Faulty Approaches and Landings (Part 1)

Low Final Approach

When the base leg is too low, insufficient power is used, landing flaps are extended prematurely or the velocity of the wind is misjudged, sufficient altitude is lost, which causes the airplane to be well below the proper final approach path. In such a situation, the pilot would have to apply considerable power to fly the airplane (at an excessively low altitude) up to the runway threshold. When it is realized the runway cannot be reached unless appropriate action is taken, power must be applied immediately to maintain the airspeed while the pitch attitude is raised to increase lift and stop the descent. When the proper approach path has been intercepted, the correct approach attitude is reestablished and the power reduced and a stabilized approach maintained. [Figure 1] Do not increase the pitch attitude without increasing the power because the airplane decelerates rapidly and may approach the critical AOA and stall. Do not retract the flaps; this suddenly decreases lift and causes the airplane to sink more rapidly. If there is any doubt about the approach being safely completed, it is advisable to execute an immediate go-around.

Figure 1. Right and wrong methods of correction for low final approach

High Final Approach

When the final approach is too high, lower the flaps as required. Further reduction in power may be necessary, while lowering the nose simultaneously to maintain approach airspeed and steepen the approach path. [Figure 2] When the proper approach path is intercepted, adjust the power as required to maintain a stabilized approach. When steepening the approach path, care must be taken that the descent does not result in an excessively high sink rate. If a high sink rate is continued close to the surface, it may be difficult to slow to a proper rate prior to ground contact. Any sink rate in excess of 800–1,000 feet per minute (fpm) is considered excessive. A go-around should be initiated if the sink rate becomes excessive.

Figure 2. Change in glidepath and increase in descent rate for high final approach

Slow Final Approach

On the final approach, when the airplane is flown at a slower than normal airspeed, the pilot’s judgment of the rate of sink (descent) and the height of round out is difficult. During an excessively slow approach, the wing is operating near the critical AOA and, depending on the pitch attitude changes and control usage, the airplane may stall or sink rapidly, contacting the ground with a hard impact.

Whenever a slow speed approach is noted, apply power to accelerate the airplane and increase the lift to reduce the sink rate and to prevent a stall. This is done while still at a high enough altitude to reestablish the correct approach airspeed and attitude. If too slow and too low, it is best to execute a go-around.

Use of Power

Power can be used effectively during the approach and round out to compensate for errors in judgment. Power is added to accelerate the airplane to increase lift without increasing the AOA and the descent slowed to an acceptable rate. If the proper landing attitude is attained and the airplane is only slightly high, the landing attitude is held constant and sufficient power applied to help ease the airplane onto the ground. After the airplane has touched down, close the throttle so the additional thrust and lift are removed and the airplane remains on the ground.

High Round Out

Sometimes when the airplane appears to temporarily stop moving downward, the round out has been made too rapidly and the airplane is flying level, too high above the runway. Continuing the round out further reduces the airspeed and increases the AOA to the critical angle. This results in the airplane stalling and dropping hard onto the runway. To prevent this, the pitch attitude is held constant until the airplane decelerates enough to again start descending. Then the round out is continued to establish the proper landing attitude. This procedure is only used when there is adequate airspeed. It may be necessary to add a slight amount of power to keep the airspeed from decreasing excessively and to avoid losing lift too rapidly.

Although back-elevator pressure may be relaxed slightly, the nose should not be lowered to make the airplane descend when fairly close to the runway unless some power is added momentarily. The momentary decrease in lift that results from lowering the nose and decreasing the AOA might cause the airplane to contact the ground with the nose wheel first and result in the nose wheel collapsing.

When the proper landing attitude is attained, the airplane is approaching a stall because the airspeed is decreasing and the critical AOA is being approached, even though the pitch attitude is no longer being increased. [Figure 3]

Figure 3. Rounding out too high

It is recommended that a go-around be executed any time it appears the nose must be lowered significantly or that the landing is in any other way uncertain.

Late or Rapid Round Out

Starting the round out too late or pulling the elevator control back too rapidly to prevent the airplane from touching down prematurely can impose a heavy load factor on the wing and cause an accelerated stall.

Suddenly increasing the AOA and stalling the airplane during a round out is a dangerous situation since it may cause the airplane to land extremely hard on the main landing gear and then bounce back into the air. As the airplane contacts the ground, the tail is forced down very rapidly by the back-elevator pressure and by inertia acting downward on the tail.

Recovery from this situation requires prompt and positive application of power prior to occurrence of the stall. This may be followed by a normal landing if sufficient runway is available—otherwise the pilot should execute a go-around immediately.

If the round out is late, the nose wheel may strike the runway first, causing the nose to bounce upward. Do not attempt to force the airplane back onto the ground; execute a go-around immediately.

Floating During Round Out

If the airspeed on final approach is excessive, it usually results in the airplane floating. [Figure 4] Before touchdown can be made, the airplane may be well past the desired landing point and the available runway may be insufficient. When diving the airplane on final approach to land at the proper point, there is an appreciable increase in airspeed. The proper touchdown attitude cannot be established without producing an excessive AOA and lift. This causes the airplane to gain altitude or balloon.

Figure 4. Floating during roundout

Any time the airplane floats, judgment of speed, height, and rate of sink must be especially acute. The pilot must smoothly and gradually adjust the pitch attitude as the airplane decelerates to touchdown speed and starts to settle, so the proper landing attitude is attained at the moment of touchdown. The slightest error in judgment and timing results in either ballooning or bouncing.

The recovery from floating is dependent upon the amount of floating and the effect of any crosswind, as well as the amount of runway remaining. Since prolonged floating utilizes considerable runway length, it must be avoided especially on short runways or in strong crosswinds. If a landing cannot be made on the first third of the runway, or the airplane drifts sideways, execute a go-around.

Ballooning During Round Out

If the pilot misjudges the rate of sink during a landing and thinks the airplane is descending faster than it should, there is a tendency to increase the pitch attitude and AOA too rapidly.

This not only stops the descent, but actually starts the airplane climbing. This climbing during the round out is known as ballooning. [Figure 5] Ballooning is dangerous because the height above the ground is increasing and the airplane is rapidly approaching a stalled condition. The altitude gained in each instance depends on the airspeed or the speed with which the pitch attitude is increased.

Figure 5. Ballooning during roundout

Depending on the severity of ballooning, the use of throttle is helpful in cushioning the landing. By adding power, thrust is increased to keep the airspeed from decelerating too rapidly and the wings from suddenly losing lift, but throttle must be closed immediately after touchdown. Remember that torque is created as power is applied, and it is necessary to use rudder pressure to keep the airplane straight as it settles onto the runway.

When ballooning is excessive, it is best to execute a go-around immediately; do not attempt to salvage the landing. Power must be applied before the airplane enters a stalled condition.

The pilot must be extremely cautious of ballooning when there is a crosswind present because the crosswind correction may be inadvertently released or it may become inadequate. Because of the lower airspeed after ballooning, the crosswind affects the airplane more. Consequently, the wing has to be lowered even further to compensate for the increased drift. It is imperative that the pilot makes certain that the appropriate wing is down and that directional control is maintained with opposite rudder. If there is any doubt, or the airplane starts to drift, execute a go-around.