precision landing

precision landing

Visibility: Low up until 2000 feet, above that unlimited (inversion)
Temperature: -1°C
QNH: 1039hPa (high pressure)
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: MD3 Rider (D-MASL)

The morning is sunny but a bit hazy. Visibility in the traffic pattern is not great but from about 2000 feet upwards it is almost unlimited. There is only light traffic with a Cessna doing pattern work (touch and go’s) and another plane getting ready to go. The plan for today is practicing precision landings. The point of this exercise is to make it to your chosen landing site in case of an engine failure. We climb up to 2.000 feet and fly over the threshold of the runway. Then I pull the throttle to idle and fly a wide circle and land the aircraft with idle power exactly in the middle of the touch down zone – a marked part of the runway.

At least this is how the theory goes. In real life I have practiced this maneuver many times already to get it right. It is difficult to get a good feeling for the wind, for the distance to the runway and a good landing still requires a lot of my attention.

Today the first try is a bit rustic, the second one is acceptable. After the second time, the flight instructor gets out of the plane. This is my third solo flight and the first time I do a precision landing on my own. The air is cold and dense and the trusted Rider is light with only me to carry. I reach 2.000 feet long before I am at the threshold. So I have time to level the airplane out and remember the width of the circles I made just minutes ago.

At the threshold I tell flight control that I begin a precision landing now, I pull the throttle to idle and then turn the vernier to the left all the way. I push the nose down ever so slightly to control my speed. 130 km/h is perfect. The engine gets very quiet at 1600 rpm and the noise of the wind gets louder. I push the yoke to the right and Sierra Lima banks into a right turn. I want the first part of the turn to be as tight as possible until I see my landing area to the right. When I have the runway in sight, I adjust the circle in order to loose the right amount of altitude.

On the first attempt I come in way too high. Sierra Lima wants to fly and with the weight of the second person missing, she has her way with me. At 1200 feet I force her to slip towards the ground. I step on the right pedal to bring the rudder to the right. At the same time I push the stick to the left which uses the ailerons to force the left tip of the wing down and the right up. I make sure the nose stays down and Sierra Lima begins to simultaniously bank to the left and yaw to the right. She screams at me and shakes as the contradicting commands are using up the kinetic energy which she would have wanted to use for maintaining altitude. The needle of the change indicator points straight down as the rate of our descent rises.

After a few seconds of slipping I am down to 600 feet. I carefully bring rudder and ailerons back to neutral and keep an eye on the airspeed and on my heading at the same time. At least this is what I try to do – more or less successfully. I still am high on short final but I don’t think I have enough altitude any more to try another slip. I come in way above the touch down zone. When I’m sure that I can’t make it any more, I push the throttle all the way forward to go around. The Rotax engine jumps to life instantly and yanks me towards the sky.

I try again. This time I loose my altitude more quickly and on short final it looks much better. About 200 meters away from the threshold I am actually too low and I turn the vernier a half turn to the right. The engine comes out of idle and slows my descent enough to get me right in the middle of the touch down zone. Better.

On the third attempt I come in high again, but this time I see it in time. I set full flaps and once I’m sure I’ll make it to the runway, I force Sierra Lima into a few seconds of slip once more. This time I am extra careful as it is easy to exceed the maximum flap speed of 120 km/h while slipping. The wheels touch the runway on the second of the three landing zone markers – perfect. We’ll do this again until it works every time.

Back at the office of the flight school, the instructor pushes the log book over to me. It is the first time I fill it in myself. Not a big thing but enough to put a little smile onto my face.

To be continued…


(Originally posted on March 2, 2011 by tilbo at

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