Short Field Mistakes to Avoid

The performance of any airplane is a function of the physics of the flight situation. Doing a great job flying the airplane will not in any way allow you or any pilot to make that airplane do anything it isn’t inherently capable of doing. Poor pilot performance, on the other hand, can be credited with making many an airplane that you could easily land in 1,000 feet take up 5,000 feet of runway and keep right on rolling.

You do need to know what to do, but it’s also important to know what not to do. Here are a few things to avoid:

• Winging it. Going into a new short field? Study up. Know the field elevation, weather, winds, geography and options. Go in armed with information.

• Flying slower than you can fly. At least two bad things can happen: You can land hard, really hard if you're not careful, and you can, at worst, stall and spin in. The first mistake could ruin your day. The second, well, you get the idea. Know the right speed for your weight and the conditions and fly it, not a knot slower.

• Sinking spells. If you're sinking too fast on final, you need to add power and arrest the descent. While a big sink rate will get you down and stopped in a hurry, too big a sink rate is time-consuming, as it forces you to get out of the airplane to retrieve spare parts after your arrival.

• Saving a long approach. Too fast, too long? Go around. And go into the landing knowing you might very well not land at all. That way there's no surprise. A go-around was part of the plan all along, and you can initiate it before it gets too interesting.

• Overloading. Weight is the enemy. If you're going into a short strip or, even more importantly, taking off from a short strip, go early when it's cool and the airplane's performance is strong. While a couple hundred extra pounds of souvenirs might not make any difference on long paved runways, the extra booty can be the difference between success and its tragic opposite when the margins are thin.

• Horsing it off. When the airplane has flying speed, it will fly, not a knot before. While it's good technique in some cases to lift off early and accelerate in ground effect, it's never good technique to rotate before you have flying speed and hope for the best. Pick a point on the runway as a decision point, and if the departure isn't looking likely, get stopped and try again on another, cooler day.


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