Staying Straight

Tom Zwemke

Loss of control has consistently been the leading factor causing landing accidents, according to the annual Nall Report, published by AOPA’s Air Safety Institute. One way to prevent loss of directional control is to learn to consistently stay aligned with the centerline of the runway during the landing phase.

Some tricycle landing gear equipped airplanes are quite forgiving when it comes to imperfect landings, possibly making some pilots complacent. If you land a little bit sideloaded in a training airplane such as Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee, you may stress the tires and gear slightly, but that will likely be the only repercussion. If you’re in a high-performance airplane, which lands at a faster speed and often has more delicate gear, you could get in trouble if your touchdown is not straight. Land sideloaded in a taliwheel airplane and you could be in for a wild ride called a ground loop.

There is a great tool to learn to maintain a straight path during the last phase of flight. It’s called the low approach. I would recommend going out with an instructor to practice low approaches, preferably at an airport with crossing runways to give you the opportunity to practice with the wind direction aligned with the runway and with crosswind conditions.

Work on approaching the runway as straight as possible making constant but small bank and yaw corrections. When you get closer to the runway, level off about 10 feet above the runway and attempt to keep the airplane’s path of travel perfectly aligned with the runway centerline. Use a visual reference point past the end of the runway, such as a tree, building or other prominent feature, to help you maintain a straight path while looking straight ahead.

The key to the perfectly straight touchdown path is a straight, stable approach and flare. This is achieved with constant but slight control inputs on the yoke and rudder. In certain airplanes, you may get away with an imperfect approach. But regardless of what type of airplane you fly, I believe you should strive to make every landing perfect.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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