Setting up the Landing
by Len Buffinton
Would you believe me if I told you that a perfect landing with a model sailplane is more a “state of mind”, than it is talent?
Probably not, but read the following pages and maybe you’ll change your mind.
You can have the prettiest plane, the sexiest paint job and the largest wingspan, but if you DORK the landing every time you take it out, you wont have it for long. Making a perfect landing is really not that hard. All it takes is a little practice and a lot of discipline. Whether it’s a 3-meter vintage or a 10-meter glass slipper, the rules of the road are the same.
If you are lucky enough to have a full-scale glider port near you, take some time one afternoon and venture out to the field, grab a drink, bring a chair, and watch them land. After about the third landing, you’ll notice something odd. They all land the exact same way. No matter what size, what style or what color, they all do the same thing. What is that thing? They fly a landing pattern.
Let’s break it down:
Since all full-scale aircraft fly a landing pattern why should it be any different with your models? A landing pattern should consist of a down wind leg, a base leg and the final approach.
Develop the discipline, or state of mind
It begins right here. If you want great landings, every time, you need to know when to call it quits. Many sailplane pilots decide to land when it’s too late. The plane is very low to the ground and typically out of position. To avoid this, pick an altitude between 200-300 feet, depending on the size of the plane, and call it your limit. When the plane gets to that altitude, you are going to set up for a landing, no matter what. If you follow this rule, which is a state of mind, you will always give yourself the opportunity to land like a pro.
The down wind leg
Once you’ve made up your mind and you’re at 300 feet, lets head back to the field. Depending on where you are with regards to the field, you have to start setting up the downwind leg. Enter the downwind somewhere between midfield and the departure end of the runway. This gives you the chance to see the plane go by, watch and confirm the wheel came down, and set up for a nice approach. As the plane goes by midfield, you start your descent. You will be descending throughout the entire approach, so set a nice glide angle and stay with it.
The downwind leg is where you adjust the altitude and descent angle for your base and final legs.
You’ve flown the down wind leg all the way to the to the end of the field, now its time to turn onto the base leg, this is called downwind to base. Keep the decent going as you make the turn, but remember, as you bank the plane, it will want to descend even more. Adjust for the turn, level the wings and fly the base leg. This will be a pretty short leg, but it’s very important to establish wings level in this leg. Why? Because when you level the wings, you decrease the decent and the plane starts to slow up. This allows you to control the spot the plane will touch down. Rolling from downwind to final is a common practice, however, the pilot will have to fight the plane to get it lined up and slowed down.
During all these legs, you can add spoiler and flaps if you feel you are too high. If you do use them, just crack them a touch. They will be used on heavily on final approach to control your descent.
Also known as base to final. Here you need to think about the wind. If you have a wind blowing in your face, it’s also going to blow the sailplane in the base leg. To compensate for this, you will need to turn onto final sooner, because the plane will get pushed with the wind as you turn. Turn sooner than you think you should, allowing the wind to slide the plane onto the final approach path. Once established on final, you can bring out some spoiler, drop some flaps, and let the nose settle into a constant decent. Notice the word CONSTANT? You do NOT want the plane to be pitching up and down like a ship in a hurricane. Pick a nice decent angle that will get the plane to the field and stay with it. Try to make corrections small and smooth. Now comes the state of mind again! Why do most pilots start jerking the elevator when the plane turns final? Leave it alone! Only make very small corrections. If you have the plane set up correctly, with the proper elevator to spoiler/flap mix, once you turn final, bring out the spoilers and put in some flaps, the plane should be chugging on home. Let the plane fly. If it gets too low, reduce the spoilers, A LITTLE. You’ll be amazed how much the nose will lift when you reduce the spoilers A LITTLE. These planes are built to travel, so it makes sense if you put away the spoilers, the plane will continue to fly. Don’t start pulling up. That’s the porpoise effect. Everyone does it, its called nerves. Relax, again, state of mind. If you take a deep breath before you start the approach, you will do a much better job. Let the plane fly. Don’t force it to do something it doesn’t want to. Use the spoilers to work it down some. The plane will react. As it approaches the runway, very smoothly and softly, start a transition to LEVEL, but
DO NOT FLARE, YET
If you flare, the plane will balloon. You are going to fast. If you transition to level, the plane will start to slow down, as it slows down, it will start to descend. Don’t let it. Apply a little more up, just a little. You want to hold it off the ground as long as possible. The plane will settle towards the runway as more speed deceases, let it settle a little, but don’t let it touch, YET. As you keep adding small amounts of up to the elevator, the nose is now rising, and the tail is dropping. This is the perfect landing attitude. Make a game out of it. Think of the runway as an egg, you want to land on it, but you don’t want to break the egg.
The plane will land when it’s ready. Try not to rush it. IF, you get to aggressive with the elevator, and manage to make the plane balloon up, ease off the elevator a smidge. I mean a smidge. If you just relax the pressure on the elevator, the plane will stop its balloon action and settle back into a descent. The reason you only need a little correction is because when the plane balloons, it’s going back up, this means its going to slow even faster, since its slowing, it naturally wants to descend again as the speed bleeds off. You are simply trying to smooth it all out a bit.
When there is not enough speed to keep the plane in the air, it will settle onto the runway. All this happens pretty quickly. But if you think it through, be cool and RELAX, you will find these planes are a dream to land. Also, if you do the same approach every time, it will become second nature. But you must do the same thing every time.
By making a decision to land when you have plenty of altitude left, you are preventing any of the low altitude, tight turning accidents from happening. Follow this method, and you will have a plane to fly again and again, and look good doing it.
There is nothing more pleasing than greasing a landing after a long flight, then, hearing the crowd applause.