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Hitting the Spot

posted Sep 22, 2005

From watching airplanes land on a typical Saturday at the airport it’s clear that some pilots are able to land on a predetermined spot consistently, while others are not quite up to that standard. I think we all strive to make our landings better and one way to do that is working on being consistent as to where you touch down. Not only does this help you fly more precisely, but it’s something that could really save your bacon in the event you are forced to make a landing somewhere other than a hard-surface runway. You might not have an obstruction-free mile of asphalt to land on in an emergency, or when flying to some of the back country airports.

Doing this correctly starts while you are still on the downwind leg. This is the time to check out the windsocks, scan for traffic in the air and on the ground, and choose a touchdown point. I like using the fixed-distance markers as my touchdown point. These are the two 100-foot long white rectangles painted on the runway 1,000 feet from the threshold. The VASI lights are designed to guide you to a touchdown on these marks, which gives you even more help in hitting your spot. Some people like using the runway numbers as their touchdown point, and that’s certainly the right thing to do if the runway is short. If runway length is not a limiting factor, landing on the fixed-distance markers gives a little additional safety margin in the event of an engine failure. If you fly a power-on approach and you were planning on touching down on the numbers, you might come up short of the runway if you lose your engine on final.

Here’s something to think about the next time you fly. Try flying an approach where your main wheels first touch the runway right on the fixed-distance markers. Keep working at it until you can do it consistently. Once you get good at that, see if you can hit the spot after pulling the power to idle on the downwind leg abeam the marks.

Don’t be hesitant to contact a CFI to give you a few pointers on improving your landing technique.

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