How to Take Off & Land an Airplane

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Takeoffs and landings are the among the most difficult aspects of flying an airplane. These are also the times when the aircraft is the most vulnerable to something going wrong, and this adds to the stress level. If you are learning to fly, or are just trying to learn how to fly a realistic simulator, understanding a few basic concepts will help make learning takeoffs and landings a bit easier.

Takeoff

  1. Be gentle with the controls during the takeoff roll. Advance the throttle in a smooth gradual movement. Keep the yoke centered. Keep your heels on the floor to avoid pressing the brakes. Be especially gentle with the rudder pedals when making steering corrections. Remember that the pedals will become increasingly sensitive as the airspeed increases.

  2. Learn how airspeed applies to taking off. You probably already know that the plane must reach a certian airspeed before it is possible to takeoff, but what about after you take off? During takeoff in a small plane, the throttle is usually fully open. This means that the engine is already providing the maximum amount of thrust available. Therefore, once you lift off the runway, your primary means of controlling airspeed is with the elevator control. Many student pilots feel shy of the ground, and as a result they tend to pull the nose up too much in order to climb as rapidly as possible. This habit should be avoided since it puts the plane at a greater risk of stalling. Unless there are obstacles near the end of the runway, a gentle, shallow climb is much safer than a steep, abrupt climb. Hold the nose just a few degrees above the horizon, and let the speed build up. This has the added advantage of making it easier to keep the plane aligned with the runway.

  3. Know the wind direction and strength before you begin the takeoff roll. Visualize in your mind how the wind will affect the aircraft, and be ready to make smooth corrections in the appropriate direction.

  4. Keep the plane aligned with the runway until you have passed over the end. After climbing 100-200 feet above the ground, it is generally good practice to momentarily lower the nose until you can see the end to the runway in front of you, and then resume climbing as normal. This will help you check your runway alignment, and will also allow the aircraft to build up some speed. Just keep one eye on the vertical speed indicator, and insure that you do lot allow the aircraft to descend.

  5. If there are tall trees, buildings, or other obstacles off the end of the runway, then you may want to plan to a steeper climb out. Depending on the aircraft, this would typically involve lowering the flaps a few degrees before starting the takeoff roll. Consult the operating manual of your aircraft. Lowering the flaps slightly reduces the airplane's stall speed, and therefore makes it safer to takeoff at a steeper angle. The key to this is planning in advance.

Approach

  1. Always follow a standard left hand rectangular pattern, if possible. This is especially important for student pilots. Doing a straight-in approach requires significantly more experience and better judgement. Following a pattern makes it much easier to establish a standardized landing procedure.

  2. Know the wind direction and speed. Visualize in your mind how this will affect the airplane, both in the pattern, and on final approach.

  3. Begin the downwind leg with the airplane level at the appropriate pattern altitude for your airport. Maintain altitude. Increase your visual awareness, and adjust your speed to maintain spacing with the other aircraft in the pattern.

  4. Keep track of your position in reference to the runway out your left window.

  5. Reduce power (usually to around 1800 rpm; consult the operating manual) when your aircraft passes the end of the runway on which you intend to land. Reduce speed slightly and begin a shallow descent.

  6. Extend the flaps by one notch or five degrees (consult operating manual) before turning onto base leg. Retrim the elevators, to hold attitude.

  7. Extend flaps to approximately 1/2 (consult operating handbook) before tuning onto final approach. Retrim the elevators to maintain attitude.

Landing

  1. Extend flaps to landing position once established on final approach. Retrim elevators to maintain attitude.

  2. Watch the airspeed indicator closely and maintain approach speed (Vref) for the flap setting you are using.

  3. Make small correction to keep the aircraft aligned with the runway.

  4. Recheck your descent rate visually using the VASI or PAPI lights. Make small adjustments to throttle and elevators as needed.

  5. Reduce power, or close the throttle fully (depending upon your aircraft) once you are steady on short final, and it is clear to you that you will reach the runway. Maintain a shallow glideslope and watch airspeed carefully until you cross the runway threshold.

  6. Flare the aircraft gently at 5-10 feet above the ground and close the throttle if you have not already done so. Hold the nose steady until you feel the main wheels touch.

  7. Hold the nose up until the airspeed dissipates and the nose drops to the runway of its own accord.

  8. Let the aircraft coast to a safe speed and turn off the runway at the next available taxiway.

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