performing diving turns, simply enter the final turn lower.


Consistent Lineups

In most flying environments, the runway is directly in front of where the pilots stand. Therefore, the most effective method to consistently overfly the runway centerline to use yourself as the primary reference throughout the approach, and try to guide the airplane to a point slightly in front of you (Figure 4).

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Figure 4: Instead of trying to guestimate the airplane’s position over the ground, proficient pilots observe whether the runway centerline is close, moderately close, or farther away from where they are standing, then fly a corresponding approach that brings the airplane close, moderately close, or farther away.


Flying the airplane to a point slightly in front of you will result in your achieving the runway every time, regardless of the model’s size or orientation (crosswind crabs), and helps limit the number of bad landings that result from relying on hit-or-miss depth perception.

Instead of trying to guestimate the airplane’s position over the ground, proficient fliers observe whether the runway centerline is close, moderately close, or farther away from where they are standing, and then fly a corresponding approach that brings the airplane close, moderately close, or farther away from themselves.

Object as a Whole

Another common landing mistake is pointing the fuselage toward the runway during the approach in a crosswind. Although an airplane will crab into a crosswind, it will continue to fly in a straight line as long as the wings are level (Figure 5). Instead of pointing the fuselage where you want the airplane to go, in a crosswind you must track where the airplane as a whole is traveling regardless of the fuselage.

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Figure 5: Skilled pilots guide the airplane as a whole to the desired touchdown location regardless of the wind and where the fuselage is pointing. Actual flight path when the fuselage is mistakenly pointed at the runway in a crosswind.

Figure 6: Projecting where the airplane is heading in reference to your position is the most effective way to detect deviations during the approach. When neither a deviation toward or away from you is recognized, and the path of the airplane is projected to arrive slightly out in front of you, the airplane will be near the centerline at touchdown.


People debate about how to use the controls to correct for crosswind drift during landing; if they knew to guide the airplane as a whole (versus pointing it), they wouldn’t have to correct for wind drift in the first place (and would have more time to improve in other areas)!

Instead of trying to guess the airplane’s track over the ground, project where the airplane as a whole is traveling (relative to yourself) and you will be able to recognize deviations during the approach before they become otherwise obvious (Figure 6). The tiny corrections needed to perfect the centerline when it comes into view will then be negligible. Proficient pilots guide the airplane as a whole to the desired touchdown location irrespective of the wind and where the fuselage is pointing. Projecting where the airplane is heading in reference to yourself is the most effective way to detect deviations during the approach.

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When neither a deviation toward or away from you is recognized, and the path of the airplane as a whole is projected to arrive slightly out in front of you, the model will be near the centerline at touchdown.

Pilots eager to land tend to focus so much on the throttle during the landing setup that they only make half efforts to get the airplane lined up with the runway (Figure 7). Referred to as POWT (preoccupation with throttle), this is the reason why so many pilots miss the runway centerline by as much as 50 or more feet and/or 30° (although these errors are obvious to everyone watching).

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Figure 7: Height and preoccupation with the throttle (POWT) often distract pilots from establishing a good lineup with the runway, allowing deviations to grow until they require more aggressive corrections within the last moments before touchdown (usually blamed on the wind). Establishing a good lineup before tinkering with the throttle will result in needing fewer corrections during the approach and increase the amount of time to contemplate throttle.


By focusing entirely on a timely exit of the turn and establishing a good lineup with the runway before tinkering with the throttle, you will actually have more time to consider your throttle adjustments in the absence of needing to make a lot of course corrections during the approach.

Height and POWT often distract pilots from establishing a good lineup with the runway, thus allowing deviations to grow until they require more aggressive corrections within the last moments before touchdown (usually blamed on the wind). Establishing a good lineup before tinkering with the throttle will result in needing fewer corrections during the approach and therefore increase the amount of time to contemplate throttle.

Conclusion

As a general rule, difficulty in a certain area, seldom has to do with needing more practice in that area, but needing to do a better job in the areas that are providing you difficulty. Most landing difficulties are the result of not starting the final base leg turn in the right spot, thus increasing your workload, and/ or needing to pay more attention to keeping the final turn reasonably level and thus preventing a buildup of speed and anxiety.

Knowing this, you are well on your way to mastering your landings regardless of the wind or what model you are flying. Happy landings!

—Dave Scott rcfs@frontier.net  


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Dave Scott is a winning full-scale aerobatics competitor, professional RC air show pilot, founder of the 1st U.S. R/C Flight School, and author of several RC flight training manuals. His books and articles feature the accelerated training techniques that he developed instructing more than 1,200 RC pilots during his school’s four- and five-day courses.

More information about Dave’s books and flight school can be found at www.rcflightschool.com.

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SOURCES:

1st U.S. R/C Flight School www.rcflightschool.com  

 

By Dave Scott

Photos by the author rcfs@frontier.net

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