Bad landings... and how to avoid them

One of aviation's oldest problems - how to get down safely? We've identified the 10 most common bad landing misdemeanours, and how to avoid them.

No phase of flight creates as much difficulty for pilots as landing.One only has to look at the incident reports to see the evidence:broken nose legs, damaged propellers, scraped wingtips and fuselagesbroken in two in aircraft that went over on their backs. These alloccur with a dreary predictability. In defence of pilots, no two landings are ever quite the same. Windspeed and direction, density altitude and runway surface friction allmake a huge difference. Even experienced pilots occasionally land badlyenough to damage an aircraft, so how can the tyro expect to manage?Rather than take the usual approach of detailing a good landing, ourexperts thought it might be more helpful to describe the top ten waysin which landings can go wrong. 1. WHEELBARROW LANDINGSSYMPTOMSNosewheel shimmy, weld fractures, bent tubes, ultimately a snapped noselegCAUSEReaching the ground in a nose-down attitude because the aircraft hadtoomuch speed to touch down in any other way. The nosewheel touchesbefore themainwheelsmaking the aircraft directionally unstable and verydifficult to steer. However, assuming the throttle is closed theaeroplane will eventually slow to the point that the mainwheels touch.Until then, the noseleg is under considerable strain. HOW YOU WILL KNOWIf you have trouble steering a nosewheel aeroplane immediately after touchdown, you may be landing nosewheel-first.

CUREThe aeroplane should bemaintained in level flight just above thesurface until it is going slowly enough to be landed on themainwheels.If this means running out of runway, make a go around and approach at alower speed (or find a longer runway).2. BOUNCED LANDINGS (FAST)SYMPTOMSBroken noseleg, damage to main legs

CAUSEThe aeroplane is forced onto the runway before waiting for it to slowdown. After several successive and increasingly violent bounces thereis sufficient height for a stall and nosedrop so that the nosewheelhits first.HOW YOU WILL KNOWYou'll be going faster than the landing speed when the wheels touch and you bounce.CUREAfter flaring, hold the aeroplane just over the runway for longerbefore allowing the wheels to touch. If a bounce is followed by amoreviolent one, open up and go around. 3. BOUNCED LANDINGS (SLOW)SYMPTOMSDamage to the main legs

CAUSEMisjudging height – imagining you're just over the runway when in fact you're several feet up.

HOW YOU WILL KNOWIf you bounce after touching down at a low speed, it's because you dropped on.

CUREBefore takeoff, look around and memorise how the ground looks; thiswill help height judgement when you come to land. If you have poordepth perception, seek help from an instructor. One instructor's tipfrom Tiger Moth days was to pull back the stick when you were lowenough to see individual blades of grass.4. CRABBED LANDINGSSYMPTOMSCollapsed main legs, especially in aircraft with long legs mounted onthe wings – these are particularly vulnerable to sideways loads. CAUSEUsually a badly misjudged crosswind landing, but it is possible totouch down crabbed without a crosswind if, for instance, you normallyland from the left seat and you find yourself landing from the right.HOW YOU WILL KNOWOne wing lifting as the wheels touch, combined with a screech fromthetyres as they skid sideways. The aircraft will yaw and you will feel itlurch to one side.CUREThe pilot needs to develop awareness of sideways drift and how tocompensate for sitting off-centre. Often the cure is simply to be awareof the problem and look out for it, but if necessary advanced trainingwith an instructor should be sought.5. HEAVY LANDINGSSYMPTOMSDamage to the undercarriage, its mountings and possibly to theairframe. A heavy landing has been known to damage the wing spar andfracture the longerons in the fuselage. CAUSEMany aircraft are designed so that full aft elevator is too weak tocause a stall and nose drop (unless combined with a blast of power). Ifallowed to get too slow during the approach, these aircraft insteaddevelop a formidable sink rate. The pilot is fooled by the aircraft'srelatively level attitude and by the time he realises that the groundis rushing up, it's too late. Since the aircraft hits the ground in anose-high attitude, it's usually the main legs that take the strain. HOW YOU WILL KNOWYou'll know – the sensation of a heavy landing is unmistakable. The ground seems to rise up and strike the aeroplane.CUREClosely monitor airspeed throughout the approach. If the aircraft fallsbelow 'over the hedge' speed as you cross the threshold, open thethrottle. Avoid a panicky pull back on the stick if both low and slow.If in doubt, apply full throttle and go around.6. COLLISION LANDINGSSYMPTOMSAn expensive bill from the airport manager for a new PAPI or runway marker and damage to spats, brakes and wheel parts

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CAUSEDrifting off track and landing in the wrong place. Runways at some airports are flanked by landing lights.

HOW YOU WILL KNOWThe aircraft will lurch to one side and one wing will rise and drop again.

CUREIf you have allowed the aircraft to drift off track, don't press on, but abandon the approach and make a go around. 7. GROUNDLOOP LANDINGSSYMPTOMSScraped wingtip and there will probably be hidden damage to the airframe and particularly the undercarriage mountings.

CAUSEA groundloop (mainly occurring in taildraggers) is an uncontrolledacute change of direction – usually the aircraft swings round through180 degrees. This puts a big sideways strain on the wheels and can losea tyre or collapse the legs.HOW YOU WILL KNOWThe aircraft will autorotate to one side, the yaw rapidly gatheringspeed. In a flash you are a helpless passenger. If you have time toreact with rudder and differential brake, you will find them helplessto stop the rotation. A groundloop can happen at any speed above a slowwalking pace. The faster the speed, the greater the damage, but even atfast taxi, a groundloop can do considerable harm, even though it mayfeel quite gentle from the cockpit.CURERigid concentration on keeping the aircraft running in a straight line.Once the aircraft begins to turn, there is a moment when differentialbrake plus opposite rudder and in some aircraft a burst of throttlewill be powerful enough to stop it. If you lose that opportunity, agroundloop is inevitable. 8. FAST LANDINGS

SYMPTOMSTyre creep (evidenced by paint lines out of alignment), flat spot ontyres, rubber streaks on the runway. The tyresmay be pronouncedunserviceable and have to be replaced, which is expensive.CAUSEIt is possible to land many aircraft on a smooth surfacewithoutbouncing or other problems, but going much too fast. The pilot is thenforced to brake relatively fiercely in order to stop in time.HOW YOU WILL KNOWIf you have to brake in a panic and hear sustained squealing from the tyres.

CUREGo around and make a slower approach next time or divert to an airportwith a longer runway. Either way, don't allow the aircraft to touchdown until it has reached the recommended landing speed. 9. BUCKET LANDINGSSYMPTOMSBroken leafsprings in the tailwheelmount.

CAUSELanding nose-high with the tailwheel touching down first. This isfollowed by fore-and-aft bucketing: the aircraft bouncing frommainwheels to tailwheel and back with increasing violence.HOW YOU WILL KNOWThe bucketing gives the game away. It can become sufficiently violent to cause a prop strike.

CUREMemorise the ground attitude before takeoff and don't allow the nose to get any higher than that when you land.

10. 'UNDECIDED' LANDINGSSYMPTOMSA hole in the boundary hedge or wrecked aircraft at the far end of the runway.

CAUSEMuch too late, the pilot decides he hasn't room to stop and makes apanicky decision to go around. Either the aeroplane fails to leave theground and ploughs into obstacles or it staggers into the air andstalls.HOW YOU WILL KNOWPilots to whom this is going to happen generally get several warningswith panicky, late go arounds that they only just get away with.Dithering about go arounds is often linked to fading confidence.CUREIf you realise you are becoming indecisive and unsure about yourlanding technique, don't bluff it out – instead ask an instructor forsome re-training.