Perfecting the Pattern - Tips I Use

C172 — N66213 — North Perry Hollywood, FL — T&Go's, Go-Arounds, Gusty Winds, 8 Landings — 0.8 hrs

Here's some tips I found working for me, and wanted to jot them down for my blog.

As a pilot, I always strive for that perfect landing, and consistency in landings, regardless of whether my instructors think. Sometimes I grease it, sometimes I don’t. Even after hundreds of landings, I still suffer the occasional sloppy approach or far less than poetry landing. I think a lot of the reason I ever fail to make a clean landing is because I either; 
A.) had something in the instruction materials (written or verbally from the CFI) that I didn't fully understand, or,
B.) something was interfering with an otherwise smooth run, or,
C.) I just need more practice. And I don't beat myself up if I do.

I try to keep these tips in mind as I practice my patterns:

  1. Is there ANY (even little tiny) part of the instructions (written or verbally from the CFI) that I didn't understand fully? Can be quite subtle. Do I know what I'm going for (altitude, distances, etc.) for the ideal pattern and landing? If not, I check it out, and get it down so I got it cold. I use dictionaries, aviation glossaries, online searches, etc., and even sketch it out on paper. Then I rehearse it on the ground by walking thru the steps one by one, slow at first then faster and faster till it's smooth. Saves avgas too.

  2. What's the pattern? There are different schools on the perfect pattern; heights of legs, when flaps are best used, to err towards too high or too fast, and all that depends on wind, traffic and leg of entry.

    However, generally a standard Pattern is 1000ft pattern altitude. Then, when abeam the numbers on downwind, 10° flaps and rpm down for descent. Trim. Turn to Base leg, we call it the "perch," I'm passing thru 750ft. Bring in the next 20° flaps. At the turn to Final, I've descended to 500ft and I'm lined up. Another 30° flaps, and fly it down to the numbers. Then flare and set it down easy.

  3. A good approach makes for a good landing. By squaring off the pattern, hitting the target airspeeds, and staying on altitude throughout the approach, you are setting yourself up for a smooth landing.

  4. Configure early. Don’t keep the flaps up until short final. This tends to destabilize the approach as the aircraft dramatically changes its speed and pitch through rapid deployment of flaps or gear. Instead, configure incrementally and early. This will allow focus on the task of landing the aircraft throughout final approach.

  5. Trim the plane always. Every change of aspect, attitude and every maneuver. A properly trimmed plane will fly itself, land itself on a calm day. Trim the plane and cut down on pilot workload by making small corrections to guide it down.

  6. Keeping all that in mind, once I'm up, are the conditions right? And that could include the wind and weather, the plane, but also the CFI's attitude or my own groove is off that day. Sure, be a pro no matter what and keep your head in the cockpit, but still, what am I up against? Illness? Enough sleep? Fatigued? Hungry? CFI hounding me on every little maneuver or adjustment? Other stress interfering? Any and all of these can and do adversely affect the whole process. 

  7. Remember also that with a CFI there with me, there are far less consequences to any mistakes I might make. Indeed, he better have my back, that's his job. So I fly the plane and don't stress on right, wrong, or anyone's opinions. It's my friggin time I'm paying for, and I'm not trying to impress anyone but myself.

  8. On Final, chant the words; "Airspeed, Aimpoint, Centerline." Maintain the correct airspeed and no lower. Fly the plane down to the numbers. Tighten up the centerline, and don't drift. Takes a little discipline.

  9. The flare is setting up for a power-off stall at runway elevation. Maintain height just about a foot above the runway, and keep the nose up till it gently settles down on the main wheels.

  10. Flare, but don’t stop flying the plane. Just because the main wheels are on the ground does not relieve the necessity of flying the plane. Gently lower the nose and gradually increase the crosswind correction to full aileron into the wind during rollout.

  11. Mind the distances, and when I'm 45 degrees for the transitions for each leg. Correct distances make for correct transitions.

  12. If I turn too soon, shallow the turn. If I overshoot, don't make a steep bank to correct it. Then do the opposite next time around to compensate. 

  13. If I'm too low, increase power and don't sink. (Remembering that slow flight landing config pitch up reduces airspeed of which there is already too little, and increases risk of stall. Not good.)

  14. If I'm too high, cut power and pitch up slightly to reduce altitude. Or Go-Around.

  15. Never feel reluctant to use the Go-Around. Go-Arounds are nothing to be ashamed of, and are to be used liberally; when too high, too slow, too fast, too slow, or for any reason the landing is just not safe.

  16. When I do grease a correct pattern and smooth landing, I never fail to do the "Howard the Duck Victory Dance Jiggle" in my seat. That or a good Shuffle dance when I park.