3 Tips to Better Landings

3 Tips to Better Landings


In my 3,000+ hours of flight training, I have developed some tips and tricks to help people fly better.  With teaching landings, I have 3 specific tips that will make smoother landings every time, guaranteed.

A Good Pattern

A wise flight instructor whom I would love to give credit to (but don’t know who it is!) once said that a good landing starts off with a good traffic pattern.  So true!  A good landing all begins with the setup.  This is true for a VFR rectangular traffic pattern or an IFR instrument approach.  Flying the proper speeds and being at the proper AGL altitudes helps immensely in making a good landing. Being at 600 feet AGL on a 1/2 mile final (or the alternative of 60 feet off the ground on a mile final!) makes it hard to make a good landing.

Proper Use & Understanding of Pitch and Power

Once flaps are used in the pattern, the plane is now on the back side of the power curve (or in the region of reverse command).  Power is now being used to control the plane’s rate of descent while pitch is being used to control airspeed.  The key is, both pitch and power work together, so if the pilot changes the power, he’ll also need to change the pitch and vice versa.

The common mistake I see here is when the airplane gets low on final, the pilot tends to (quite naturally) pitch up.  All this does is bleed off airspeed and cause the airplane to sink faster.  The proper input would be to add power, then adjust the pitch for airspeed.

Look Down the Runway

Now that we have gotten to the point of the round-out and touchdown, it’s the most important part.  The best thing the pilot can do to make the best landing possible, is to look at the trees at the end of the runway.  When I worked with college students, I told them to find the owl in the trees at the end of the runway.

The tendency is to stare at the pavement (or concrete) the whole way down to the landing.  When a pilot’s eyes are fixated on the ground, this destroys his depth perception and causes a level off too low to the runway, resulting in a 3 point landing and/or a bounce.

By looking at the trees at the end of the runway, this gives the pilot much better depth perception and allows him to properly judge where to level off the airplane.

The question now is when should the pilot start looking at the trees?  My recommendation is crossing the threshold of the runway.  For some, it works better to start looking at the trees when turning final.  Others, right before the level off.  Regardless, find that owl!

After Market Ice Protection


It’s winter time, so that means winter weather for the aviation community.  For single engine piston pilots, that means dealing with icing conditions.  For us Texan flyers, ice only presents an issue for maybe a week out of the year (the exception being for those Panhandle residents!), but it’s nice to have some protection.

Most single engine pistons do not come with ice protection from the factory and, of those that do, most are not Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI) approved.  The systems are “get out of jail” systems that can reduce the amount of ice you pick up if you accidentally get into icing conditions and you are on your way out.  The Cirrus SR22 line of aircraft has had the TKS system option since 2006, with the new FIKI system being available since 2010.  The Cessna TTx has a FIKI option that was debuted in 2014.

The above mentioned airplanes use TKS systems.  There are a handful of single engine pistons that use boots that are FIKI certified:  the Piper PA46 line (Malibu, Mirage, and Matrix) and the Cessna P210 and T210 line (though not all are equipped with boots).

If you find yourself flying into wintry conditions often and want some protection for your clean wing airplane, there are some aftermarket options for a lot of airplanes now.  Do note that all these systems do come with a pretty hefty price tag, but can be worth it if you fly into icing a good bit.

CAV Ice Protection TKS Systems

CAV Ice Protection is a TKS system outfitter.  What is TKS fluid?  According to Flying Magazine:

“TKS systems dispense an ethylene glycol-based fluid with a freezing point below minus 70 degrees F through porous titanium panels attached to the leading edge of the wing and empennage. The fluid is released through thousands of the panels’ laser-drilled holes, which are not much larger than the size of a human hair. As air flows over the wing and empennage, it disperses the fluid, coating the surfaces, and preventing the formation and adherence of ice.”

The advantages of a TKS system are the whole entire wing gets coated to get rid of any extra ice that adheres to the top or bottom of the wing surface.  The disadvantage is there is only a finite amount of fluid, so when it runs out, you don’t have any more protection.  The fluid also adds extra weight agains the useful load of the airplane.

CAV Offers a Basic TKS system for the following single engine piston aircraft:

  • Beech Bonanza
  • Cessna 182, 206, 210, 350, & 400
  • Columbia 350 & 400
  • Piper PA32
  • Mooney M20

CAV Offers a full FIKI System for the following single engine piston aircraft:

  • Beech A36 & G36 Bonanza, and Baron
  • Cessna 210 & TTx
  • Commander 114
  • Mooney M20

For more information, check out CAV Ice Protection’s Website.

Ice Shield De-Icing Boots

Ice Shield is another after market de-ice option.  Ice Shield makes boots for wing leading edges.  The advantage of boots is they activate instantaneously, getting rid of ice where it builds up first, on the wing leading edge.  No running out of fluid and only the added weight of the system.  Ice Shield also offers heated windscreens for several the Piper Saratoga line and the A36, B36, and G36 Bonanza line.

Ice Shield has boots for the following single engine piston aircraft:

  • Beech Bonanza F33A and -36 line
  • Cessna 210 line
  • Piper Pa46 line

For more information, check out Ice Shield’s Website.

One other company, Kelly Aerospace, makes an electric leading edge de-icer called the ThermaWing for the Cessna/Columbia 350/400 line.  You can read a review of the ThermaWing here, or check out Kelly Aerospace’s website.



Have a Lancair IV-P?

Want to make it better than a Cirrus or a Cessna TTx?

Meet the team at RDD creating the LX7.  Just make sure you are sitting down as you are about to be blown away.

RDD (Research. Design. Development) is a professional building company for the Lancair line of experimental aircraft (Lancair unveiled the Mako at Osh Kosh this summer, which performs slightly less than the advertised values of the LX7, but is available as a new kit).  For those unfamiliar with the experimental world, when an experimental kit is bought, the owner/builder can build the entire aircraft himself, partially build it then send it to a completion center, or have a professional build company put it together.  This last option is what RDD did with Lancair aircraft before Lancair moved from Oregon to Uvalde, TX.

Once Lancair was sold, RDD started thinking on how to make the IV-P better.  Boy, did they.  What resulted is the LX7.

The LX7 is a retractable gear, single engine piston, pressurized aircraft that sits 4.  See it on the ramp and it looks like a Lancair or a Columbia.  Sit in the cockpit and you’ll know something is different.

Starting with the power plant, RDD put a Continental TSIO 550-E engine in the IV-P airframe, giving the airplane 350 HP.  They redesigned the wing to hold 180 gallons of usable fuel and a much better stalling envelope (anyone who has looked at a Lancair IV or IV-P wing knows that there isn’t much wiggle room with angle of attack on those airplanes), lowering the stall speed to 62 knots dirty.

The cabin is roomier and the panel is beautiful.  Equipped with 2 or 3 Garmin G3X Touch panels (the experimental equivalent of the G2000), plus a GTN 750 and a fully digital backup flight instrument from Grand Rapids, plus ESP technology built in to the autopilot, this plane seems like a pilot’s dream.

I haven’t even gotten to the best part:  the speed.  Being pressurized, the LX7 has a 25,000 foot service ceiling where it can achieve cruise speeds of 260 knots at best power (24 GPH) and 250 knots at best economy (18 GPH).

Yes, I did just say 250 knots at 18 GPH in a single engine piston.

With 180 gallons of fuel.

Make sure you bring a Travel John.

Worried about an experimental?  The airframe is equipped with a full BRS system similar to the Cirrus SR22, keeping everyone safe and sound.

There is one flying LX7 currently and RDD is working on 3 more.  The price tag for the full conversion is $550,000.  The kicker is, the owner has to provide the Lancair IV-P airframe.  There are currently 10 Lancair IV-Ps for sale on Controller, varying in price from $200,000-$400,000, bringing the total price of the project to $750,000-$950,000.  Owners who already have a IV-P or a IV-P kit can send it on over to RDD to get started on their project.

Direct to the FAF


A common practice when ATC is setting an aircraft up for a visual approach is giving a clearance direct to the Final Approach Fix (FAF) for the approach for that runway.  The theory is, the pilot will fly to the FAF, then he’ll pick up the airport and fly visually in.  It is a handy way of setting the pilot up for a 5 mile straight in visual approach.

For anyone who flies with a Garmin GPS, whether is be a 430, a G1000, or a GTN 750, you have probably discovered a little nuance with going direct to the FAF.  Once an approach is loaded into the flight plan, whether is is loaded via vectors or via an IAF, all the waypoints on the approach go into the flight plan.  If the FAF is selected in the flight plan and the direct to command is given, the plane turns to the FAF and flies direct to it.

The fun starts once the plane gets to the FAF.  The Garmin doesn’t sequence to the next waypoint.  It just keeps the FAF as the active waypoint and the airplane just continues on the course it had to get to the FAF. This has probably caused some stress and frustration as the pilot is expecting the airplane to turn inbound (if the autopilot is engaged), but then it keeps flying, usually away from the runway.

How to fix this?  If a Garmin GPS is closely inspected once the direct to the FAF command is selected, the pilot will notice that the GPS goes into Suspend mode.  The Garmin programers thought this was a good idea to do.  

How to get it to sequence properly?  Well, once the FAF is the active waypoint and the airplane is flying direct to it, simply unsuspend the GPS, then the airplane will turn inbound on the final approach course and track inbound and the glide slope will pop up.  On the 430 or 530, just press the OBS key.  On the G1000, press SUSP.  On the GTN 750, tap UNSUSP on the bottom of the unit.

Hopefully, this will lead to reduced frustration on what otherwise should be a simple approach to an airport.

An Innovative ADS-B Solution from uAvionix


The closer we get to 2020, the more innovative companies are getting with ADS-B out solutions.  There are a myriad of transponders out there that have been released in to meet the ADS-B out requirement and to offer ADS-B in options.  L3 has the Lynx transponder line (and hardware to upgrade an already installed GTX 327 or GTX 330), Garmin has the GTX 345 and offers upgrades to the GTX 330, Appareo has it’s Stratus ESGi ADS-B out transponder, and Avidyne offers it’s AXP340 transponder, among others.

Most of the ADS-B solutions require some kind of panel work, whether it’s pulling out the Garmin GTX 330 to send off, or making panel modifications to fit the L3 Lynx in.  Very few are actual slide in replacements, so there is some labor involved in swapping transponders.

Want a simpler and more innovative solution?  uAvionix, a Montana based company that makes the recently released Scout portable ADS-B In solution, has a product for you.  Meet the SkyBeacon.

What is it?  The uAvionix SkyBeacon is simply a navigation light replacement that bolts on your wing with a fin that hangs down.  All the ADS-B out transmitting equipment is placed behind the nav light on the device.  It has an integrated WAAS GPS unit, can work with any Mode C or Mode S transponder wirelessly, and it mounts directly in to where the original nav light was, same screws and everything.  No additional hardware needed.  uAvionix claims installation should take 10 minutes.

Configuration is super easy too, as it is all done on a smart phone on the uAvionix app.

Right now, the uAvionix SkyBeacon is only approved for experimental aircraft, but, according to their website, uAvionix expects FAA certification in early spring.  With a price tag of only $1,500 and a strobe light to be added as well, this is your simplest and easiest ADS-B compliance solution.