Nailing Your Model Airplane Landings
Practice, Practice, Practice
Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall? I have no idea, but I can tell you how to have a Nats winning flying performance. Practice, practice, practice.
Landing is hard, and I have a hunch I know why. When you throttle back and slow down to land, the airplane behaves differently than it does at altitude. You have lots of experience zipping around, but not so much with mushy controls and an unusual flight attitude. Ground level turbulence doesn’t help, either.
I do most of my landings dead stick, for a simple reason. I want to be really good at doing them. Now I don’t panic on the days something goes wrong and I lose power in the middle of a flight. It is just like any other landing.
The ground is hard and unforgiving. Being a little bit off a hundred feet up in the air is a non-issue that nobody will notice. Miscalculate your approach, and everybody watching will know. Trust me. They will probably be polite about it, but they noticed the flubbed approach.
If your model airplane has flaps, use them. They add drag to give you more time to react. If you need to abort the landing, you are bound to forget to raise the flaps. With full power, figure out how much flaps you can put on and still climb. That is how much you need to use in a landing.
Also figure out what the wind is doing. It could have easily changed since your launch. A spotter can help you keep track of this. I’m not just talking direction, but speed and character. In other words, is it gusty?
A Proper Landing Pattern
For the love of God, do a proper landing pattern. That means a downwind leg parallel to the runway, a base leg, and a turn to final when everything looks good. Full size airplane pilots do it this way not because they are idiots, but because they know that it works. The key is to be constantly adjusting the flight path. With practice, you will make it look real easy. And guess what? That’s when you will be a pro! Some call this the TLAR or “that looks about right” landing approach. I call it the landing approach that works.
Throttle Controls Altitude
If you want to practice glide path control, here’s a proven technique. Throttle back, and use the elevator to slow down to the desired approach speed. Then use the throttle to adjust your descent rate.
I know. This is how you are supposed to fly all the time. But how many of us actually consciously do so?
Some say that every landing is a controlled crash. I don’t agree with that, but I would say that every stall landing in a model airplane is a semi-controlled crash.
A stall landing is a landing where the airplane enters a stall just as the wheels touch the ground. Done properly, it is a thing of beauty. I have done them many times in full-size airplanes.
Don’t confuse a stall landing with just being ground shy. Ground shyness is trying to delay touching down as long as possible. The model just drops at the end. These landings never look good.
Problem is, a model gets blown around by the wind under the best of circumstances. Close to a stall, in ground turbulence, is like playing Russian roulette. Feeling lucky, punk? I like to make my own luck, and I don’t do stall landings with models, specially the smaller ones.
It is all about control, folks. A well-controlled but fast landing looks infinitely better than a slow landing that is all over the place. You are less likely to damage the model, too.
Don’t make the mistake of over controlling as you get near the ground. I honestly don’t know where people get their ideas. I have read almost every model airplane book out there, and I have yet to find one that says that you have to move the sticks wildly as you get near the ground.
If you suffer from this problem, try this trick. Forbid yourself from moving the sticks when you are within say six feet (two meters) off the ground. It will force you to have a solid landing approach. If nothing else, it will bring some new excitement into your flying!