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Bill's Blog

Wheel Landing – By The Numbers –

For all of you diehard pilots who prefer the 3 Point Full Stall landing technique, stay with it, since that’s what you know best. The following explanation of a specific wheel landing technique is for the pilots who were never taught correctly, or for you 3 pointers with a curiosity.  This IS the BEST way to land a C180/185 for most situations, in my opinion.

This specific WHEEL LANDING technique is so good, I’ve used it on short 800′ Idaho dirt strips and in gusty crosswind situations – basically everything except a really soft surface that calls for a 3 point landing.  And even if you only fly 20 hours a year, it’s easy to maintain proficiency with this technique, provided you learn it, correctly.  For me, it is the most consistent, reliable way to land a C180/185.  Why is it the BEST way to land?   Because your cockpit workload is MUCH LOWER compared to the 3 point/stall method. ** WHAT CAN GET A PILOT INTO TROUBLE LANDING A TAIL WHEEL AIRPLANE? Poor approach, or flair technique at touchdown, and/or loss of focus on the rollout, in other words, high workload.

TOO MANY VARIABLES in your landing procedure (or routine) makes every 3 Point Full Stall landing a unique event.  During a 3 Point Full Stall landing you have to recognize, adapt and overcome many potential problems, make quick decisions and constant adjustments. A few of these variables might be:  a varying rate of descent just prior to touchdown, height above the runway, airspeed bleed off prior to the stall, crosswind drift in a stalled nose, high attitude at touch down, floating, bouncing, limited forward vision due to a nose high flare, drifting on rollout, and possible impaired directional control when you only have the side windows on rollout.

Why do all that, and fight a 600 pound tail with its own mind? With this technique you ELIMINATE most of these problems. You eliminate changing speeds on final, eliminate stalling, eliminate floating, completely eliminate nose high forward vision problems, minimize and view any drift tendencies immediately, and you can view the touchdown area all the way to touchdown.  With this technique, you should only have to correct for bouncing which should be very minor, if at all.

It begins with a mental picture of what the aircraft’s attitude, flap settings, and airspeed should look like at any point throughout the landing, relative to the runway.  You must know (visualize) what everything should look like going into each phase. From down wind to touchdown the aircraft attitude will be parallel to the ground.  At no point throughout this technique is the nose of the plane pointed down when descending or up when landing. Even on final approach the aircraft remains horizontal (parallel to the surface) until wheel contact.  This is very important, which is why I am emphasizing it. This is a powered approach.

It is on the downwind leg is where you calculate (estimate) when you’re going to turn to base and then base to final. Initial flap settings at 20 deg. and airspeed (depending on wind and load) at 70 – 80 kts.  The plane is trimmed, and a power setting used to fly hands off at these settings.  You will start timing once you pass the approach end (counting to yourself or timed). The time to turn base depends on how high you are AGL (above ground level).  At 500′ AGL = 1 minute on down wind.  Continue one minute past the landing threshold on down wind then you turn base.  If you are 800′ AGL, then fly for 1’36”. If pattern altitude is 1,000′ AGL = 2 minutes on downwind past the threshold before you turn.  If you are following, or having to extend down wind, then notice a landmark where you were at the 1 minute, 1’36’, or 2 min. down wind position to begin the final descent when you reach it.

The base leg should normally be at a point where when  you turn final you can begin and remain on a 500′ per minute descent until over the threshold.  If no one is in front of you it is easy to predict when to turn (because it’s just the timing method mentioned previously). If  you are behind another plane then you have to maintain your downwind height until you reach that point on final where you can begin and maintain a constant 500 fpm descent all the way until over the threshold.

When you begin the descent, it is very important that you understand the following: 1) Increase  flaps to 30-40 deg. (40 works best because you don’t have to use as much trim to stay level.  I use 30 deg. of flaps on Base and 40 deg on final.  Power back and trim to (hands off) 60 kts for the normal descent.  I’ve done it at 50 kts IAS for a short Idaho strip, and 65 kts for stronger crosswinds.  If really gusty just go with 30 deg. flaps. Adjust power to set up 500′ decent.  2) If you have to offset a crosswind, either wing low into the wind or crab a little, or a combo,  but keep the plane horizontal to the ground. This is what most common mistake.  Dropping the nose changes your descent rate.  Some think slightly nose down is ok. No it isn’t for this technique.  Visualize your plane’s attitude with the ground throughout the descent.   Adjust trim or power to hold  a level attitude  without having to apply yoke pressure.  You should be carrying some power throughout the entire approach until the wheels touch.

Assuming your approach was done correctly, as you come OVER THE FENCE, just ease back on the yoke an inch or two for 2-3 seconds which will lower the descent from the initial  500 fpm down to a 200 – 250 fpm descent  then back forward to neutral (don’t reduce power but keep your  hand on the throttle)  until wheel contact. Fly it to the runway.  Normally little to no bounce. You have total visibility throughout the approach.   You have to anticipate wheel contact, and this takes practice.  At contact chop the power, a little forward pressure keeps the tail up and brake as needed.   If done correctly, you can stop consistently in 300 -500 feet rollout with average braking.  You can touch with the upwind wheel first if needed for drift.   The tendency is to cheat and chop power a few feet high and let it settle to the runway, which usually creates a bounce because it changes your ground speed and rate of descent just enough to make you have to jockey the yoke back and forth. When the wheels touch I chop power simultaneously and apply slight forward pressure on roll out which pins it on the runway.

A poor approach, when you have to make many adjustments, especially on short final, will probably end up in a poor landing which defeats the purpose of this technique.  If you have to make a small adjustment or two, thats normal, but if you end up on short final high or low, then you didn’t have it set up correctly.  If you’re LOW, you obviously had to add power which also increased ground speed – not good! If you’re HIGH, you have to reduce power or slip which will increase your rate of descent, adding another unnecessary variable. You can’t be low or high on a short one way Idaho strip.  This Wheel Landing  approach is easy to do consistently, the judgement about wheel contact takes some practice.

What about a go around?  It hasn’t been a problem for me the few times I have had to do it.  Once at Big Creek Idaho, about 6 or 7 elk ran out on the runway, and thats a tougher strip to go around because it is also uphill. In order to go around I had to add some power, lower flaps to 20 deg, (never take flaps all the  way off), and hold some forward pressure as I adjusted the nose trim forward.

Don’t make it a big deal, just do it. Fly the plane!  If any of this seems complicated, it isn’t. You can teach yourself, but if you are struggling with any part something wasn’t set up right.  How much easier can it get?  Keep it simple. Once on final, you  only have one flap setting, one airspeed, one rate of descent, one power setting, one aircraft attitude, and no yoke pressure to fight, all the way down to wheel contact. Practically hands off until touchdown. Please post your comments/thoughts/opinions below.

Bill White Insurance
Aviation Insurance Specialists
Bill White Insurance — Aviation Specialists since 1977

DISCLAIMER: This technique is provided only as a reference, it is up to the users/pilots discretion, whether or not to try it, and at there own risk. It is recommended to have a competent CFI with working knowledge of this technique with you when you attempt it.

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