Something that instructors are particularly fond of, part of the job that keeps us going, is when our clients finally “get” something. Austin describes his latest and offers a few observations that even veteran pilots would do well to remember. - John
My Latest Eureka Moment
by: Austin Kemink
The last time that I had a light bulb click on for a student was in Las Vegas, I was working with a student pilot on landings. This particular student had pretty solid stick and rudder skills and after the time we had put in he was doing well at maintaining all of his airspeeds, altitudes, and pattern legs.
His biggest problem was in the flare; the approach would look good all the way up to about five feet above the ground and then the position of the nose would falter... and thus the centerline would wander, the airplane moved sideways, and the landing turned out to be a bit jarring. We tried a variety of different solutions from aim points to ground effect approaches, and while the pattern and approach were improving the flare was not. At one point during his landing I watched his body language and his eyes; it was this that helped me to find out what had been causing the trouble.
His eyes had a good balance of outside and inside scanning and he looked comfortable throughout the approach… that is, right up until the flare. Once we reached the flare he would push back in his seat and his eyes wouldn't move from his aim point until we were on the ground or going around. This was it! His eyes weren't at the end of the runway, and when your eyes aren't at the end of the runway it is near impossible to stay centered, much less flare at the correct time. This is because there is no use of peripheral vision and which causes a "ground rush" type of sensation. Little wonder that a pilot would have trouble flaring when he sees the ground rushing up to smite him.
Without a proper focus point (the far end of the runway), pilots will flare too early and lose centerline, ground track, coordination, and any sense of how close the ground really is (or isn’t). I asked my client why he didn't have his eyes at the end of the runway as I had instructed him. He told me it was because early in his training, before his time with me, he had experienced severe porpoising that led to a prop strike and ever since that time he was very concerned with letting the prop hit the ground. Naturally, he watched the ground all the way to the flare to compensate. I informed him that it is our peripheral vision that allows us to flare at the correct time and staring down can actually make matters worse… even lead to the condition he feared!
Outfitted with this new knowledge, we worked exclusively on the flare and where the eyes were focused. While it wasn't an easy habit to break, he did eventually get it and discovered how much better the view is when looking at the end of the runway as opposed to straight down in front of the airplane. This is especially important to a Cirrus pilot because of what can be done to the airplane if it is landed incorrectly.
For low-time Cirrus pilots, or just lucky ones: if you've never been in a porpoising plane it can be quite the scary experience… one that you may not be ready for. The bottom line is to go around at ANY time you feel uncomfortable, particularly if there’s a bounce involved, and work on your landing visuals.
Final note: Austin’s observation, while in the context of flying with a student pilot working on his Private license, is valid for all manner of Cirrus pilot types. I have seen many “veteran” pilots over the years who have made this same mistake in knowing where to look. Even airline pilots have to work on it from time to time! - John
10 Sep 2008 11:18