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The Spot Landing PDF Print E-mail


The Spot Landing

AKA the precision landing – what’s it all about then?

First a question or two. How many of you have had a real engine failure? – well the rest of you have yet to experience the pleasure! Next question – How many of you practice for an engine failure? And to the point of touch-down?

OK, the task I am about to describe may be a little ‘canned’ when compared to the real thing – but believe me the confidence and skills gained by flying this task may save you and your aircraft one day. As it did me……


The above photos were taken at the European Champs held in Portugal in 2004. In the top left of the ‘before’ photo is a large expanse of woodland that I was flying over when my engine suddenly stopped. I was faced with few landing options – either parachute land into the tree tops or……. or something else equally unsavoury! This was potentially going to hurt as the terrain was pretty unforgiving all around me. However, I recalled passing a service station and glancing back determined that it was in gliding range. The service station is much like you would find on a UK motorway, that is, it was split by the main carriage way. In this instance the Southbound side had no approaches and was full of vehicles. However, the Northbound side had a clear run into a parking area and was empty. The roads were also considered as options but were busy with mid-day traffic. To cut a long story short, my decision was made and an approach and landing carried out successfully as shown in the ‘after’ photo.

Would that landing have been as successful without having practiced this task – I hope so, but I believe I was much better placed for having mastered the art of precision landing. What follows is a blow by blow account from the start of a precision landing task to the finish. It is all over within a few minutes so concentrate and then give it a go yourself.

Let’s start with the take-off and landing deck. This is a 100 metre by 25 metre (or the max the runway will permit) box which has a number of scoring regions within it as shown below:

 100metre deck

Prior to take-off you will be marshalled into the landing deck; this is your opportunity to maximise the take-off run by ensuring your rear wheels (trike) or main wheels/tailwheel (3 –axis) are just inside the deck boundary. At the marshal’s signal you begin your take-off roll with the aim of being airborne before you reach the far end of the deck. For most aircraft this is a doddle even on a no-wind day, but the heavier/higher performance aircraft are now using up much more of the deck and so employ short take-off techniques. Once airborne the deck Marshal at the end of the deck will signal whether you were successfully airborne before the end line, regardless you continue your climb out into the ascending circuit.

Continue your circuit climb to 1000’ agl and cruise towards the overhead of the box in level flight. On reaching the leading edge of the box you will generally have a choice of setting your throttle to idle or cutting your engine for a dead-stick landing.   Depending on the airfield all landings may be briefed for engine running at idle power but either way it is good practice for newcomers to begin this task with a power available option and this will never be denied.

With the engine stopped or at idle, begin your glide descent, but before your first turn you must fly through the end of the box. This part of the task is where practice makes perfect. I always aim to be at downwind around 500’ adjacent to the leading edge of the box and at this point, depending on the wind conditions will determine where I begin my final turn. Finals for me is generally a continuous descending sweeping turn towards an aiming point such that I can tighten or relax the turn to accommodate the wind, but you may wish to fly a more conventional rectangular circuit.

I will have a predetermined aiming point some distance in front of the box that I will use to begin my round out and enter ground effect for the final phase of the task which is to touch down in the high scoring areas of the deck. When in ground effect I bleed off the speed that I gained during my final descent and as I pass over the leading edge line of the landing deck, I kill the lift and touch down. The task is not yet over as I have to stop before running out of the deck and then, having come to a full stop, I will once again come under the control of the marshal to clear the runway.

And that’s it, all in 3 – 5 minutes. Sounds simple, can be demanding, but there is nothing to be afraid of after all its just a landing – but into a relatively small defined area. To master this task requires sound knowledge of your aircraft’ s basic performance; that is, an understanding of your aircraft’s glide performance, the determination of a suitable aiming point ahead of the landing deck and crucially the maintenance of sufficient speed during the final landing phase to maintain safe control of the aircraft to get it to the box successfully. The ability to keep your engine running gives you a go-around option and even for the seasoned competitor this is a comforting option to have available.

Before I started competing, and specifically for this task, my flying instructor had me conducting a number of flights to determine how long I could hold off my aircraft after rounding out in order to determine an aiming point that would let me get to the deck. If you have any opportunities to do this exercise at your airfield, I would recommend you take them – it may just help when you have a first go in competition.


Richard Rawes





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