My View - One, Two, Three . . How to teach students to land in a "clutch"
Chris Hope, published in NAFI Mentor, March 2009)

Teaching landings. Exciting. Frustrating.  Exhilarating. Nail-biting. Rewarding.  Getting your student to that first landing is all of these things, and some adjectives apply more than others.  In my 30-plus years of teaching pre-solo students, I have said all of the same things that you have said in that last few seconds:  "C'mon, nose down.  Aim at the numbers. Numbers are disappearing. Nose up, nose up.  Nope, too much, not that quick.  Well, that was an arrival. Thank Cessna for good sturdy gear legs, Let's try it again."

Yes, I have said it all.  However, after I had been doing this for about fifteen years, my wife taught me a better way to teach landings.  No, she is not a CFI, nor is she a pilot.  She is strictly an airplane passenger.  But she showed me that there are concepts that carry over from one teaching experience to another.

My son was fifteen, and the itch to learn to drive was real strong.  There were only two issues that he saw standing between him and a license:  first, his father drove a twelve-year-old Volvo station wagon, and second, he had the dumbest dad in the world.  Fortunately for all of us, there was a solution to both problems.  His step-mother was cool, and she drove a little almost-new Toyota Corolla.  Problem solved.  She could teach driving skills.

 And thus it was that my dear wife became the designated teacher of all of the driving skills, including the art of the dreaded clutch dance.

Cars with manual transmissions are seen less frequently than in the past, but there was a time when "basic, cheap car" meant "radio with one speaker, roll-down windows, no air conditioning, and a manual transmission". And learning to engage the transmission into first gear was truly a right of passage.  Let the clutch out too fast and the engine dies.  Let it out too slowly and the engine revs to an embarrassing level.  And, when stopped at a traffic light facing uphill, the pressures became unbearable for student and teacher alike.

But after several sessions of "the jerk", she hit upon a novel idea. She asked

him to let the clutch out half-way, stop the foot movement, and count to three.  Then, he could let it out the rest of the way.  This was obviously a mechanical solution, and not very smooth, but it ended the stalled engine, the rolling back, and the super-high rpms.  Then after a few sessions of this system, he began to get the feel of blending clutch and gas.

When they first told me of this little break-through, I gave it all of the attention that I felt it deserved. "Yes, Dear.  How interesting."  But then I realized that I was going through exactly the same situation with a pre-solo student.  One time he would flare too quickly, resulting in a balloon, and leaving us with no airspeed at fifteen feet in the air.  The next time he would flare too slowly, resulting in a flat touchdown at a high speed.  I thought I was saying all of the correct things ("More,,more, . .  not yet,  . . ooooh,  . . right there, aaah") but nothing seemed to be working.

Since I seemed to have the same problem, perhaps I could use the same solution.  So, the next flight, I said, "OK, we are going to try something new.  We are going to hold the proper glide slope on final, aiming at the numbers as we have been doing. Then, when the runway numbers go out of sight under the nose, I want you to bring the throttle to idle and bring the nose up to a level-flight picture.  I want the horizon in the same place on the windscreen that it is when we are in level flight.  And I want you to use whatever amount of backpressure on the yoke that it takes to maintain that.  And then, I want you to count to three."

"Then, when you have counted to three, I want you to bring the nose up to the takeoff-climb-slow flight picture.  Then, I want you to hold that picture as long as you can, even after the main gear touches down."

So, does this technique result in smooth, perfect, grease-job landings?  No! In fact, it results in landings that are consistently dropped in from three or four feet in the air.  And it will test the strength of the sturdiest landing gear.  But, it will eliminate the nose-wheel-first landing and the over-flare, balloon landing. The landings won't be sweet, but they will be consistent and safe.  Then, with that set of worries mostly past, you can spend some time working on right rudder to keep the nose pointed straight, and you can work on using the ailerons to stop the drift.  Then, when your student is making consistently safe, straight, center-line landings, it will be time to work on finesse.

This technique isn't necessary for every student.  But it is one more technique to stick in your bag of tricks.

Happy flying.



Don't Practice Until You Get It Right - Practice Until You Don't Get It Wrong

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updated August, 2020