Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Flying Lesson #37: Short and Soft Landings

Today we practiced short- and soft-field landings at an actual short field and an actual soft field. It was a lot more fun than practicing those techniques on a long paved runway.

The instructor had me come in early for today's lesson, so that we'd have time to fly to these airstrips which are both south of Atlanta (my home airport, PDK, is north of Atlanta). We couldn't fly directly to them, as we had to fly around the inner cylinder of the Atlanta Class B airspace. We had to fly at 3,000 feet to avoid the overlying Class B shelf.

Berry Hill Airport (4A0) has a 3000-foot runway, but it has a 995-foot displaced threshold at one end, and a 597-foot displaced threshold at the other end, so the usable landing area is only 1400 feet. It has trees at one end and power lines at the other, so it's a little scary. The runway is only 40 feet wide, which probably doesn't seem narrow to a lot of pilots, but most of my landings have been on a 150-foot-wide runway, so this one seemed pretty tiny. The narrow runway is flanked by tall trees on both sides, reminding everyone who flies there of the Death Star trench from Star Wars. My first two approaches were too high and too fast, so I had to abort those landings. I was too shy of the trees, and was afraid to get too low. The instructor demonstrated a landing for me, and then I did one without any problem. The takeoffs were a little nerve-wracking, with treetops seeming to pass just a few feet beneath the plane, but I know were weren't in any real danger.

Rust Airstrip (3RU) is a 2750-foot-long turf strip. I enjoyed the landings on this strip. The impact with the ground was nice and soft, and then we got to do some off-roading in the plane. We landed once in each runway direction. One of the approaches is over a lake, and the other is over a large wooded area, so the scenery was nice.

When we got back to PDK and parked the plane, we had to pick grass out of the landing gear. The bottoms of the wings behind the wheels were caked with mud, and the tips of the propeller were green. Fortunately, I'm not responsible for cleaning the plane.

Logged today: 2.3 hours dual in N4363D, with 4 takeoffs and 4 landings. Cost: $441.

This time around, it sounds like money extremely well spent -- the only way to learn short/soft techniques is to do them on real short/soft runways, and you're lucky that your instructor is comfortable with that.

FYI, unless the surface is closed completely, a displaced threshold at the opposite (non-approach) end of the runway is still available for your landing roll, so you don't have to count it out.
Yeah, I know an American CFI who has never landed off payment. I told him to come up here and I'd take him to some grass fields in a conventional gear airplane, but he was busy that week. :)
Sounds like you had fun, I really enjoyed short/soft as well.

My first time landing on turf for practical soft-field exercises was one of the highlights of my training so far.

I don't know of any available local prospects for short-field practice, so I doubt I'll get that practical lesson other then simulating at my home field.
My home airport is 28A.. which has a 2350' x 35' runway. Of course I had to learn to solo on this field as well.. it can be challenging some days.. but I'm glad I've learned here. Unfortunately they don't allow rental plans on turf runways so I have yet to experience an actual soft field... I just passed my private check ride a few weeks ago fyi.
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