by Harold Green
Copyright 2020. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine (online) – December 2020/January issue
In recent years, flight instruction has become more and more guided by the goal of producing pilots prepared and motivated to move on to airline or corporate flying. This has produced decided safety advantages in general. However, inevitably the FAA guidance has been focused on the general good as decided by bureaucrats whose job security and general professional well-being is controlled by a Congress which understands aviation to consist mostly of airline operations. Therefore, training has been guided into methods and techniques most suitable for large or jet-powered aircraft. While overall this has resulted in a greater safety record for personal general aviation, the question could be asked what areas could be better if focused on the operation of personal general aviation aircraft.
One of the most obvious differences is the “landing technique.” If you are flying a multi-ton behemoth with big blowtorches attached, there are a few constraints on you. First of all, hundreds of thousands of pounds need time to change speed or trajectory and your blowtorches take a relatively long time to go from idle to full power. Therefore, if you have to go around, you need to be prepared.
Since the time from idle to full power can be on the order of 20 seconds or more, and heavy aircraft require time and power to accelerate, the safest way to do this is to land with a reasonable amount of power from the blowtorches, so they don’t take so long to spool up to full power and you should maintain a reasonable airspeed. However, since your behemoth was designed to fly fast, a reasonable amount of power will get you to full power quickly but will make you go too fast for landing. Therefore, to keep that power available on landing, you will have flaps, slats, landing gear and other hardware hanging out into the breeze, simply because it takes less time to clean these up, than it would to spool up your blow torches from idle. All of this permits you to make a relatively safe go-around, providing you are aware of the need in time. On go-around, it is necessary to add power and then as speed builds up, clean the plane up and around you go.
This is most assuredly an over simplified sequence, but the physics theory is correct. In order to achieve this, the landing procedure calls for specific power settings and airspeeds for each leg of the approach, the exact values of which vary of course from plane type to plane type. Of course, the power and speed setting are adhered to religiously as they should be with a heavy fast beast that needs time to change trajectory or speed. Heavy, high-performance aircraft require very precise speed, power and altitude control because the time required to correct is high compared to how fast things can happen.
As a result of the foregoing discussion, a specific sequence of events centered on heavy aircraft operations is used to train pilots, even in primary training in light aircraft. This is particularly true of those flight schools, which exist principally to turn out future airline pilots. This is so not only because their students need to be prepared to operate within the FAA procedures, but also because these schools are more closely monitored by the FAA for conformance with FAA standards. In general, there is no great problem with this. However, in the opinion of this instructor, this approach leaves a gap in flight training that leads to a gap in a pilot’s ability to control aircraft.
First of all, relatively light piston-powered general aviation aircraft can react much more quickly than heavier planes because the piston engine can attain full power from idle much more quickly than a turbine engine, as the power-to-weight ratio is much more favorable.
Even a low-powered trainer like the Cessna 152 can go around much more quickly than the typical airliner. Therefore, there is no need to maintain power all the way around in the pattern.
There is one caveat to this. That is, if the student, as is often the case, has been taught that all landings are to be full flap, not all trainers can go around even with full power. The best they can do is hold altitude while maintaining a very slow airspeed. This can be a very dangerous situation.
A typical case of this is the early Cessna 150 with 40 degrees of flap extension. Two people, full flaps, full or nearly full tanks, and it won’t climb. It is then necessary to carefully, at full power, gradually milk up the flaps. Obviously not a good situation if you have waited too long to execute a go-around.
Based on instructing people who have been exclusively, or almost exclusively, taught in this environment, it appears this does not train pilots to handle pitch/power control of airspeed/altitude and the ability to properly use flaps or to land without them.
At the high-performance end of light aircraft, such as the Cessna TTX, Cirrus and all twins, the airline approach is much the preferred way to perform landings. However, these planes can be landed in the same manner we have been discussing. It is simply the fact that because of wing loading or weight, they are better suited to the airline approach. The issue is not that students are taught to land like an airliner, the problem is that they are not taught to take advantage of the characteristics of light aircraft. So, what is different about this? Light aircraft can land safely with no power at all from downwind to touchdown. That even includes the high-end singles. Twins can also land in this manner, but the issue is more touchy than with single-engine aircraft, and is generally considered to be semi-emergency. None-the less, it can be done safely, particularly if the pilot has been taught the pitch/power technique. Just think of the “Miracle on the Hudson.” That airplane was flown like a light plane because there was no choice. Obviously, the pilot-in-command knew how to fly by pitch. Twins are generally landed with different approach speeds determined not by glide characteristics, but principally to maintain sufficient airspeed, permitting the pilot to maintain control or go around in the event of the loss of one engine. The reasons for this are the subject of a different day’s discussion.
Now once the airplane is on the runway, hopefully in a reusable state, the airline doctrine is that one should wait until off the runway before changing the airplane configuration, such as flaps, carb heat and what have you. Now this makes sense in the airliner because it is heavy, massive and the pilots need to be focused on slowing the behemoth safely and managing the plethora of systems with no distractions. Good enough, but when landing a light aircraft in a crosswind, on slippery runways or with a short stop distance available, this may not be the best procedure. When there are a lot of levers and switches and the plane lands fast and usually only on runways of more than sufficient length, this is fine. But, when you have landed a light aircraft in a strong crosswind, with maybe a little less runway left than desired and perhaps even less braking effect than one would like, it makes more sense to raise flaps on roll out. The usual explanation is that waiting until clear of the runway reduces the possibility of raising the landing gear by reaching for the wrong control.
Many light aircraft have the gear down and welded. In the old days when control knobs were pretty much all the same, this was more rational than it is today. These are the extent of the systems requiring management on most light aircraft. Today, the landing gear control handle looks and feels like a wheel, and the flap control feels like an airfoil. Therefore, there is probably more to be gained by raising flaps on roll out than not.
Another area, which in my opinion, leads to practices, which could cause problems in a general aviation aircraft, is the use of “checklists.” I am not advocating the elimination of checklists. Quite the contrary. Many pilots don’t use them enough. However, those who do use them often do so to direct their actions, rather than to use the checklist as a check on their actions. As a result, items on checklists are often either skipped or not properly checked. That’s because the pilot is focused on accomplishing the list, rather than performing the deed.
Too often students are taught the blind use of checklists without regard to the fact that airlines have two pilots: One to read the checklist and one to affect the action. I believe a better approach for single-pilot operations is to use a flow pattern sequence and then use the checklist to confirm that everything has been done properly.
As an example, the pre-takeoff check can be accomplished by sweeping from the left side of the instrument panel to the right, covering each gauge and stating its function, and setting it if required, as each is selected. Following that procedure, refer to the pre-takeoff checklist and confirm that each item has been addressed and if not, do it then.
In short, this is what people are trained to do with the emergency checklist. This provides the advantage of causing each element to be addressed twice: Once to act on the element and once to confirm it. The additional factor here is the pilot actually has to think about what is happening. What a thought!
Now as a final thought, please bear in mind that the purpose of this discussion is not to denigrate either mode of operation. The purpose is to point out advantages in recognizing and utilizing modes of operation as befitting the type of airplane being flown.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Harold Green is an Instrument and Multi-Engine Instrument Instructor (CFII, MEII) at Morey Airplane Company in Middleton, Wisconsin (C29). A flight instructor since 1976, Green was named “Flight Instructor of the Year” by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2011 and is a recipient of the “Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.” Questions, comments and suggestions for future topics are welcomed via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 608-836-1711 (www.MoreyAirport.com).
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.