A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Slow flight landings

September 26, 2015
Emilie Phillips

The Wentworth fly out is less than a month away and I haven’t flown much recently. So we set aside Saturday morning to practice short field technique.

First thing, Tyson flew Isaac over to Jaffrey to spend the morning with Grammie. Then I picked Tyson up in my RV-4. The landing at Jaffrey was extra interesting because several potholes opened up in the center of the runway. All traffic had to land on the right half.

Tyson really wanted to fly up to Plymouth and then Wentworth to practice grass landings, but we didn’t have time. I suggested Orange since it is closer and has a grass runway. Once we were up in the air, though, we heard the jump plane at Orange announce sky divers jumping. So we diverted to Gardner.

Tyson brought the handheld radio so he could kabitz from the ground, but he decided to start off coaching from the back seat. We chose a black streak across the runway to use as a virtual threshold for landing short. I overshot the first landing, and didn’t correct for cross wind gracefully. The RV-4 feels very different with a passenger in the back. Because the center of gravity is much closer to the center of the airplane, the controls feel a lot lighter. I also messed up by fixating on the virtual threshold. Looking at the birches bending on the far side of the runway, I probably had a tail wind even though the wind sock showed a cross wind.

But more critically than that, Tyson said I was way too fast for a short field landing. From reading accident reports and flight training magazines, the common ways to crash on landing are landing too long and hitting something at the other end, ground looping, and flying too slowly, stalling and spinning the airplane into the ground. The first two do substantial damage to the airplane, but are generally survivable. Stalling and spinning into the ground is universally fatal. Therefore, I err on the side of being reasonably fast until I get all the way to the runway. I tend to fly 70kts most of the way down final, and 65kts on short final.

The problem with those speeds for short landings, is 70kts is near the RV’s best glide speed. Tyson, from his experience flying the RV-4, insisted it has reasonable margins even at 55kts (in stable air, which we had). So the next few landings, he had me hold a constant 55-60kts all the way through base and final. It actually wasn’t as hard as I expected. To hold the constant speed, Tyson told me pay attention to the attitude of the airplane because it gives instant feedback on relative speed changes. I tried watching the angle of the wing chord relative to the horizon.  It seemed like a good reference flying final until suddenly the runway showed up in front of me and I didn’t expect it. Next time I tried to see the attitude looking out the front.

Another landing, Tyson told me to turn base very early and then had me attempt to loose the excess altitude by staying slow. Using the induced drag, we descended steeper, but it wasn’t enough to land in the first half of the runway, so I went around.

Later, we flew off a ways to practice slow flight and stalls just to reinforced Tyson’s assessment of the margins on landing speed. And indeed, to slow the RV to 40kts, I had to hold a very nose high attitude. 40kts is the bottom of my airspeed indicator. To stall the airplane, I had to pull the nose up even farther.

Tyson requested a chance to practice some landings from the back seat of the RV. I hovered over the brake pedals the whole time, but never needed them. The cross wind gust caught him at about the same point down the runway as it had caught me.

We had a good time, and made some significant improvements to my short field technique.  Next weekend we’ll have to go find some grass. Back at Jaffrey I landed from several feet above the runway because the picture looked quite different with the airplane slower.

And then that afternoon both Tyson and I had fun giving rides at our house party. No fancy short field landings then.