There are only three tricks to a perfect landing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. It was in pursuit of these that I found myself 500ft over the threshold of Runway 36 at Brakpan Airfield (FABB), power off, flaps down and in an aggressive sideslip. Too low… damn it… 100ft up, still 1000ft short of the zero line, flaps up… nose up a little… not too much, she’s going to stall… better now.. hold it, hold it…. here’s the line, let her land (Windscreen fills with sky).. good – now full power, flaps 1 and off again.. Over the radio…“ZU-IBM, that was a +2, well done!”
Landing competitions are a third component of competition flying in South Africa (and the world), after air navigation rallies and speed rallies. Saturday was a training camp for the precision landing portion. Essentially, in a precision landing competition you have 4 scoring landings – the first is a standard landing, power and flaps as per pilot discretion. The second is a power off from abeam the aiming point, flaps at discretion of pilot but no power can be applied until after the landing. The third is a power off, zero flap approach again from abeam the aiming point. Finally there is an obstacle landing where a 2m (6ft) high ribbon is erected short of the landing line which cannot be breached.
We started with a theoretical component – the parts of a good landing. No surprises here – the good landing starts with a good downwind and a good base and excellent speed control on final. Having an aiming/target line makes it a little more complicated. The folks running the workshop were at pains to point out that you should be aiming for consistency, turning base at the same point every time, flying the same speeds and aiming to get into the correct window – a theoretical space 400-500ft above ground level and the correct distance short of the line in order to be in the best position to not land short.
Landing short incurs huge penalties because it’s dangerous. We were reminded that we all tend to fly too fast on approach, especially when not fully laden. There was some discussion about nose low v nose high slips and abnormal/disqualifying landings (tail strikes, landing on the downwind main gear, power application while still in the landing zone, nose wheel landings etc) and then we were able to do some practice.
South Africa is lucky to have some world class sport pilots and two of the national precision flying team were on hand to fly with us and help us with the landings. Brakpan has a long runway and the landing lines are painted midfield to allow either runway to be used. Thus it was that we found ourselves 500ft over the threshold – we were only aiming midfield! The interesting thing was how bad my speed control has become on my approaches – it’s sloppy – and usually too fast.
We experimented with power and pitch to hit the aiming window perfectly and then it was time for the actual landings. The powered landing is fairly straightforward because you have many options to rescue a poor approach.
The power off landings – not so much. Knowing when to turn base after cutting power is an art and it took a few to get the timing just right. It didn’t help that we had a significant and gusty crosswind (which would have precluded competition – this was training though).
The zero line (no penalty points) is 2m wide and then there are lines every 2m thereafter. You start with a zero score and then they add points depending on how close or far you end up. You get maximum points for short or abnormal landings. Lowest score wins.
Anyhow, we did a few power off approaches and I managed to get the hang of it although the last few seconds before touchdown were on the ragged edge of my comfort zone! I had a GoPro mounted on the tail tie down and on the last landing it acquired some scratches from contact with the runway – somewhat suboptimal but that was the power off, flaps up landing….
A good morning of flying and socializing, (not many masks in sight but that’s another story )but most importantly, improving our skills and while I wouldn’t recommend doing all landings as competition landings, there are many takehome points to make the routine landings better. I was able to use the skills learned to make a much better arrival back at Rand in the afternoon.