Flying is a ground reference maneuver, by contact, or simulated by instruments.
From navigation to the landing touchdown, pilots concern themselves with position, altitude, rate of altitude change, ground track, and sometimes airspeed and yaw. The age old question of "how do I know when to flair" is a cause of instructor anxiety. Sometimes flair is called "round out". Always, it is pitch control to stop the rate of decent to zero with reference to the ground. Let's erase the word "flair" from our training lexicon. Instead, shall we teach that a smooth landing requires the pitch control that is required to stop the rate of descent at an altitude of six inches above the runway? As the airspeed bleeds off and the student keeps the aircraft at six inches, soon the aircraft will kiss the runway. Of course, this assumes the power package is only producing about five percent, the aircraft is tracking the runway centerline, and the aircraft longitudinal axis is parallel with same. ALL of this is referenced to the ground, more specifically the runway.
So, how do we teach this?
This writer thinks the student should experience as much low ground reference training as quickly as possible. At less than five feet above the runway, errors in all aircraft axes are very clear. Hand-eye coordination improvement is rapid.
The method I use with primary students is to spend the first five hours in the pattern. Think about this.
In the pattern:
- We track the runway centerline adjusting for "P" factor on the take-off roll.
- The student experiences: straight and level, straight climbs, straight descents, turning climbs, turning descents, slow flight with and without flaps, power control, and can even experience stall burble down-wind.
At the conclusion of the approach to the runway, a landing is simply flying the aircraft at six inches above the runway controlling the aircraft.
Usually I explain the pattern elements from the lesson plan and start the student flying the pattern down to 500' AGL the length of runway. Then 200', 100', 20', add communication with the tower, 10', 5', and then the magical six inches. The student will learn that the length, or time, at six inches has to do with landing engine power and the over the fence airspeed. Read that "Float".
We are all students, improving our skills...
The next installment is cross-wind landings.
Now go fly...
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