Learning to land

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Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS. That plane is a 172.

It’s pretty cool knowing how to fly an airplane. Being able to be the person to take the plane off the ground. And being the person who puts the wheels back on the ground. I’m one of those people. I have my private pilot’s licence and I learned at the controls of a Cessa 150 over Nova Scotia.

The 150 is a two-seater. It’s a small airplane the catches every breath of wind and can be pushed to and fro if you let it. The cockpit is tiny and makes you feel like you’re part of the machine. This is needed if you’re trying to learn how to land. Something I didn’t excel at.

I always had trouble with landings. No matter how much I practiced, I just couldn’t see the runway properly. I was either too high or too low or too fast or too slow. The little Cessna-150, two-seater, wanted more time in the sky.

My instructor told me to look down the runway. I was trying too hard to park my Cessna like a car. I wanted that spot right there and I was going to get it. But it doesn’t work that way. You have to let your airplane decide where it wants to go. Finally, one day we clicked and we both found the earth at the same time.

Next step: learning how to land without the runway. Forced landings are important to a pilot. If your plane ever runs into trouble, you must know how to get it down quickly and safely wherever you are. You have to learn how to land on anything.

After an engine failure in flight, the best glide speed, 60 knots, should be established as quickly as possible. This will help the airplane maintain altitude until a safe landing can be made.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

Sixty knots. That’s the speed my airplane has to be set at in order to make an emergency – forced — landing safely. To alight on a field, an iced lake, an abandoned road. To be able to glide from the air without any power.  Only hope.

A pilot should always be on constant attention and look for alternative landing sites in case of emergency and he can’t make his destination.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

This pilot is a she.

My flight instructor took me over the fields of Canning. He taught me how to pick a spot where a two-seater could land. These places can be anything from a meadow to a country road. There are a few telltale signs that signal danger. Things like telephone poles wreak havoc on wings. Deep furrows in pastures can flip the Cessna.

“God help you if you have to land in trees or water,” my instructor says.

I picture myself being propelled into the top of an evergreen. I picture myself drowning in clear water surrounded by thousands of full bubbles.

My instructor pulls the throttle out all the way out. That stops the motor. A few gurgles from the motor and the plane is free flying.

The propeller continues to turn with the wind. I have a few seconds to make my choice of where I am to land. If I don’t make the decision soon, I will be dead. In theory.

The pilot should always pick a proper landing area. One that is not too far or too close. One that will not provide the pilot with new problems.

-Pilot Knowledge Handbook-

Look to the left. Look to the right. Look straight in front of me. There are maybe three spots I can put plane down. One seems to be too far. The other too close. Perhaps…that one will do.

I set the plane for its glide speed at 60. I concentrate on keeping the knots at the correct pace. I try and estimate the distance to the chosen field. It’s zooming closer and closer. The strip I’ve chosen looks to be OK. No poles in the way. No trees. No plough has disturbed the grass. I can land there.

Or can I?

Floating quickly towards the point I’ve picked, I put about 10 degrees of flaps on. Will this slow me down enough and bring me to my spot?

Flaps are high lift devices. Flaps can also slow the airplane down and make it easier to make your mark.

-Pilot knowledge Handbook-

“Flaps are a girl’s best friend!” is what I’m heard saying a lot. They make you fall fast and drag you down. Perfect when you’re landing.

The crude runway is approaching. Faster and faster and faster. The roar of the engine makes me believe my plane is a lion. I need to tame it so I put more flaps on. 20 degrees. We sink. The Cessna settles into its glide speed. I don’t try to take control. It’ll come. I’ll land when I’m ready.


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