Friday, February 17, 2006

Soft Field Landings

Your day couldn’t be going any better. It’s a beautiful Midwest spring day and you’re cruising at 3500 feet inbound to a local fly in pancake breakfast. Although your Cessna 172 hadn’t flown all winter, she started up immediately and your first take off of the season felt as if you were at 20,000 hour airline Captain.

As you approach your destination you’re informed on the local Unicom frequency that a last minute planning change has moved the fly in to a local grass strip 10 miles north. The strip is long enough, but due to recent spring rains the field is pretty soft and rough. The field length shouldn’t be any problem for your Cessna 172, and the last time you practiced a soft landing was …..Ah…Ah ……. 5 years ago when you got your private pilot licence. In reality, you’ve never really had to do a soft landing.

Pride gets the better of you and the next thing you know you are on short final. The sun glares off the puddles of water in the muddy infield and you can cut the tension in the air with a knife. You’re frantically searching for what your first instructor told you nearly five years ago. If everyone else got in, you’ll have no trouble - or you just might be the one to plant your airplane on the ground and feel your nose wheel dig into the soft grass and collapse.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice always makes perfect. That’s why airline pilots very rarely have trouble with certain failures and techniques. Every six months certain procedures are reviewed and performed, over and over again. Why someone who only flies a few hours a year does not dedicate an hour every few months to review techniques and emergency scenarios leaves many professional pilots wondering.

Soft Field Technique

Your operating manual will always dictate the preferred technique to use when landing on a soft of unprepared field. Key points to remember are:

· Landing on a soft of unprepared field requires touchdown at the lowest possible speed consistent with safety.
· The attitude on touchdown should be nose up, roughly the altitude for a power-off stall.
· Normally full flap is used and if field length is not a factor, add a little extra power to allow a lower touchdown speed and to keep the nose wheel off the ground.
· The idea is to keep the aircraft taxiing rather than stopping the aircraft so that the wheels do not settle into the soft surface.
· After touchdown, hold the nose wheel clear of the surface as long as possible.
· Use brakes with care to prevent excessive loads on the nose gear.
· Taildraggers should have tailwheel touch down with or just before the main wheels, and should be held down with elevators during the landing roll.
· Remember, the aircraft will probably decelerate quickly.
· Keep the control column fully back to reduce stress on the nosewheel.
· Use the recommended soft field technique on snow, bumpy, soft or rough runways. Also use on grass and sod strips.

As you finish your reminisce about your near perfect landing you suddenly realize that you have to get back home and once again your mind is racing about the proper technique to use. If only you had practiced a soft field takeoff once a year.

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