THE BEAUTY IS IN THE LANDING
watchers. You can see them almost any Sunday afternoon, outside
the airport security fence at the end of the active runway.
They bring lawn chairs, blankets, lunches, beverages, loud
music, and their friends, and they congregate under the flight
path of landing aircraft. Many airports accommodate these
people by constructing a quasi-park, or at least an open field.
Vancouver International (YVR) has a great approach park on the
east end of 08-26. The fence is very close to the runway too.
Yes, I’ve spent
some time at various “approach parks”. Seems even those who fly
the planes like to watch ‘em. Landings are always the best.
I’ve often sat in front of the hangar and spent the afternoon
watching the student pilots in the circuit, practicing the
endless touch-‘n-goes. I’m always fascinated.
The landing seems
to be the part that determines the success or failure of a
flight. Determines whether it was a good day or a bad day.
Most pilots never comment on their ability to hold an altitude
or heading, or navigate at low levels in the mountains. But
they’ll tell you about the smooth touchdown when they got to
where they were going. Everything else is foreplay. The
landing is the real thing, the big event.
airplane is more a work of art than a science. And if that’s a
true statement, then taildraggers and floatplanes are Academy
Award nominees. In my logbook there are a few hundred hours in
tailwheel aircraft, some on pavement, mostly on gravel and
grass. There is also one ground loop noted, a harmless,
low-speed affair when I let one get away from me in severe,
gusting crosswinds. And it wasn’t early in my career.
Experience means nothing to the airplane. The taildragger is
like a cannibal, just waiting for a chance to bite you.
landings in my opinion, are on floats. There’s a really active
seaplane base in the Nanaimo, B.C. harbour where you can sit at
a waterfront cafe and watch planes come and go all day. Several
companies, Harbour Air and West-Coast Air among them, routinely
land and depart numerous times every hour. I never tire of the
show. These pilots nurse their planes down, holding just
inches above the water until at just the right moment the floats
‘kiss’ the surface, they bring the power slowly back, and the
plane skims, settles, and finally digs in as the nose comes up.
I don’t have much
float time, but would be doing it again if the opportunity ever
came up. The instant the floats touch the water is always
satisfying. The feeling is like a gentle ‘tug’ on the airplane,
rather than the ‘bump’ when wheels touch pavement. The sea
plane pilots tend to land on wheels using the same techniques as
on floats. They hold a slightly nose-high attitude, and control
the descent with power. With a lot of practice, they become
true artists, painting the prettiest picture a plane watcher
could ever see.
a flight into a grass strip in the mountains one day, I used
that approach. As the wheels skimmed then delicately settled
in the turf, the sensation was like landing on water. Not even
a bump, until about half way through the run-out and at nothing
more than a high taxi speed, one wheel dropped into a depression
around a gopher hole. The effect on the plane was more of a
deceleration than a jolt such as you’d feel on a hard landing.
Because ELT’s are designed to trigger on horizontal impact, the
gopher hole was just enough to set mine off. After
congratulating myself on such a smooth landing, I couldn’t
believe the ELT signal blaring in the headset was from my
Flying an airplane
never killed anybody. It’s the landing that does it. Some say
any landing you walk away from is a good one. No one who thinks
about that statement would ever say it with conviction. I’ve
walked away from many, many landings that were bad ones. They
can’t all be good, but I never stop trying for perfection.