The touchdown is the gentle settling of the airplane onto the landing surface. The round out and touchdown are normally made with the engine idling and the airplane at minimum controllable airspeed so that the airplane touches down on the main gear at approximately stalling speed. As the airplane settles, the proper landing attitude is attained by application of whatever back-elevator pressure is necessary.
Some pilots try to force or fly the airplane onto the ground without establishing the proper landing attitude. The airplane should never be flown on the runway with excessive speed. A common technique to making a smooth touchdown is to actually focus on holding the wheels of the aircraft a few inches off the ground as long as possible using the elevators while the power is smoothly reduced to idle. In most cases, when the wheels are within 2 or 3 feet off the ground, the airplane is still settling too fast for a gentle touchdown; therefore, this descent must be retarded by increasing backelevator pressure. Since the airplane is already close to its stalling speed and is settling, this added back-elevator pressure only slows the settling instead of stopping it. At the same time, it results in the airplane touching the ground in the proper landing attitude and the main wheels touching down first so that little or no weight is on the nose wheel. [Figure 8-8]
After the main wheels make initial contact with the ground, back-elevator pressure is held to maintain a positive AOA for aerodynamic braking and to hold the nose wheel off the ground until the airplane decelerates. As the airplane’s momentum decreases, back-elevator pressure is gradually relaxed to allow the nose wheel to gently settle onto the runway. This permits steering with the nose wheel. At the same time, it decreases the AOA and reduces lift on the wings to prevent floating or skipping and allows the full weight of the airplane to rest on the wheels for better braking action.
It is extremely important that the touchdown occur with the airplane’s longitudinal axis exactly parallel to the direction in which the airplane is moving along the runway. Failure to accomplish this imposes severe side loads on the landing gear. To avoid these side stresses, do not allow the airplane to touch down while turned into the wind or drifting.
The landing process must never be considered complete until the airplane decelerates to the normal taxi speed during the landing roll or has been brought to a complete stop when clear of the landing area. Numerous accidents occur as a result of pilots abandoning their vigilance and failing to maintain positive control after getting the airplane on the ground.
A pilot must be alert for directional control difficulties immediately upon and after touchdown due to the ground friction on the wheels. Loss of directional control may lead to an aggravated, uncontrolled, tight turn on the ground, or a ground loop. The combination of centrifugal force acting on the center of gravity (CG) and ground friction of the main wheels resisting it during the ground loop may cause the airplane to tip or lean enough for the outside wingtip to contact the ground. This imposes a sideward force that could collapse the landing gear.
The rudder serves the same purpose on the ground as it does in the air—it controls the yawing of the airplane. The effectiveness of the rudder is dependent on the airflow, which depends on the speed of the airplane. As the speed decreases and the nose wheel has been lowered to the ground, the steerable nose provides more positive directional control.
The brakes of an airplane serve the same primary purpose as the brakes of an automobile—to reduce speed on the ground. In airplanes, they are also used as an aid in directional control when more positive control is required than could be obtained with rudder or nose wheel steering alone.
To use brakes, on an airplane equipped with toe brakes, the pilot slides the toes or feet up from the rudder pedals to the brake pedals. If rudder pressure is being held at the time braking action is needed, that pressure is not to be released as the feet or toes are being slid up to the brake pedals because control may be lost before brakes can be applied.
Putting maximum weight on the wheels after touchdown is an important factor in obtaining optimum braking performance. During the early part of rollout, some lift continues to be generated by the wing. After touchdown, the nose wheel is lowered to the runway to maintain directional control. During deceleration, the nose may pitch down by braking and the weight transferred to the nose wheel from the main wheels. This does not aid in braking action, so back pressure is applied to the controls without lifting the nose wheel off the runway. This enables directional control while keeping weight on the main wheels.
Careful application of the brakes is initiated after the nose wheel is on the ground and directional control is established. Maximum brake effectiveness is just short of the point where skidding occurs. If the brakes are applied so hard that skidding takes place, braking becomes ineffective. Skidding is stopped by releasing the brake pressure. Braking effectiveness is not enhanced by alternately applying, releasing, and reapplying brake pressure. The brakes are applied firmly and smoothly as necessary.
During the ground roll, the airplane’s direction of movement can be changed by carefully applying pressure on one brake or uneven pressures on each brake in the desired direction. Caution must be exercised when applying brakes to avoid overcontrolling.
The ailerons serve the same purpose on the ground as they do in the air—they change the lift and drag components of the wings. During the after-landing roll, they are used to keep the wings level in much the same way they are used in flight. If a wing starts to rise, aileron control is applied toward that wing to lower it. The amount required depends on speed because as the forward speed of the airplane decreases, the ailerons become less effective. Procedures for using ailerons in crosswind conditions are explained further in this section, in the Crosswind Approach and Landing section.
After the airplane is on the ground, back-elevator pressure is gradually relaxed to place weight on the nose wheel to aid in better steering. If available runway permits, the speed of the airplane is allowed to dissipate in a normal manner. Once the airplane has slowed sufficiently and has turned on to the taxiway and stopped, retract the flaps and perform the afterlanding checklist. Many accidents have occurred as a result of the pilot unintentionally operating the landing gear control and retracting the gear instead of the flap control when the airplane was still rolling. The habit of positively identifying both of these controls, before actuating them, must be formed from the very beginning of flight training and continued in all future flying activities.