Faulty Approaches and Landings (Part 2)

Bouncing During Touchdown

When the airplane contacts the ground with a sharp impact as the result of an improper attitude or an excessive rate of sink, it tends to bounce back into the air. Though the airplane’s tires and shock struts provide some springing action, the airplane does not bounce like a rubber ball. Instead, it rebounds into the air because the wing’s AOA was abruptly increased, producing a sudden addition of lift. [Figure 1]

Figure 1. Bouncing during touchdown

The abrupt change in AOA is the result of inertia instantly forcing the airplane’s tail downward when the main wheels contact the ground sharply. The severity of the bounce depends on the airspeed at the moment of contact and the degree to which the AOA or pitch attitude was increased.

Since a bounce occurs when the airplane makes contact with the ground before the proper touchdown attitude is attained, it is almost invariably accompanied by the application of excessive back-elevator pressure. This is usually the result of the pilot realizing too late that the airplane is not in the proper attitude and attempting to establish it just as the second touchdown occurs.

The corrective action for a bounce is the same as for ballooning and similarly depends on its severity. When it is very slight and there is no extreme change in the airplane’s pitch attitude, a follow-up landing may be executed by applying sufficient power to cushion the subsequent touchdown and smoothly adjusting the pitch to the proper touchdown attitude.

In the event a very slight bounce is encountered while landing with a crosswind, crosswind correction must be maintained while the next touchdown is made. Remember that since the subsequent touchdown is made at a slower airspeed, the upwind wing has to be lowered even further to compensate for drift.

Extreme caution and alertness must be exercised any time a bounce occurs, but particularly when there is a crosswind. Inexperienced pilots almost invariably release the crosswind correction. When one main wheel of the airplane strikes the runway, the other wheel touches down immediately afterwards, and the wings becomes level. Then, with no crosswind correction as the airplane bounces, the wind causes the airplane to roll with the wind, thus exposing even more surface to the crosswind and drifting the airplane more rapidly.

When a bounce is severe, the safest procedure is to execute a go-around immediately. Do not attempt to salvage the landing. Apply full power while simultaneously maintaining directional control and lowering the nose to a safe climb attitude. The go-around procedure should be continued even though the airplane may descend and another bounce may be encountered. It is extremely foolish to attempt a landing from a bad bounce since airspeed diminishes very rapidly in the nose-high attitude, and a stall may occur before a subsequent touchdown could be made.


In a bounced landing that is improperly recovered, the airplane comes in nose first initiating a series of motions that imitate the jumps and dives of a porpoise. [Figure 2] The problem is improper airplane attitude at touchdown, sometimes caused by inattention, not knowing where the ground is, miss-trimming or forcing the airplane onto the runway.

Figure 2. Porpoising

Ground effect decreases elevator control effectiveness and increases the effort required to raise the nose. Not enough elevator or stabilator trim can result in a nose low contact with the runway and a porpoise develops.

Porpoising can also be caused by improper airspeed control. Usually, if an approach is too fast, the airplane floats and the pilot tries to force it on the runway when the airplane still wants to fly. A gust of wind, a bump in the runway, or even a slight tug on the control wheel sends the airplane aloft again.

The corrective action for a porpoise is the same as for a bounce and similarly depends on its severity. When it is very slight and there is no extreme change in the airplane’s pitch attitude, a follow-up landing may be executed by applying sufficient power to cushion the subsequent touchdown and smoothly adjusting the pitch to the proper touchdown attitude.

When a porpoise is severe, the safest procedure is to execute a go-around immediately. In a severe porpoise, the airplane’s pitch oscillations can become progressively worse until the airplane strikes the runway nose first with sufficient force to collapse the nose gear. Attempts to correct a severe porpoise with flight control and power inputs is most likely untimely and out of sequence with the oscillations and only make the situation worse. Do not attempt to salvage the landing. Apply full power while simultaneously maintaining directional control and lowering the nose to a safe climb attitude.

Wheel Barrowing

When a pilot permits the airplane weight to become concentrated about the nose wheel during the takeoff or landing roll, a condition known as wheel barrowing occurs. Wheel barrowing may cause loss of directional control during the landing roll because braking action is ineffective, and the airplane tends to swerve or pivot on the nose wheel, particularly in crosswind conditions. One of the most common causes of wheel barrowing during the landing roll is a simultaneous touchdown of the main and nose wheel with excessive speed, followed by application of forward pressure on the elevator control. Usually, the situation can be corrected by smoothly applying back-elevator pressure.

If wheel barrowing is encountered and runway and other conditions permit, it is advisable to promptly initiate a go-around. Wheel barrowing does not occur if the pilot achieves and maintains the correct landing attitude, touches down at the proper speed, and gently lowers the nose wheel while losing speed on rollout. If the pilot decides to stay on the ground rather than attempt a go-around or if directional control is lost, close the throttle and adjust the pitch attitude smoothly but firmly to the proper landing attitude.

Hard Landing

When the airplane contacts the ground during landings, its vertical speed is instantly reduced to zero. Unless provisions are made to slow this vertical speed and cushion the impact of touchdown, the force of contact with the ground may be so great it could cause structural damage to the airplane.

The purpose of pneumatic tires, shock absorbing landing gear, and other devices is to cushion the impact and to increase the time in which the airplane’s vertical descent is stopped. The importance of this cushion may be understood from the computation that a 6-inch free fall on landing is roughly equal to a 340 fpm descent. Within a fraction of a second, the airplane must be slowed from this rate of vertical descent to zero without damage.

During this time, the landing gear, together with some aid from the lift of the wings, must supply whatever force is needed to counteract the force of the airplane’s inertia and weight. The lift decreases rapidly as the airplane’s forward speed is decreased, and the force on the landing gear increases by the impact of touchdown. When the descent stops, the lift is practically zero, leaving the landing gear alone to carry both the airplane’s weight and inertia force. The load imposed at the instant of touchdown may easily be three or four times the actual weight of the airplane depending on the severity of contact.

Touchdown in a Drift or Crab

At times, it is necessary to correct for wind drift by crabbing on the final approach. If the round out and touchdown are made while the airplane is drifting or in a crab, it contacts the ground while moving sideways. This imposes extreme side loads on the landing gear and, if severe enough, may cause structural failure.

The most effective method to prevent drift is the wing-low method. This technique keeps the longitudinal axis of the airplane aligned with both the runway and the direction of motion throughout the approach and touchdown.

There are three factors that cause the longitudinal axis and the direction of motion to be misaligned during touchdown: drifting, crabbing, or a combination of both.

If the pilot does not take adequate corrective action to avoid drift during a crosswind landing, the main wheels’ tire tread offers resistance to the airplane’s sideward movement in respect to the ground. Consequently, any sidewise velocity of the airplane is abruptly decelerated, resulting in the aircraft being shifted to the right due to the inertia force which is shown in Figure 3. This creates a moment around the main wheel when it contacts the ground, tending to overturn or tip the airplane. If the windward wingtip is raised by the action of this moment, all the weight and shock of landing is borne by one main wheel. This could cause structural damage.

Figure 3. Drifting during touchdown

Not only are the same factors present that are attempting to raise a wing, but the crosswind is also acting on the fuselage surface behind the main wheels, tending to yaw (weathervane) the airplane into the wind. This often results in a ground loop.

Ground Loop

A ground loop is an uncontrolled turn during ground operation that may occur while taxiing or taking off, but especially during the after-landing roll. Drift or weathervaning does not always cause a ground loop, although these things may cause the initial swerve. Careless use of the rudder, an uneven ground surface, or a soft spot that retards one main wheel of the airplane may also cause a swerve. In any case, the initial swerve tends to make the airplane ground loop, whether it is a tailwheel-type or nose-wheel type. [Figure 4]

Figure 4. Start of a ground loop

Nose-wheel type airplanes are somewhat less prone to ground loop than tailwheel-type airplanes. Since the center of gravity (CG) is located forward of the main landing gear on these airplanes, any time a swerve develops, centrifugal force acting on the CG tends to stop the swerving action.

If the airplane touches down while drifting or in a crab, apply aileron toward the high wing and stop the swerve with the rudder. Brakes are used to correct for turns or swerves only when the rudder is inadequate. Exercise caution when applying corrective brake action because it is very easy to over control and aggravate the situation.

If brakes are used, sufficient brake is applied on the low-wing wheel (outside of the turn) to stop the swerve. When the wings are approximately level, the new direction must be maintained until the airplane has slowed to taxi speed or has stopped.

In nose-wheel airplanes, a ground loop is almost always a result of wheel barrowing. A pilot must be aware that even though the nose-wheel type airplane is less prone than the tailwheel-type airplane, virtually every type of airplane, including large multi-engine airplanes, can be made to ground loop when sufficiently mishandled.

Wing Rising After Touchdown

When landing in a crosswind, there may be instances when a wing rises during the after-landing roll. This may occur whether or not there is a loss of directional control, depending on the amount of crosswind and the degree of corrective action.

Any time an airplane is rolling on the ground in a crosswind condition, the upwind wing is receiving a greater force from the wind than the downwind wing. This causes a lift differential. Also, as the upwind wing rises, there is an increase in the AOA, which increases lift on the upwind wing, rolling the airplane downwind.

When the effects of these two factors are great enough, the upwind wing may rise even though directional control is maintained. If no correction is applied, it is possible that the upwind wing rises sufficiently to cause the downwind wing to strike the ground.

In the event a wing starts to rise during the landing roll, immediately apply more aileron pressure toward the high wing and continue to maintain direction. The sooner the aileron control is applied, the more effective it is. The further a wing is allowed to rise before taking corrective action, the more airplane surface is exposed to the force of the crosswind. This diminishes the effectiveness of the aileron.