The Art of the Touch and Go

A lot happens quickly in this variation on a normal landing.

Of all the maneuvers you will learn during your primary flight training, the touch and go will be the one you practice most often. [FLYING file photo]

Of all the maneuvers you will learn during your primary flight training, the touch and go will be the one you practice most often. 

The touch and go is a variation on a normal landing. Instead of bringing the aircraft to a complete stop, after the aircraft touches down, you add full power to takeoff. It is sort of a modified go-around. 

There is a lot happening quickly in the touch and go, so much so that it is easy to get behind the airplane. So many tasks happen almost simultaneously—you must add power, maintain control of the aircraft, lift off, possibly retract flaps, climb out, and retrim the airplane. Did I mention control the aircraft? Failure to do so on the “go” part of the touch and go can result in a very bad experience.

During the go-around, a momentary lapse of attention, such as failure to add enough right rudder, can put the airplane off the side of the runway. Failure to retrim can trigger a power-on stall. Improperly retracting flaps—like all at once—can result in a sink that will definitely get your attention while you are trying to climb away from the runway.

Because there is so much happening during the go part, many instructors teach a full-stop landing first so the learner understands the importance of maintaining direction control of the aircraft and cleaning it up post-landing.

You never want to rush the clean up. This is particularly true when flying an aircraft with retractable landing gear. There have been instances where the pilot of a retract initiates the go part in a hurry, and the retraction of the flaps when the landing gear is in transit results in increased drag, and the aircraft settles back on to the runway on its belly.

As a young CFI, I witnessed this at my home field. I was in a straight-legged Cessna 172 with a learner sharing the pattern with a Cessna 182RG belonging to a local flying club. A year earlier, the 182RG experienced a gear-up landing that was the result of the “gear and flaps coming up at the same time” scenario. On that day, there were three aboard the 182: a CFI and two CFI candidates. Thankfully, no one was injured.

The club 182 was on final while we were on downwind, and I thought to myself, "Oh, good, they got it flying again." A moment later, the 182 pilot announced touch and go. The “touch” part looked fine, but on the go part, the airplane appeared to settle on the runway then went off to the left into the grass. Fortunately, no one was injured. I learned later it was the same scenario: two CFI candidates and a CFI training them.

The incident resulted in a safety meeting at my school. The chief CFI—and the owner of the flight school—made it a rule that we would not practice touch and go in retractable gear airplanes at gross weight with full flaps. In addition, during a touch and go we would verbalize gear up and locked and positive rate of climb then retract the flaps. For the unfamiliar, it takes longer to read that sentence than it does to perform the process.

Teaching Touch and Go

The above mentioned mishaps probably happened because the pilot in command was rushed: get the gear up, get the flaps up but didn't consider the drag that would result in simultaneous retraction.

The settling of the aircraft when flaps are retracted in one movement is not just limited to retractable gear aircraft, and most of us learned this during solo flight. I demonstrate it to my learners at altitude during a maneuver I call "faux pattern."

Faux Pattern

Take the airplane up high enough that you can fly the airspeeds and procedures that will safely allow a stall and recovery. You will be losing 1,000 feet in this maneuver.

1. After clearing the area, set up the aircraft on a cardinal altitude (north, south, east or west). You will be flying a rectangular pattern. All turns will be made in 90-degree increments.

2. On the first leg, designated as downwind, note the altitude and apply the prelanding checklist. Designate an "abeam point of touchdown," activate carburetor heat if applicable, and reduce power to the setting that allows you to achieve the airspeed appropriate for your aircraft on downwind per the POH. Hold the heading as you add the first notch of flaps and trim to hold the airspeed in the descent. Pro-tip: Count the number of turns of the trim wheel. It may be top to bottom on a vertical wheel and a complete circle if using a Piper-style trim actuator.

3. When the aircraft has descended 200 feet, add the next notch of flaps, achieve the appropriate airspeed, and initiate the "base leg" turn, focusing on maintaining coordination and rolling out on heading.

4. Repeat the process for the turn to final. As the aircraft rolls out on the final approach heading, stabilize the speed then reduce the throttle as pitch up so the aircraft is in the same attitude required for landing. Power to idle and hold the attitude and heading until the stall warning horn activates.

When practicing for a touch and go, the activation of the stall warning horn in the landing attitude signifies the touchdown. The pilot then initiates the go procedure. Up at altitude it is the same as the go-around, per the procedures published in the POH.

Stress aircraft control, staying on heading, and gaining altitude while cleaning up the airplane in an expedient manner and backing up the process with the appropriate checklist.

I demonstrate the maneuver once to my clients and warn them of full-flap retraction in one move. Then I have them perform the faux pattern and experience the full-flap retraction. The sudden sinking when the flaps are pulled out in one fell swoop definitely gets a learner's attention.

We do two or three faux patterns, and when we both feel comfortable with the learner's performance, we head back to the pattern. More often than not, the learner does an excellent job, having practiced beforehand.

Touch and Go on First Solo?

There is nothing in the FARs that would prevent a learner from doing their first solo as a series of touch and goes. However, there are some flight schools that advocate the first solo to comprise full-stop landings, with a taxi back for takeoff. This gives the learner a chance to confer with their CFI (who is probably on the ramp, radio in hand watching every nanosecond of the flight). On other occasions, such as when the pattern is busy, touch and go may be the way to go.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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