by Harold Mester
MILWAUKEE, WIS. – During training flights, instructors encourage pilots to pick a spot on the runway to use as an aiming point. This spot is generally at least a few hundred feet down the runway. When this task is performed successfully, the aircraft will stall just above the runway and settle on the pavement exactly where the pilot had intended.
As with many objectives in life, achieving this is part skill and part luck. There are many variables that can affect a landing. Conditions don’t always allow the plane to land exactly where we had planned. Gusty winds, a shift in wind direction, or excess airspeed can all lead pilots to land before or after the spots they choose on approach.
A great way to brush up on this skill is to participate in a spot landing contest. Although these contests are not as common as they were years ago, they can still be found. Pilots of all experience levels can participate.
Two years ago, Timmerman Airport in Milwaukee started hosting an annual contest, and I have had the pleasure of serving as one of the judges.
A white line is temporarily applied across the width of the runway pavement, about 200 feet from the approach end. Cones are placed every 10 feet along the edges of the runway to help judges determine the actual landing distance from the line.
The objective is to safely land as close to – but not short of – the target line. Think of the runway as being built perpendicular to a steep cliff. Landing short of the target line is certain failure.
Here comes the first contestant, on final approach in a Bonanza. Throughout the contest, there are several contestants in the traffic pattern, as each pilot gets three tries. Too long! This first landing was at least 100 feet past the line. (In case you’re wondering, tail numbers are being withheld from this article to avoid any embarrassment among the participants.)
Other than landing as close to the line as possible, there are very few rules. Go-arounds are encouraged if a safe landing cannot be assured, and it doesn’t count as a landing attempt for scoring. Judges can tell if a pilot tries to cheat by going around.
It has to be a smooth, normal landing – no slamming the aircraft down or porpoising. If the aircraft bounces, the “final landing” or contact with the runway is the one that counts.
The next contestant is just about to turn final. He’s flying a Skyhawk, and…ouch! Landed way too short, right on the numbers. Glad that wasn’t a real cliff!
In order to hold this event at a towered airport like Timmerman, the contest is conducted on a closed runway, and ATC does not clear pilots to land. Instead, the instruction to the pilot is, “Runway 22R, land at your own risk.”
Here comes the next pilot on 22R. Beautiful! Greased the landing no more than 10 feet beyond the line! In the end, judges gave this landing a score of 14 feet, a small adjustment for style. It wasn’t a perfectly smooth landing, but this pilot ended up being the best of the pack!
In last year’s contest, 16 pilots performed a total of 38 landings, and the winner was a Cessna 152 pilot who had just gotten his private pilot certificate less than a year earlier! Just goes to show that anyone can compete in this spot landing contest and win!
This year, the grand prize is a $200 gift card to Gran-Aire, the FBO at Timmerman Airport. Prizes will also be awarded for 2nd and 3rd place. Every pilot is a winner, because each contestant receives a $20 Gran-Aire gift card just for participating. It can be used for instruction, fuel, pilot gear, or shop time.
This year’s contest will be held September 12, 2015 at 10:00 am at Milwaukee Timmerman Airport, Milwaukee, Wis. (KMWC). If VFR conditions are not present, the rain date is September 26.
See you there!