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Taking Off and Landing in a GA Plane

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Each side of the cruise phase of a GA plane, the plane has to take off, and to land. To take off consists in accelerating the plane so that the appropriate speed is reached when the air flow is transformed into lift. To land consists in bringing the plane back to the ground, from the air. You will note that the landing is considered a phase which is delicate in flight, as the worlkload is increasing for the pilot, and the plane's speeds are low. You will note that some of the elements of this tutorial requires you read the tutorial "Level Flight, Climbs, Descents, Turns Aboard a GA Plane", as far as commanding the attitude of the plane to climb, or to descend, is concerned

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. Taking Off
. Landing

arrow back Taking Off

Taking off consists into making the aerodynamical forces efficient relative to the plane: due to the speed the plane is gaining, the air flow becomes efficient as the wings produce lift. Accelerating the plane to the necessary speed is made on the runway. Taking off aboard a plane is easy. Let'ts take the Cessna 172SP (or any other plane you'll find suitable for your training) as we'll place it in the start position at a runway of your choice. That runway had to be large enough as the weather is to be moderate (some light wind is allowable). You're now in your plane, at the end of the runway. The plane is aligned with the central axis of it. The plane's setting are to be: one notch of flaps (the flaps are helping the lift necessary for take off); the trim setting is on 'TO' ('take off'; the trim tab is to regulate the air flow and help the action of the control wheel/flight stick for the take off). Brakes are set and secured; mixture is full rich (full forwards; the whole power of the engine will be availabe). The r.p.m. at the tachometer are at 1000 rpm (this avoid any risk for the engine to fail while the plane is stoped); the pitot heat is ON (as the plane is going to fly climbing and relatively slowly, there is a risk of frost of the carburetor); the stroboscopic lights are ON (we are going to fly in an airport environment where the trafic may be dense); the landing lights are ON (idem); the fuel pump is ON (the fuel flow is secured for take off). Now, how all this is going to work? Well, let's describe a take off: the brakes will be released; one will apply full throttles (progressively); one will maintain the plane of the central axis of the runway, until it reaches a speed of 55 kts (that speed is the one given for the Cessna 172SP; to maintain the plane aligned is made through the rudder -if you have no rudder and FS set at automatic rudder, you'll control the plane through the joystick/yoke; should you have any trouble to visualize correctly the center of the runway, just chose a terrain where the runway features markings); as the plane begins to roll, first keep the control wheel/flight stick pulled back (the plane is thus in an attitude of stall); then, as the plane accelerates, one pushes back the stick/control wheel forwards (in Flight Simulator, this helps for the realism); when the plane reaches 55 kts -the take off speed that is- it's time to get airborne! Just pull the yoke, and the plane is taking off! Most GA planes needs that, immediately after being airborne, you get the plane level at the end of having it accelerating further, up to its climb speed; that's done by pushing the yoke forwards immediately after take off so that the plane is now flying at an altitude of just about 10 ft. Once the climb speed is reached (70-80 kts as far as the Cessna is concerned), just get the notch of flaps off and get the plane into its climb attitude (check the visual clue -horizon/panel's top- and a swift look to the instrument indicator -the wings are above the artifical horizon- and to the vertical speed indicator (VSI) -the climb rate is at 700 ft/mn). You will note, on the other hand, that a plane, once the power applied, has a tendency, while it's accelerating, to shift to the left. That is due to the effect of the air flow generated by the propeller unto the vertical stabilizer: the propeller is working clockwise, thus the whirlpool it generates comes and hit the left side of the vertical stabilizer, pushing it rightwards. Hence the plane's nose shift to the left. And the plane is no more aligned with the runway's axis. During take off, this leads to compensate that shift. This is done through the rudder (or if you chose 'automatic rudder', through the yoke). Now let's go back into your plane, and let's try our first take off! The plane is aligned on the runway, ready for take off; the rpm is 1000 rpm, brakes are set and secured. Let's release the brakes; then apply the throttles, progressively. The plane, now, is rolling, as you keep the yoke or control wheel back. If rudder in FS is not set to automatic, the plane, like anticipated, is beginning to shift left. Make a rudder input right to maintain the plane's axis aligned with that of the runway (should you not use a rudder, control the plane with the yoke; in that case, you will note that, should there be some wind, your plane is at risk of banking, hindering a correct take off; for your first take offs, just tune the weather to less). Now the yoke forwards. The plane is now accelerating; monitor the airpeed indicator (the first, large gauge to the upper left) albeit mostly keeping to look at the runway. Yoke to neutral. The speed eventually reaches the take off speed (55 kts). Just pull the control wheel/flight stick, and... the plane takes off. You're airborne. Immediately level the plane (yoke forwards) -CAUTION! you're about at 10-13 ft above the runway, as you let the plane accelerate up to 70-80 kts, the climb speed for the Cessna. Check the airspeed indicator. 70-80 kts. Pull the yoke to place the plane into its attitude of climb: the visual clue horizon/panel's top is at it's to be for a climb, and a swift look to the attitude indicator ('wings' are above the artificial horizon) and to the VSI (it's indicating 700 ft/mn of climb rate -that value is mostly standard for the GA planes). And you trim the plane through the compensator of the elevator, alleviating the workload on the yoke. The plane, now, is mostly climbing easily. You're flying, and climbing! Well. You just learned how to take off

button to a video illustrating the text above (note: that video bears the site's ancient reference)

It is the place there to also mention the 'ground effect' as far takeoffs and landings are concerned. The ground effect occurs when a plan is flying very close to the ground, up to a altitude of one winspan. Due to the ground effect, a plane has more lift. The ground effect is most pronounced at a low speed and a constant altitude. It thus occurs during a takeoff, and even during the landing flare. Of interest during a takeoff are the following points: the ground effect may let you think that the takeoff may occur at a lesser speed than the published one. When the ground effect ceases however, the climb performance is decreasing as, under conditions of high-density altitude, high temperature and/or a important weight of the plane, the plane may even not get out of the ground effect. As the thrust is already at maximum during a takeoff, such harmful consequences of the ground effect may only be made up for through slightly lowering the plane's pitch. As a consequence, you always will check that your takeoff will occur at the published airspeed. When a sufficient runway length is available, at the contrary, the ground effet may be used to increase the plane's speed (the "old fashion" way of taking off with, for example, a French Robin DR-400, is made with the plane back to level immediately after takeoff, which lets the plane reach its climb airspeed)

arrow back Landing
thumbnail to a view of how the descent slope is to be seen, as seen from where you're going to begin your descentclick on the picture to a view of how the descent slope is to be seen, as seen from where you're going to begin your descent

Landing is to have the plane back to the ground. To have a plane landing is more difficult than to have it taking off! Let's take your favorite GA training plane, the Cessna 172SP -or any plane which is your favorite for the GA training- and let's configure it with the autopilot: choose a terrain and have the plane on the default runway (the runway has to have a sufficient length for your landing, and the weather is to be moderate). With the 'Y' command, when available, raise the plane to 1,000 ft above the runway. Tune the autopilot for that altitude, as you set the autopilot heading at the runway's heading. Then set the following settings: to notches of flaps, compensation: for a level flight (the autopilot made it for you), full mixture, full throttle (in that landing configuration, your plane will stabilize itself at a speed of about some over 70 kts); the pitot heat is ON and the carburetor heat is too (at the low speeds of a landing, the plane's carburetor may endure some icing); the strobe lights are ON (we are to fly in an airport environment with the trafic possibly high), the landing lights are ON (idem); the fuel pump is ON (the fuel flow must be added for the full resource of the engine). Note, by the way, how the autopilot, at such low speeds, raised the plane's nose, and set the trim accordingly. With 'Y', take the plane back to where you'll see the runway, and aligned with it (should you have trouble with a panel and see the runway, just configure appropriately). Well, you're at 1,000 ft above the runway's altitude as you'll estimate visually, relatively to the runway threshold, where to set the plane for the exercise's beginning (or you can use a PAPI, or VASI, those red-white lights ramps which are helping to estimating the descent slope to the runway (when the red-white lamps are balanced, you're on the slope). The picture, left, is giving you an idea of how the runway should look from where you'll position your plane. Release 'W' to allow the autopilot to settle the plane. And hit 'Y' back, to freeze the situation

Some theoretical description of what is going to unfold, now! There where you set your plane for the beginning of your training, is the beginning of what is called the 'final'. The 'final' is the last phase of a flight, bringing your plane to the landing. The configuration you have applied to your plane, should you have flown then, would have been applied during the previous step of your flight, the 'approach', that part of the flight where you come into the landing terrain environment and get your plane ready for landing. With the settings you previously applied under the regime of the autopilot, your plane is ready to land. We are at 1,000 ft above the terrain altitude, AS we have to target the runway's 'threshold' -the runway's beginning. The whole technique of the final and landing consists into to fly from where we are, to the runway... Once you'll have released the plane to fly -and deconnected from the autopilot, you'll set full flaps (to increase the lift further as we're going to keep reducing the plane's speed for the final) AND, through combined actions at the control wheel/flight stick and the throttles, we'll have to descend towards the runway. And we'll have to do that while keeping the plane ON THE SLOPE to the runway! The slope is that angle which is now linking your plane to the runway's threshold, as, further, we'll watch to keep the plane aligned with the runway. The final speed, for a Cessna 172SP, is of 60-70 kts (to simplify, we'll take that at 65 kts). The engine, for that speed, with all the flaps, has to be tuned to 1800 rpm. Thus, theoretically, your plane, once the yoke pushed forwards to get the attitude for the descent, will 'naturally' descent to the runway (the descent pitch is checked through the visual clue horizon/panel's top and a quick check of both the attitude indicator (the 'wings' are under) and the vertical speed indicator (the value is -700 ft/mn). Your descent will have to be commanded through your eyes, mainly! Just look at the runway threshold, possibly tune the axis of the descent to the one of the runway (in the absence of wind, this is easier). AND have some swift looks to the airspeed indicator (our speed on the final is of 65 kts) and to the VSI (one keeps a descent rate of -700 ft/mn). KEEP WELL IN MIND that we are VFR pilots, thus we pilot visually mainly (the pilots having their IFR ratings only pilot with the instruments!). Due to the air conditions and when, for example, you rectify your alignment to the runway, lead to that, in the real life, your plane may tend not to stay on the slope. It may get raising above it, or it may get passing under it. Well. You'll have to correct accordingly: any correction is made through the engine, and through the yoke. Should the plane get above the slope, just reduce the throttle, and push the yoke (you'll be back on the slope; just put some more throttle back, and pull the yoke). Should the plane get under the slope, just get much throttle forwards, and pull the yoke (you'll be -with more difficulties than in the previous case- back to the slope; throttle back -more slowly than previously- and push the yoke back). Another tendency of the plane during the descent may be that it will gain, or loose, speed. In that case, you'll have to bring the correction through the engine only: throttle back, or add some throttle to get back to your descent speed. The whole art of a final is to maintain your plane on the slope, with the less shifts possible. A last thing, at last: your plane, on a final, will be flying at low speeds. It will fly at about 65 kts, with the stall in the landing configuration -with all the flaps, etc- at 40 kts -a stall is when your plane will cease to have any lift, and fall. THUS, ALWAYS BE CAUTIOUS! Never let the plane tend to the stall limit. If you pull the yoke too hard to try to catch the slope back, the speed is prone to decrease rapidly, with, in the real life, a stall occurring at, say, 300 ft, will have the plane fall to the ground, with no alternative! Never make, too, heavy lateral changes (with the ailerons). This may occur when you might try to catch the longitudinal axis back: at the low speed at which your plane is flying, such corrections bring to other dangereous reactions of your plane (the plane mostly, may enter into a stall/with a turn); and at the altitudes of the final too, the plane, in the real life, would not be controlable back. You would crash to the ground, simply! Well, meanwhile we continued descending to the runway and where we are going to land got more precise. Here we are reaching the very last phase of the flight: the landing proper. Your plane will stop flying and be back to a contact with the ground. How will we do that? From a theoretical point of view, this is done by putting an end to the plane's lift. This, in turn, is done by suppressing the air flow along the wings, with placing the plane voluntarily into a stall. We'll place the plane in a slight pitch upwards AND throttle out. The plane then has no more power enough, the air flow becomes unsteady, and eventually stops. The plane is flying no more, and it lands! This maneuver is called a 'flare', bringing to the landing: as you're getting to the runway's threshold (you'll be about 8-9 ft above the ground; this is relatively hard to gauge in Flight Simulator, and you'll have to get your own marks), you'll pull the yoke and get the plane level, as, about in the same move, you'll throttle completely back. Then, barely slightly after, you'll put the plane into a slight pitch up AND you'll maintain the pitch (you won't see the runway anymore, which is not a hindrance, with the plane properly aligned -usually- when you'll have got to the threshold). The speed now stalls. The plane ceases to have any lift, the stall horn resounds in the cabin AND the plane lands on its main landing gear (those wheels under the wings). Then, you'll keep the yoke back and the pitch UNTIL the nose leg touches in turn. The panel now has lowered, and you have the runway back in sight! You have landed! Let your plane keep slowing now AND put the brakes (';', through several, separated strokes). The plane will slow, and attains a speed at which it becomes controlable on ground. You'll now be able to steer the plane -and even put some throttle back- and to bring it to the next taxiway. Exiting the runway. Your first final and landing will be over. As far as the flare is concerned, two more remarks. When you'll approach of the runway's threshold, first, you'll notice that you'll tend not to will to land, and to try to pull the yoke back instead. This is natural and endured by any training pilot. Just fight that tendency and you will overwhelm it. Secondly, take care of how you'll perform the flare. Should you pull too firmly on the yoke, and the plane will take back some height, with, when stalling, stalling too high and falling relatively abruptly to the ground -with possible damage to the landing gear. But, at the opposite, if the pitch up is not enough, the plane won't flare, nor stall, and keep on on a kind of slope, leading too to a hard landing -and with possible damage too to the landing gear!

thumbnail to a view of a flareclick on the picture to a view of a flare

Practice now! You're at 1,000 ft above the terrain, and seeing the runway there below. Release 'W'. The plane is flying. Spot the runway. Disconnect the autopilot. Full flaps! Throttle back (1800 rpm), descent pitch (the appropriate, descent visual clues -horizon/panel's top- and a check to the attitude indicator and the vertical speed indicator (-700 ft/mn). And you are beginning your descent to the runway! Keep the plane in the axis of the runway (recall: any ailerons input needs a rudder input in the same direction). Descending, now. If the plane tends to leave the slope upwards, some throttle back, and yoke forwards. If she tends downwards, full throttle, and yoke backwards. AND no sharp inputs! We are near the stall speed! Keeping descending. The runway eventually approaching, we're correctly aligned with the runway's axis. Passing over the threshold now! Peforming the flare: plane level, throttle FULL OUT, AND pitch up. One keeps pitching up. The stall horns resounds. One keeps pitching up! Landing gear touching. One keeps pitching up! Nose wheel touching down. Landed! Just apply the brakes, now (through successive inputs). The plane slows and is eventually controlable on the ground. Heading to the next taxiway!

Here you are! Just keeping practising, you'll master the take off and the landing of your GA plane!

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Lessons In Microsoft Flight Simulator / Leçons de vol pour les Flight Simulator de Microsoft, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 5/27/2013. contact us at
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