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4 Answers

Trouble staying on the runway centerline

Asked by: 3236 views , , ,
General Aviation, Student Pilot


   I'm just about to be signed off to solo and there's only 1 aspect of flying that I'm so far uncomfortable with, not to the point where I'd be afraid to solo, but just enough that it's really frustrating.  And obviously my CFI doesn't think it's prohibitive to soloing, but my problem is being on the ground on the runway which seems like it shouldn't be an issue at all.  I partly wonder if some of the reason it's making me frustrated is that my dad was a pilot in the Air Force and had a Bonanza that I flew as a kid and so from day 1 I was very comfortable controlling the aircraft in the air, but I'd never really done it on the ground before and it seems like that's really where my issue is.  Mainly on landing, not so much the touchdown itself even in crosswinds, slipping, etc... In fact we've done all of those and spot landings, and I'm comfortable with all of that.  It's once all 3 wheels are on the ground (tricycle PA-28-161) that I can't seem to stay on the runway centerline no matter how hard I try, and it's obviously not the airplane that's the issue.

    My CFI is great, we get along, and he's really good about pushing my skills just enough to get me out of my comfort zone when I need to, and he's usually spot on catching what I do wrong.  However, even he can't quite figure out what I'm doing wrong.  For instance we flew last night and he had me doing spot landings and on one landing as I touched down I could hear him say "Perfect! just like the pros... nooooo you ruined it by getting squirrely."  I also seems to have the issue, not so much on a normal takeoff, but on touch and go's transitioning from 0 to 100 percent throttle.  I don't mean I'm about to run off the runway or anything, but it probably looks like I'm driving drunk going down the runway.  Once I get it stabilized my CFI tells me to line it back up, and I don't want to because the plane may be off centered, but it's going straight and I don't want to risk getting it unsettled again.

      One piece of advice he gave me that seemed to help is to "lock my legs" so if I keep my legs tensed/rigid it seems like I go off centerline less, but it's still a problem and at that point I feel very uncomfortable and am worried about accidentally putting in way too much rudder just from being tensed.  At this point I'm assuming it's an issue with my feet as opposed to not using enough aileron or something along those lines.  I suppose one of the problems could be (and the reason it's embarrasing that I can't go in a straight line on the ground) is that I race cars professionally, so maybe my feet are just so used to doing different things especially when braking that I'm screwing myself up.  I can't figure out if I'm accidentally hitting the brakes... or if I'm just completely behind the airplane making rudder adjustments.  It seems like I have to consciously move my feet around the pedals from a flying position on final to being able to use the brakes after landing, and then back to a flying position for takeoff.

     Anyway, I'd appreciate any advice on the matter, it's really frustrating that my CFI can't find any fault in my flying, but rolling down the runway in a straight line seems to be escaping me.  And my home airport has a 100ft wide runway so it's not an issue at all, but I would hate to be worried about flying into narrower runways if the problem isn't corrected.  In fact, my CFI had me practice an emergency landing at a short 30ft wide runway and if he hadn't been in the plane I think I'd have just decided to set it down in a field rather than land at that airport.


Thanks in advance,

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4 Answers

  1. Bob Watson on Nov 12, 2012

    I know for me, when flying a Cherokee, I need to remember to center the rudder just before touchdown or my landings look like what you describe.

    In the Cherokee’s the nose wheel steering is directly linked to the rudder so if you have any rudder inputs, for example to counteract a crosswind, as soon as the nose wheel touches, it will veer off in the direction of the rudder until I get it back under control. I always forget this after flying a Cessna, which uses a bungee-cord-like connection to the nose wheel making it much less sensitive.

    It’s a little be more to think about, but once you get used to it, it becomes 2nd nature.

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  2. Andrew on Nov 12, 2012

    You may be right about my not centering the rudder. I believe I’ve been using the rudder just before touchdown to make sure the nose is paralleling the runway and the ailerons to make sure it’s actually on the centerline, but I don’t think I’ve ever consciously centered the rudder before touchdown.
    It might also explain some of the takeoff quirkiness. I hadn’t been able to explain what was unbalancing me there, it seemed so odd, now I’m starting to think maybe it was the transition to the nosewheel losing it’s effectiveness at steering. It seemed like what would happen is you’d go to full throttle, and need a little right rudder to compensate for the left turning forces, but then it would go way right, and as soon as you’d lessen the input it would go way left which usually coincided with initially lifting off of the runway. I wonder if it all has to do with how much the nosewheel steering is actually contributing or not contributing to controlling the aircraft’s direction. I may need to try some soft-field takeoffs and see if I notice the plane is much easier to keep on centerline.

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  3. John D. Collins on Nov 12, 2012

    In a prior life, I owned a Cherokee 140. If I recall, you don’t want to hold rudder pressure into the landing because as soon as you touch the nose down, you will be going in the direction of the rudder pressure. I didn’t straighten the nose per say on landing, but I did relax any rudder pressure before the nose touched down. I remember it righting itself and it did not take a conscious effort to straighten it out, just stop pushing pressure on the rudder pedals. The Cherokee has a tendency to wheel barrow if the nose is kept on the ground too long on the takeoff and on landing it has a reputation of pilots losing control and exiting the runway. I don’t remember my Cherokee 140 having brake pedals on the rudders and we just had a hand brake in the lower center console.

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  4. Nathan Parker on Nov 13, 2012

    You’re likely being too slow in noticing the nose attitude of the airplane, and then overcontrolling when you do, leading to increasing oscillations.

    Look down the runway, not right over the nose, and correct even the slightest deviation with small rudder pressures. You can make it ride a set of rails down the runway.

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