Those dang centerlines: pilot proficiency one landing at a time

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landing on centerline

Those dang centerlines: pilot proficiency one landing at a time
One of the things that I have to constantly remind myself to do is stay on centerline during landing (and takeoff). Seems like a simple thing. In fact, in my vocation its a requirement, especially on checkrides.

From my training days, my old primary instructor, Larry, would make me fly down the runway low (10′-15′), wing down into the wind, and opposite rudder to keep it pointed down the centerline – an excellent way to get the hang of the control inputs involved (I don’t recommend this for a student pilot unless accompanied by an IP).

Larry would also make me slip all the way down final on a crosswind landing, again to reinforce the control forces necessary for the flare. Once I had the hang of it, I could crab final approach and then kick it into a slip at the last-minute. With any crosswind at all, I had to land on the upwind wheel, Bob Hoover style, which I loved!

So without Larry in there yelling at me about being on centerline, why do I allow myself the guilty pleasure of not being perfectly in the middle of the pavement? I’ll call it laziness; there’s plenty of runway, why do I need to be glued to that white stripe anyway?

high and hot landing

One reason would be some day when I need to be accurate in the placement of the aircraft, like a small runway or God-forbid, an off airport landing. I need to be able to do this on command.

The other reason is that it will keep your skills sharp, particularly in heavy crosswinds. It’s just good airmanship.

In a previous article I talked about doing touch and goes as an excellent way to maintain proficiency, this fits right into that concept. Remember the famous Vince Lombardi quote, “practice doesn’t make perfect”, “perfect practice makes perfect.”

landing in the touchdown zone

If you are a taildragger pilot, better have this skill down pat.

crosswind landings

Also grass runways can be a bit challenging for me in crosswinds because it’s not always easy to detect the drift without all the markings (edge and centerline)

It takes some finesse to be sure. Not only are you laser-focused on getting that greaser, but now you have to do it on the end of the runway and down the middle – ugh.

Pitch and power are intertwined to get the airplane docked in an appropriate manner and so that the airframe can be re-used. Couple that will all this lateral carrying-on that must occur, which mean rudder to keep the longitudinal axis down the center of the runway and aileron to put you equal distant between those runway lights.

Thinking about all that is going on at this single juncture where pavement meets rubber, there’s ample opportunity to be a Hero or a Zero – your mileage may vary.

Make this your goal for every flight and you will see an improvement in your confidence, if not your skills. Maybe even execute a go-around anytime you will be landing off centerline to also provide practice for that much-needed-skill.

Landing on the centerline is not just the proper way to re-attach yourself to terra firma, it also confirms your intention to be the best pilot you can be. Plus you can impress your friends, both flying and non-flying.

by Brent Owens

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