Safety in the Runway Environment

by HPA · May 31, 2012

Back to the Basics, Part I

by Hank Gibson, CSIP, Gold Seal CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI

Some ideas presented below are credited to William Kershner and his book, The Flight Instructor’s Manual (copyright 2006, Aviation Supplies & Academics, Inc.).

Every now and then, no matter what subject is under discussion, it is always good to revisit the basics. The basics are always taught in aviation as a pilot initially starts his flight training. Once he has his private, he may go on to instrument training, where more advanced instrument basics are taught. Approaches are flown with landings becoming an afterthought, since those were “mastered” (relatively speaking) back in private training. Thirty years down the road, he is a seasoned instrument pilot, but his landings are terrible. He may even scare himself. It’s time to go back to the basics.

Cessna 400 TakeoffTakeoffs

Yes, you did read that correctly. I am even going to touch on takeoffs. More specifically, crosswind takeoffs and aborted takeoffs. We’ll start with crosswind takeoffs. There are a few things to keep in mind concerning crosswind takeoffs that are often easily forgotten. First, the airplane should be rotated at a little bit higher speed than normal. The reason the liftoff speed is higher is it allows better directional control to be achieved on liftoff. Lifting off too slow would cause the airplane to not have enough lift, so it would touch back down while drifting. This could cause a drifting, bouncing situation, which is not an ideal situation.

Once the airplane is off the ground, make sure crab the airplane into the wind. Simply point the nose of the airplane into the wind enough so that no lateral movement is noticed, then roll wings level. Don’t forget the right rudder!

A takeoff may be aborted for several reasons (we’ll just be talking about single engine operations in this article). It could be for abnormal RPM on the takeoff roll, an open door, a seatbelt caught in the door (which could sound like an engine problem while the metal buckle is banging against the airframe), or something is on the runway in front of you.

What to do? Well, if you are still on the ground, stay on the ground. Get the power out, get the flaps up to ensure the weight of the airplane is on the wheels and not the wings (be careful you don’t grab the gear handle in a complex airplane), and smoothly apply the brakes. If you hear skidding and squealing from the tires, release a little bit of brake pressure. You don’t want to blow out your tires. If you are off the ground, you have a decision to make. If you believe you have enough runway in front of you to set the plane back down, land the plane (disclaimer: make sure you have enough runway to land and stop before you come to the end of the runway). If there isn’t enough runway, fly the pattern, come back around and land.

Please, please, please, if you are worried there isn’t enough runway, always ere on the side of caution and go fly the pattern. It keeps everyone safer that way.

LandingsLandings at night

There are too many instructors out there who overcomplicate landings for their students. In my earlier instructing days, I was probably one of these, but no more! I am here to simplify landings as much as possible.

The basic theory in its simplest form is to have the airplane touch down at the lowest possible speed consistent with the wind conditions and with the centerline of the airplane parallel to and over the runway centerline. In laymen’s terms, the airplane should be stalling as it touches down while traveling straight down the runway over the centerline. Why? Because we want the airplane to stop flying as it touches down. A stall, by definition, is when the airplane stops flying. You should hear the stall warning horn chirping as your wheels touch down.


What if you level off above the runway and you’re still a little fast? Simple. Look at the end of the runway, using your periphery to gauge when the airplane starts to sink. When it does, add enough back pressure on the yoke to stop it from sinking. When the airplane stops sinking, stop adding back pressure. This allows the speed to bleed off. It also encourages a really nice flare. Take the mindset of, “I don’t want this airplane to land.” That will encourage you to keep the airplane off the ground as long as possible, allowing it to get as slow as possible.

Then, you’ll have yourself a real nice landing you can brag about!

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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