Short field takeoffs / landings

It was a nice day to fly, though even at 1pm it was cool enough to keep me from riding, so I took the car.

I had scheduled 333, but 40B had already been returned and had full tanks. The pilot had just returned from taking his private pilot checkride. I wasn’t sure if he passed or not because he didn’t seem particularly excited. It turns out that he did, but I don’t think I’ll be able to contain myself after my checkride.

The fairly light winds favored runway 21, so after preflight, we made the long trip to the other side of the runway. On the way, we reviewed the procedures for short field takeoffs and landings. For comparison, a quick review of a normal field takeoff: flaps remain up (they were already up for taxi); taxi out onto the runway; without stopping, line up with the center line; full throttle; keeping a little back pressure on the yoke, the nose wheel lifts off at about 50 knots; the main gear lift off shortly after and climb out is at 65 knots. 65 knots is Vy (the best rate of climb) for the Cessna 152, meaning the speed that will provide the most gain in altitude over a given period of time. Vx is the best angle of climb, meaning the speed that will provide the most gain in altitude over a given horizontal ground distance. For the Cessna 152, this is 54 knots. In short, to climb as quickly as possible, climb at 65 knots; to climb as steeply as possible, climb at 54 knots.

For a short field takeoff, assuming the surface is paved, we want to get off the ground as soon as possible and climb as high as we can for a given distance across the ground in order to clear any obstacles at the end of the runway (trees, buildings, whatever). For takeoff: flaps at 10°; taxi out onto the runway getting as far back as possible and stop; hold the brakes; full throttle and check the engine instruments for a couple seconds; if all is well, let off the brakes; not so much back pressure, but at 54 knots pull back and get the thing off the ground; climb out at 54 knots; once obstacles are cleared, retract flaps and continue normal climb at 65 knots. Sounds easy, but it happens fast.

The short field landing technique is similar to a normal landing, except that you use full flaps (30°) instead of 20°, the approach is a little steeper (to clear any obstacles), the approach speed is 54 knots (to get the steeper approach), you go idle power on the final descent instead of after the roundout, and after touch down you get heavy on the brakes with full back yoke while retracting the flaps. That last combination puts the most pressure possible on the main gear to increase the effectiveness of the brakes. Touch and goes don’t work for short field practice, so we did either stop and goes or full stops and taxied back for takeoff.

My first few laps around were pretty rough. The air wasn’t smooth at all and I kept ending up high on final and touching down long, which ruins the whole purpose of short field landings. I asked Gene if he would demonstrate one so that I could see what it should look like. Much to our surprise, he ended up just as high on final as me, so I guess it wasn’t just me. He did a forward slip to get us down… something I had considered doing on one of mine. At full flaps, idle power and 54 knots, the plane descends pretty quickly. Gene’s landing, he admitted, wasn’t very pretty either, but it helped to watch without having to do.

On my next approach, I pulled back too abruptly on the roundout and climbed too far off the runway for comfort. I promptly added a little power and tried to straighten it out, but I didn’t like how it was going so I decided to scrap it and go around. Gene’s initial reaction was that I didn’t have to do that; I could probably have saved it, but he followed up with a compliment on recognizing the mess and promptly doing something about it.

On my final landing, we stopped in the middle of the runway and chatted for a second. Then he asked if I wanted to fly back to the ramp. I said “Sure!” It’s good practice to slow fly just above the runway. We put 10° of flaps, 50% or so power and eventually got off the ground. After flying a couple feet over the runway all the way to the other end, I let off a little power and we landed and taxied back. It wasn’t very smooth, but Gene said it was fine. I guess I’m still being hard on myself with the smoothness of my landings. Oh, and I can’t count that as one of my landings.

A total of 7 landings in 1.0 hours brings me to 39.9 total. That was harder than I thought it would be. Tomorrow is soft field takeoffs / landings.