Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Flying Lesson #33

Today we did short-field and soft-field takeoffs and landings. All the flying books and lesson plans lump these subjects together, but they really don't have much in common except that they are not "normal" takeoffs and landings. My advice to flying instructors everywhere would be to treat them as totally different subjects, not to be covered at the same time.

Short-field takeoffs and landings are, as the name implies, for runways that are too short to allow normal takeoffs and landings. In the short-field landing technique, precision is important: one must try to land at the minimum possible speed at a precise location on the runway. After touching down, the pilot immediately retracts the flaps (to put as much weight on the main gear as possible) and uses the brakes to come to a stop in as short a distance as possible while remaining under control. A short-field takeoff is much like a normal takeoff except that flaps are extended and lift-off is made at a lower-than-normal speed.

Soft-field takeoffs and landings are for operations on grass strips and other runways that are not nicely paved. The basic principle here is to keep as much weight on the wings and off the ground as possible. In a short-field landing, the pilot flies onto the runway while still under power and gradually reduces the power while the plane slows down, keeping the nose wheel off the ground as long as possible to avoid having it get stuck in a rut. The short-field takeoff reverses this, getting the weight off the nose and getting the plane up into ground effect before accelerating to the full speed needed to climb.

For all these kinds of takeoffs and landings, one also practices clearing tall imaginary obstacles at the ends of the runways. I suppose there are fields somewhere where the obstacles are not imaginary, but I have yet to see them myself. If I do ever see tall trees at the end of a really short runway, I'm just going to turn around and go home; I'm not going to test my technique.

Landing practice is discouraged at PDK, so we flew up to Cherokee Country airport (47A). Visibility wasn't very good today (about 7 miles), and the PDK VOR was inoperative, so finding our way to 47A was a little more challenging than usual, but we did find it. I've done touch-and-goes before, but today was the first time I've done stop-and-goes—making a short-field landing to a complete stop, then performing a short-field takeoff on the remaining runway. So now I know the runways I've been using are about twice as long as I really need.

I didn't do so well on the soft-field landing attempts. Having that little bit of extra power caused me to balloon up in the flare. I'm sure I'll do better after a little more practice. For the other types of landings, I think I did OK for a first-timer. Next time, we're going to be landing at an actual grass field, which will make things interesting.

Logged today: 1.5 hours dual in N4363D, with 5 takeoffs and 5 landings.

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