03 - More about Flying Practice

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I want to say thank you to everyone for their positive reaction to the Safety sub-Committee's campaign for us all to get more practice, to improve both our skills and our safety record. Thank you for your support and encouraging feedback.

I have since been thinking more about our landing practice. On TV this weekend I saw a great sportsman, who explained his technique for getting consistent drop goals. He does not merely aim to get the ball between the posts. He aims for one face in the crowd, dead in the centre of the posts. Then he refines his aim to one eye in that face. By aiming so utterly precisely, he has the best chance of a good goal, despite variations in wind or technique.

Perhaps we can all learn from him. When flying circuits, we should try, not just to land somewhere on the runway, but to straddle the centreline; then not just to straddle it, but to touch down precisely astride it, and stay there throughout the roll-out. Likewise, we should not just aim for the numbers, but for the bottom horizontals of those numbers. Again we should not just land nose-high, but at the precise ten-degree (or 12°, or 15°) nose-up attitude that is correct for our type. We may not attain all three goals on every touchdown, but if we always strive for them we should generally make better landings.

This next bit is just for tailwheel pilots, who have an additional task. Tailwheel aeroplanes are directionally unstable. Most of them can be kept straight by their rudder, tailwheel steering and differential brakes. Some have only two of these, but any one of them should be quite enough if you land into wind. On take-off the propeller's slipstream makes the rudder more effective, and you may have the option of a judicious burst of power on landing for the same effect. If your tailwheel steering stops working, for whatever reason, either get on the brakes, or open the throttle and go around (something you should always be poised to do in any aeroplane - and something else to practice).

I have been flying for over forty years, mostly in and among tailwheelers. I had often heard the phrase 'ground loop', but until recently I had never, ever seen one. Now I have seen four in the past few weeks, all by our club members or at Serpentine. Three were in the most benign possible conditions, and all three were because the aeroplane was not precisely straight when it touched down.

Tailwheel aeroplanes must be exactly parallel to the runway on touchdown, and then stay precisely aligned with it throughout the roll-out. I find the best way to do this is to place an easily visible rivet, fastener or mark on the front of your cowling over a distant tree or other tall object in line with the runway, and very deliberately hold it there with tiny, early rudder inputs. If you don't have a rivet, stick a bit of insulating tape in the appropriate place, dead ahead on your cowling.

Perhaps, if we all strive to make our landings more accurate and precise, like that sportsman, we shall have some margin if we are hit by a gust, or have a bad day.

See you next Sunday (tree planting day). Meanwhile, happy (and safe) flying.

Bob Grimstead
SABC Safety Committee