To land an airplane is the most challenging part of any flight. Three basic piloting mistakes can cause wing tip strikes, collapsed landing gear, skidding off the side or end of a runway, groundloops, etc. When you hear what these mistakes are, you may not see at first that they are so bad. I was truly confident as I gave my friends a ride in a new Skyhawk to a small uncontrolled field where I had landed many times during my student days. My landing was really smooth. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. A wind gust picked us up and I landed not quite as smoothly a second time – on the parallel taxiway. The pilot of another plane taxiing in the opposite direction stopped immediately. It was hard to meet the stare of the other pilot as I left the taxiway for the ramp. I mumbled some stupid excuse to my passengers. In just one landing I had made the three most common accident-producing mistakes in aviation. Determined to never repeat that close call, I have studied this facet of flying very carefully. Not surprising, the NTSB says that a full 45% of weather related incidents are caused by gusts and crosswinds. At the time, I thought more like 90%. There are some simple, easy-to-master techniques for avoiding these situations that I want to tell you about now. To understand the techniques that I am about to describe, I would like to explain the major causes of landing accidents as well. If you have an angle of attack (airplane nose high enough or low enough) that produces no lift, no gust can pick your airplane up. I had made the mistake of not having my nose at a safe angle. Because my wing was in a lift producing angle, the sudden gust picked us up. There are two different orientations relative to a wind gust that prevent a wing from producing lift. A wind laying flat does not produce lift. A wing that it really pitched very high, above its stalling angle, produces no lift in a strong wind. So the technique, I am sure your instructor told you this, is to keep the airplane flying as long as you can; putting the angle of attack high enough to ignore even the strongest gust. When you let the nose wheel down, the wing cannot produce enough lift to present a problem even in a very strong gust. This does not address the problem of a crosswind. As long as the pilot is slipping sideways as fast as the wind but against it or as long as the landing gear has enough traction, a crosswind cannot blow the plane off the runway. If you always use crosswind landing techniques for every landing; you defeat the crosswind without thinking about it. Keep the plane over the center of the runway with ailerons and pointed down the runway with rudder pedals. This ensures that the plane stays in the center after landing. I have just described cross controlling. Failing to control the approach glide is the major cause of over shoot and landing too fast. The botched approach glide is the mother of all landing accidents but not the only cause. It is very easy to control an approach glide. Keep in mind two fundamental but simple principles during any approach. Pitch attitude changes impacts airspeed very quickly. Changes in power have a weak and sluggish influence on airspeed but impact glide path immediately. Because constant indicated airspeed is essential to good approach glide control, you must make a pitch attitude change when you make a power change. When you increase power, you must
increase pitch to maintain constant IAS. Project you glide to the desired aiming point on the runway while maintaining that ideal approach indicated airspeed. I would like to talk you through an approach. Suppose that after configuring your plane to land, you want to fly your approach at sixty knots. You see that the point on the ground that never moves relative to your wind screen is a dicey five hundred feet short of the runway. You decide that you would rather glide toward the near end of the runway. You adjust your glide by adding 200 revs to the engine and pitching up slightly. You are dismayed when you realize that you are now gliding too far down the runway. Making a smaller but opposite correction, you reduce your RPM by 100 and pitch down slightly while maintaining the canonical 60 knots. You continue minor corrections as you home in on your target on the runway right up until you are ready to start the flare to land. This process puts your airplane at the proper airspeed, configuration, and point in space needed to make great landings consistently.
The common landing blunders too often made by pilots are failing to do these things: keep flying as long as possible, cross control before and after landing, and fly a precise approach glide.