Michael writes me asking:
Hi, I am currently working towards my PPL but am still not ready for solo despite having approximately 35 hours of flight time. The problem is the landing – the flare in particular – and I just do not seem to be getting it. Initially, I was not flaring at all and hitting the runway quite hard. Now I seem to flare too much and end up climbing again before finally landing quite far down the runway. I am training in a Piper Cadet and would appreciate any tips you can provide so that I can finally move towards solo flight. Many Thanks, Michael
Thanks for your question. First off, I wouldn’t worry about how much flight time you have accumulated so far. In fact, I’m sure your instructor has told you, “Everyone solos at different times” and that is very true. I’ve had some students who honestly could have soloed at 5 hours and others who I nervously signed off at 40+. There are so many factors that determine when someone is ready (mentally, physically, legally) going to solo.
The MOST important thing to remember when landing is to “RELAX“. That is not some famous aviation acronym, just some practical advice to take a deep breath, follow your instructor’s advice and land the airplane. I would guess that at this point, you are thinking much too hard about the landing. Because of your insecurities with the amount of time it has taken you to solo, you are overly focused in those last few precious seconds before touchdown. Just RELAX. That doesn’t mean don’t flare or flare slowly (you already knows what happens when you do that) but just be calm and smooth about it. Have confidence, you can do it. The feeling of the flare will come to you, just like it as to many others. Some of my worst landings happen when I’m trying too hard to get a “greaser” and some of my best landings come when I’m just doing what works. In other words, I perform better on landings, when I’m not thinking too much about it.
On a more practical note, one thing that helped me when I was learning to land was trying to visualize the landing from an outside perspective. I don’t know if you are familiar with flight simulator programs, but in Microsoft Flight Simulator you can select the “S” key on your keyboard and cycle through different views. When you are setting up for a landing, hit the “S” key in your mind and for a brief second, cycle the views till you get an outside view of your aircraft. Visualize the landing gear hanging below your airplane and what the correct pitch attitude would look like in order for the main gear to slowly come in contact with the surface. Visualize your landing and your success. This is very important to do. You have to see it in order to believe in it.
Trying Looking at your landings from another perspective
Maintaining the proper airspeed is important
Another thing, and one that I’m sure your instructor has taught you, is the important of a stabilized approach. Every good landing is preceded by a good approach. Make sure you are focused on making standard patterns and that at each stage of the pattern you are precisely where you should be in relation to airspeed, altitude and power. Know your approach speeds for each setting of flaps and your pattern segment (downwind, base, final). Good landings are possible out of a unstabilized approach, but not easy. Make it easy on yourself and begin with a stabilized approach to the airport.
Sometimes it is also helpful to fly with another instructor just to break through this kind of plateau. There might be one little instructional nugget that you are missing with your current instructor that another instructor could provide for you. Also, sometimes just hearing a different physical voice in your headset during your landing could be the difference. A good instructor will not fight you on this request.
Hang in there. Like I said before, every pilot solos at a different times and don’t become preoccuiped with thinking about how it might be taking you longer than someone else. Just relax and fly the airplane.