Transition Training Challenges

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Pilots who haven’t started transition training into the Glastar or Sportsman should be prepared to encounter a few challenges that are quite common for most pilots.

Regardless of whether you are flying a trike, or tail dragger, there are certain tendencies that I see fairly often. When you touch down for the first time you will know right away if you have proper control inputs, runway alignment and power management for a smooth touchdown and roll out.

I find myself chanting, “Right Rudder, Right Rudder, Right Rudder” a lot.

Runway alignment

Almost everyone I fly with will tend to touch down with the nose pointing to the left by about 10-15 degrees early on in the training. This occurs, even if there is a cross wind from the right with a velocity of up to about 15-20 knots or more. I am not sure why this happens. You might think it is more common with pilots who are transitioning from tandem type aircraft where the pilot sits more on the centerline of the aircraft, but there doesn’t seem to be a correlation. Perhaps the “V’ braces in the view cause an optical illusion, but I can’t really say for sure what causes this problem.

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Some pilots will have the aircraft lined up very well on final and then just before touch down the nose turns away from the center line and almost always to the left. I am certain that when that happens it is because of the left turning tendencies we are all familiar with from basic training, P-factor, gyroscopic effect and the cork screw effect of the slip stream coming from the propeller thrust. The key here to avoid this situation is to add additional right rudder pressure to maintain proper alignment as airplane flares and touches down. If the airplane begins to drift to the right, then it is too much input, but usually, there simply just isn’t enough.

I find myself chanting, “Right Rudder, Right Rudder, Right Rudder” a lot. I try to get the pilot in training to respond before actually stepping on the rudder myself. When I instruct, I truly believe the student will have a better learning experience if I stay off the controls as much as possible. So I try to only intervene if I think is necessary for the advancement of the learning process or safety.

Right rudder, right rudder, right rudder...
Right rudder, right rudder, right rudder…

If the pilot is descending on final but not lined up with the runway center line, I will ask them if they think they are lined up. They usually will answer yes, that the alignment does look to them as if they are on the center line. I will then step on the right rudder pedal momentarily to achieve alignment so they see what it looks like. Eventually, once they learn to trust me and what they see, they will begin to consistently land with good alignment which you can instantly feel in the touchdown by a lack of side load on the gear.

While touching down with good alignment is more critical when flying a tail dragger, you will still introduce unwanted side loads on either a trike or tail dragger, but you will have a much higher chance of ending up off the runway or ground-looping the tail dragger if you don’t land with good alignment.

Power management

You will find power management can be quite different depending on whether you are flying a Glastar or Sportsman. The Sportsman is 12 inches longer and has much larger more effective flaps than the GlaStar. The empty weight is also a factor as well. Most of the Sportsmans have an empty weight around 1400-1450 lb. Most GlaStars have and empty weight closer to 1200-1250. I have seen a few GlaStars under 1200 lb and a lot that are way heavier however.

The first GlaStar I ever flew was the Stoddard-Hamilton company demonstrator back in 1999. It was a 160 hp, trike with a Hartzell constant speed prop. It was nicknamed “The Pig” because of the almost 1400 lb empty weight.

If you pulled the power all the way back to idle and tried to glide in for a touchdown at 60 knots or less, it was more of an “arrival” than a landing. You would run out of elevator and it was impossible to hold the nose wheel off the ground at touchdown.

I have been finding myself training and delivering a lot more GlaStars lately and those aircraft have been on the lighter side whereby you can pull the power to idle at full flaps and easily glide into a nice power off touchdown at around 55-60 knots.

The Sportsman must have some power above idle to land smoothly with full flaps, unless you are at or above 70 knots. If you are landing at 55-60 knots in a Sportsman and pull the power back to idle prior to touchdown, you will run out of elevator control and that will be more of an “arrival” with a possible bounce.

Pitch attitude and the flare

Many pilots will start decreasing the nose down attitude on final way too high above the touchdown spot. By the time they get closer to the runway, the airplane is slowing down to a point where the pilot begins to over control it. The wings start rocking, the nose moves from side to side as the controls become less responsive. The airplane is getting closer to a stall and much more difficult to control. I will look down and the control stick is moving all over the place. I call this “stirring the pot”. If not corrected, the touchdown is usually not very good as well as the resultant roll out.

It is essential to maintain proper pitch attitude and keep the nose pointed downward until you are just above the runway (a matter of inches) whereby the flare and round out can be initiated and the airspeed bleeds off so you have a smooth touch down under good control.

The stick should be in the aft position whether you are flying a trike or tail dragger. One of the problems I see with new tail dragger pilots is they think they have the stick all the way back, but there is still an inch or two of travel and this makes a huge difference between the tail wheel trying to get away from you and it tracking easily straight behind you. I tell people to pull it back all the way and then pull it back some more.

The trike can easily be landed on the mains while holding off the nose wheel until it naturally settles onto the runway during the roll out. The aft stick position is surprisingly similar in both the trike landing on the mains and the tail dragger making a three point landing.

An additional tip I teach is to maintain level wings all the way down final. You can do this even if you are slipping into a light crosswind. Try it some time when you are at cruise altitude. Lower one aileron. As the airplane starts to turn, add just enough opposite rudder to stop the turn. In doing so, you will notice the lowered wing will rise. Hold that for a while and you will discover the technique of keeping wings level in a cross wind while on final. You only need to make slight adjustments to stay lined up with the center line.

If you need to move left or right while on final and close to the ground, try doing it with the rudder only. I know it seems counter intuitive to how we are taught to turn the airplane with the ailerons, but if you are trying maintain a stabilized approach and keep the wings level as you descend on final and get closer to the ground, slight turns to the left or right should be done with the rudder instead of dipping the wing.

So the goal of landing well comes with putting it all together at the same time. If we maintain good alignment with the runway, manage the airspeed and pitch attitude, we can have very good landings almost every time with little or no side loads and minimal wear and tear on the airplane.

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