Estimating Height and Movement
During the final approach, roundout, and touchdown, vision is of prime importance. To provide a wide scope of vision and to foster good judgment of height and movement, the pilot’s head should assume a natural, straight-ahead position. The pilot’s visual focus should not be fixed on any one side or any one spot ahead of the aircraft. The pilot should maintain a deliberate awareness of the runway centerline (if available) or distance from either side of the runway within his or her peripheral field of vision.
Accurate estimation of distance is, besides being a matter of practice, dependent upon how clearly objects are seen; vision must be focused properly so that important objects stand out as clearly as possible. Speed blurs objects at close range. For example, one can note this effect in an automobile moving at high speed. Nearby objects seem to merge together in a blur, while objects farther away stand out clearly. The driver subconsciously focuses the eyes sufficiently far ahead of the automobile to see objects distinctly.
The distance at which the pilot’s vision is focused should be proportionate to the speed at which the aircraft is traveling over the ground. Thus, as speed is reduced during the roundout, the focus distance ahead of the aircraft should be decreased accordingly.
If the pilot attempts to focus on a reference that is too close or looks directly down, the reference is blurred, and the reaction is either too abrupt or too late. In this case, the pilot’s tendency is to overcontrol, round out high, and make a stalled, drop-in landing. When the pilot focuses too far ahead, accuracy in judging the closeness of the ground is lost and the consequent reaction is too slow since there is no apparent necessity for action. This results in the aircraft flying into the ground nose first without a proper roundout.
The best way to recognize and become accustomed to heights and speeds for a particular WSC aircraft is to perform low passes over the runway, as discussed earlier, with energy management. Perform a normal approach first, then a high-energy pass at a higher speed, and then medium-energy passes at lower speeds. These exercises are performed first in calm winds at a height, as an example, at which the wheels are 10 feet above the runway, then lowering to just inches above the runway as the pilot’s skills build. The objective is to become proficient at flying straight down the runway centerline at a constant altitude. This exercise provides the opportunity to determine height and speed over the runway before any landings are performed. These should generally be performed in mild conditions. Higher energy and greater heights above the runway are required in windier and bumpier conditions.
The roundout is a slow, smooth transition from a normal approach speed to a landing attitude, gradually rounding out the flightpath to one that is parallel with, and within a very few inches above, the runway. When the aircraft, in a normal descent, approaches within what appears to be 10 to 15 feet above the ground, the roundout or fl are should be started and be a continuous process slowing until the aircraft touches down on the ground.
It should be noted that the terms “roundout” and “flare” are defined and used interchangeably throughout the aviation industry for slowing the aircraft during final approach and touching down. The term “roundout” is used in this handbook since it provides a better description for the WSC landing process and WSC students are more successful learning landings using the term roundout instead of fl are.
As the aircraft reaches a height where the back wheels are one to two inches above the ground, the roundout is continued by gradually pushing the control bar forward as required to maintain one to two inches above the runway as the WSC aircraft slows. [Figure 11-9]
This causes the aircraft’s nosewheel to gradually rise to the desired landing attitude. The AOA should be increased at a rate that allows the aircraft to continue flying just above the runway as forward speed decreases until the control bar is full forward and the back wheels settle onto the runway.
During the roundout, the airspeed is decreased to touchdown speed while the lift is controlled so the aircraft settles gently onto the landing surface. The roundout should be executed at a rate at which the proper landing attitude and the proper touchdown airspeed are attained simultaneously just as the wheels contact the landing surface.
The rate at which the roundout is executed depends on the aircraft’s height above the ground, the rate of descent, and the airspeed. A roundout started excessively high must be executed more slowly than one from a lower height to allow the aircraft to descend to the ground while the proper landing attitude is being established. The rate of rounding out must also be proportionate to the rate of closure with the ground. When the aircraft appears to be descending very slowly, the increase in pitch attitude (slowing of the WSC) must be made at a correspondingly low rate.
Visual cues are important in roundout at the proper altitude and maintaining the wheels a few inches above the runway until eventual touchdown. Roundout cues are dependent primarily on the angle at which the pilot’s central vision intersects the ground (or runway) ahead and slightly to the side. Proper depth perception is a factor in a successful roundout, but the visual cues used most are those related to changes in runway or terrain perspective and to changes in the size of familiar objects near the landing area such as fences, bushes, trees, hangars, and even sod or runway texture. The pilot should direct central vision at a shallow downward angle of 10° to 15° toward the runway as the roundout is initiated. [Figure 11-10]
Maintaining the same viewing angle causes the point of visual interception with the runway to move progressively rearward toward the pilot as the aircraft loses altitude. This is an important visual cue in assessing the rate of altitude loss.
Conversely, forward movement of the visual interception point indicates an increase in altitude and would mean that the pitch angle was increased too rapidly resulting in an over roundout. The following are also used to judge when the wheels are just a few inches above the runway: location of the visual interception point in conjunction with assessment of flow velocity of nearby off-runway terrain, and the similarity in appearance of height above the runway ahead of the aircraft to the way it looked when the aircraft was taxied prior to takeoff.
A common error during the roundout is rounding out too much and too fast. This error can easily be avoided by gradually increasing the AOA with a controlled descent until the wheels are one inch above the surface and never climbing during a roundout with a gradual and controlled roundout.
After a controlled roundout, the touchdown is the gentle settling of the aircraft onto the landing surface. For calm air conditions, the roundout can be made with the engine idling, and touchdown can be made at minimum controllable airspeed so that the aircraft touches down on the main gear at the approximate stalling speed. As the aircraft settles, the proper landing attitude is attained by application of whatever control bar forward pressure is necessary. In calm wind conditions, the goal is to round out smoothly and have the control bar touch the front tube as the back wheels touch the ground. [Figures 11-11 through 11-14] Once the rear wheel settles to the surface, the nosewheel settles to the ground. The control bar should be pulled all the way back to eliminate the possibility of lifting off the ground because of a wind gust. Pulling the nose down completely can also be used for aerodynamic braking if needed.
The landing process must never be considered complete until the aircraft decelerates to normal taxi speed during the landing roll or has been brought to a complete stop when clear of the landing area. Many accidents have occurred as a result of pilots abandoning their vigilance and positive control after getting the aircraft on the ground.
The pilot must make only slight turns to maintain direction until the WSC has slowed to taxiing speed. An abrupt turn at high speed could possibly lift a rear wheel, roll the WSC over, or force the wingtip to the ground. The WSC must slow to taxing speed before any sharp turn can be made to exit the runway.
The brakes of an aircraft serve the same primary purpose as the brakes of an automobile—to reduce speed on the ground. Maximum brake effectiveness is just short of the skid point. If the brakes are applied so hard that skidding takes place, braking becomes ineffective. Skidding can be stopped by releasing the brake pressure. Also, braking effectiveness is not enhanced by alternately applying and reapplying brake pressure. The brakes should be applied firmly and smoothly as necessary.
WSC aircraft have nosewheel or rear wheel braking systems. For nosewheel systems, if braking is required right away, the nose should be lowered so the nosewheel touches the ground and the brakes can be applied. The nose should be lowered for any aerodynamic braking at the higher speeds.
Lowering the nose also provides greater force on the front wheel for superior braking effectiveness. Any skidding of the front wheel with braking causes the loss of directional control of the WSC aircraft and the skidding must be stopped by letting up on the brake. Skidding can be the greatest problem operating on slick surfaces such as wet grass. Rear wheel braking systems are heavier and more complex, but provide better braking force because there are two wheels instead of one and there is more weight on the rear wheels. Braking effectiveness should be evaluated by the pilot for each type of runway being used. If the available runway permits, the speed of the aircraft should be allowed to dissipate in a normal manner with minimum use of brakes. [Figure 11-15]
The control bar serves the same purpose on the ground as in the air—it changes the lift and drag components of the wings. During the after-landing roll, the control bar should be used to keep the wings level in much the same way it is used in flight. If a wing starts to rise, roll control should be applied to lower it. Procedures for crosswind conditions are explained further in the Crosswind Approach and Landing section of this chapter.