Jet Airplane Approach and Landing (Part Three) The Flare, Touchdown, and Rollout

The Flare

The flare reduces the approach rate of descent to a more acceptable rate for touchdown. Unlike light airplanes, a jet airplane should be flown onto the runway rather than “held off” the surface as speed dissipates. A jet airplane is aerodynamically clean even in the landing configuration, and its engines still produce residual thrust at idle rpm. Holding it off during the flare in an attempt to make a smooth landing greatly increases landing distance. A firm landing is normal and desirable. A firm landing does not mean a hard landing, but rather a deliberate or positive landing.


For most airports, the airplane passes over the end of the runway with the landing gear 30–45 feet above the surface, depending on the landing flap setting and the location of the touchdown zone. It takes 5–7 seconds from the time the airplane passes the end of the runway until touchdown. The flare is initiated by increasing the pitch attitude just enough to reduce the sink rate to 100–200 fpm when the landing gear is approximately 15 feet above the runway surface. In most jet airplanes, this requires a pitch attitude increase of only 1° to 3°. The thrust is smoothly reduced to idle as the flare progresses.

The normal speed bleed off during the time between passing the end of the runway and touchdown is 5 knots. Most of the decrease occurs during the flare when thrust is reduced.

If the flare is extended (held off) while an additional speed is bled off, hundreds or even thousands of feet of runway may be used up. [Figure 15-25] The extended flare also results in additional pitch attitude, which may lead to a tail strike. It is, therefore, essential to fly the airplane onto the runway at the target touchdown point, even if the speed is excessive. A deliberate touchdown should be planned and practiced on every flight. A positive touchdown helps prevent an extended flare.

Figure 15-25. Extended flare.

Figure 15-25. Extended flare. [click image to enlarge]

Pilots must learn the flare characteristics of each model of airplane they fly. The visual reference cues observed from each airplane are different because window geometry and visibility are different. The geometric relationship between the pilot’s eye and the landing gear is different for each make and model. It is essential that the flare maneuver be initiated at the proper height—not too high and not too low.

Beginning the flare too high or reducing the thrust too early may result in the airplane floating beyond the target touchdown point or may include a rapid pitch up as the pilot attempts to prevent a high sink rate touchdown. This can lead to a tail strike. The flare that is initiated too late may result in a hard touchdown.

Proper thrust management through the flare is also important. In many jet airplanes, the engines produce a noticeable effect on pitch trim when the thrust setting is changed. A rapid change in the thrust setting requires a quick elevator response. If the thrust levers are moved to idle too quickly during the flare, the pilot must make rapid changes in pitch control. If the thrust levers are moved more slowly, the elevator input can be more easily coordinated.


Touchdown and Rollout

A proper approach and flare positions the airplane to touch down in the touchdown target zone, which is usually about 1,000 feet beyond the runway threshold. Once the main wheels have contacted the runway, the pilot must maintain directional control and initiate the stopping process. The stop must be made on the runway that remains in front of the airplane. The runway distance available to stop is longest if the touchdown was on target. The energy to be dissipated is least if there is no excess speed. The stop that begins with a touchdown that is on the numbers is the easiest stop to make for any set of conditions.

At the point of touchdown, the airplane represents a very large mass that is moving at a relatively high speed. The large total energy must be dissipated by the brakes, the aerodynamic drag, and the thrust reversers. The nose wheel should be flown onto the ground immediately after touchdown because a jet airplane decelerates poorly when held in a nose-high attitude. Placing the nose wheel tire(s) on the ground assists in maintaining directional control. Also, lowering the nose gear decreases the wing AOA, decreasing the lift, placing more load onto the tires, thereby increasing tire-to-ground friction. Landing distance charts for jet airplanes assume that the nose wheel is lowered onto the runway within 4 seconds of touchdown.

There are only three forces available for stopping the airplane: wheel braking, reverse thrust, and aerodynamic braking. Of the three, the brakes are most effective and therefore the most important stopping force for most landings. When the runway is very slippery, reverse thrust and drag may be the dominant forces. Both reverse thrust and aerodynamic drag are most effective at high speeds. Neither is affected by runway surface condition. Brakes, on the other hand, are most effective at low speed. The landing rollout distance depends on the touchdown speed, what forces are applied, and when they are applied. The pilot controls the what and when factors, but the maximum braking force may be limited by tire-to-ground friction.

The pilot should begin braking as soon after touchdown and wheel spin-up as possible, and to smoothly continue the braking until stopped or a safe taxi speed is reached. However, caution should be used if the airplane is not equipped with a functioning anti-skid system. In such a case, heavy braking can cause the wheels to lock and the tires to skid.

Both directional control and braking utilize tire ground friction. They share the maximum friction force the tires can provide. Increasing either subtracts from the other. Understanding tire ground friction, how runway contamination affects it, and how to use the friction available to maximum advantage is important to a jet pilot.

Spoilers should be deployed immediately after touchdown because they are most effective at high speed. Timely deployment of spoilers increases drag by 50 to 60 percent, but more importantly, they spoil much of the lift the wing is creating, thereby causing more of the weight of the airplane to be loaded onto the wheels. The spoilers increase wheel loading by as much as 200 percent in the landing flap configuration. This increases the tire ground friction force making the maximum tire braking and cornering forces available.

Like spoilers, thrust reversers are most effective at high speeds and should be deployed quickly after touchdown. However, the pilot should not command significant reverse thrust until the nose wheel is on the ground. Otherwise, the reversers might deploy asymmetrically resulting in an uncontrollable yaw towards the side on which the most reverse thrust is being developed, in which case the pilot needs whatever nose-wheel steering is available to maintain directional control.