February 2010, Ballito, South Africa
Back to the Basics: Pitch, Power and Trim
A Philosophy to Fly By, a Philosophy to Survive By
Lesson Four ended with, "If you want to develop the skill required to put your airplane down exactly on the 'spot' you must understand the 'stabilized approach' and energy management."
Did you practice the suggested exercises? If you did, you will be ready for this lesson.
Every pilot knows that our type of flying, general aviation, has more accidents with fatalities than the airlines, corporate or military flying. You are the key to making your own flying as safe as these others. Insist you develop the discipline necessary to practice these lessons, to know your aircraft systems and operating procedures. Do regular testing of your skills with a "Boot Camp" type of instructor, respect the environmental factors affecting your flight and know your limits.
What is energy management? Why do you need to know? It is not taught to pilots during flight training unless you are learning to fly gliders. At least it is not called "energy management." When the space shuttle returns for landing, it is the ultimate demonstration of "energy management." A definition taken from notes to update the FAA Instrument Flying Handbook defines energy management as, The dissipation of potential and kinetic energy. If you are ever going to land your airplane on "the spot" you must understand the resulting effect of an extra five or ten knots of airspeed.
Here's a headline from a recent report by the NTSB, "Pilots ill trained for Water Landings," The report states the A/C that landed in the Hudson touched down 3 or 4 times harder than necessary. In my opinion, he did not have enough airspeed to make a softer landing, but given when the engines failed during take off, could he have done anything different?
Read Lesson Three above about my C-206 engine failure. The touch down was not 3 or 4 times harder than necessary. If so this lesson would not be written. A C-206 on floats with flaps full, needs at least 90 MPH indicated to have enough energy to successfully make the flare and land safely as possible under the conditions. I had practiced this procedure hundreds of times using 90 MPH indicated and full flaps in float equipped C-206s while simulating emergencies. The difference, when practicing, the touchdown was on water; I was able to take off again.
Let's take the FAA definition of energy management: The dissipation of potential and kinetic energy. What is kinetic energy? Simply put, it is the resulting energy produced by the speed of a moving mass times its weight. This energy is variable by increasing speed or weight. What is potential energy? It is the amount of energy a mass not in motion would have if it started moving. The FAA definition leaves out an important form of potential energy, that is, the power that is produced by the engine which is instantly variable with the throttle (assuming the engine is still running).
So, how do we use this understanding of energy management to make an "on-the-spot landing every time?"
1. You start by knowing your airplane. Know the speed required to accomplish the flare. Do the practice exercises in Lesson Four.
2. Learn what it means to watch the "spot." Is it moving up? You are going to land short. Is it moving down? You will overshoot it.
3. Learn how much distance in front of the actual touchdown spot is necessary to slow down. You must plan on slowing down sometime and you don't fly the approach at your touch down speed. The FAA recommended approach speed of 1.3 Vso works sometimes, but not all the time. A PA-18 on floats needs 1.5 Vso to safely accomplish a power-off landing.
You must realize the initial "spot" you choose should be well ahead of your actual "spot" of intended touch down. This area on approach, the distance between the aiming spot (spot of impact) and touchdown spot is your "deceleration zone." The length of this deceleration zone will vary by your ground speed. Excess airspeed, headwinds, tailwinds, all of these will determine the length of your "deceleration zone." The spot movement up or down in your visual field, is always an indicator of where you will impact as long as your ground speed is constant (stabilized). It is all up to you.
The above tips will work only if you have achieved precise airspeed control (by practicing Lesson 4). I just sat through an approach in an A-320 into a small airport near Iguazu (pronounced, ee-wah-zoo') Falls in Argentina. The pilot kept varying the power more than I have ever experienced. Up, back, up, back, we were bouncing all over the sky until he touched down precisely on the landing zone with a 50 knot gusting crosswind. That is what he needed to do to make a stabilized approach. He definitely understood what energy management is and used the variable power (energy) available from his engines to bring us in under those challenging conditions.
The techniques used here apply to wheels, skis, or floats, the airplane doesn't care. However, an airplane equipped with floats will require more airspeed to accomplish a soft power-off landing because the extra drag created by the floats and often a longer seaplane prop dissipates more of the kinetic energy. For example, in a Super Cub on wheels it requires 55 MPH indicated to accomplish a power-off landing. On floats it requires a minimum of 65 MPH indicated to accomplish a power-off landing. This is managing your energy, varying airspeed, varying power. You are the master. You are in control.
These methods are for your practice so you will gain understanding in the principles of pitch, power and trim. Developing proficiency in using these methods, and integrating them into your everyday flying will greatly increase your piloting skills, thus enhancing your safety.
PLEASE realize....these techniques are what I use and practice. Other pilots might have something else that works for them. "There is always more than one right way." If you have a technique that is working for you, use it! If you don't, practice what I shared in this lesson, it works.
Next lesson: The stabilized approach. When do you pick the spot?
Flying is as safe as you make it.
See you on the water,