I'm a student pilot having trouble with landings, and problems are occurring in the pattern on base and on final; I am either too high or too low. As a result, I feel I have lost confidence.

I feel like I am relying on my instructor to tell me what to do next instead of me flying the plane. How do I improve this situation?

Also, it has been suggested that I stop using the simulator as this is teaching me bad habits.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Hi @Mike, welcome to the site. I feel your pain, but this is not an answerable question as it's very broad, and opinion based. I suggest you edit, describing some of the specific issues you have to focus it down. In any case I'd drop simulator flying and keep on practicing on the real thing. Try not to overthink it and don't give up. Above all - relax! $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    May 23 '16 at 13:19
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Do get off the sim... It's very different flying a real plane. Sims help with practicing instrument procedures... But not much with learning the bits and bolts of flying in primary training. Likely it is messing you up. $\endgroup$
    – Pugz
    May 23 '16 at 13:29
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ You need to focus on sight picture. First make sure your seat is set right before you leave the ground. The cowling is in the same place, take a minute to look out the window and make sure everything is where its supposed to be. Then have your instructor fly a few circuits and pay attention to the sight picture. The angle of the runway, the position of the runway in the window, where the horizon is, etc. Then you try. Just remember the sight picture changes if the runway is narrower/wider or longer/shorter and it takes practice to get right. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    May 23 '16 at 13:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The sim can help you to get better at some things (visual flying is not one of them) after you have learned how to do them for real. Trying to practice your approaches on a sim is almost certainly making it harder for you. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    May 23 '16 at 14:03
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Everyone's landings suck at the 13hour mark. Practice makes <strike>perfect</strike> less embarrassing to those watching. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    May 23 '16 at 14:31

I think one thing that does not get emphasized enough:
Pilots do not land airplanes!
In fact, we try to keep the airplane flying as long as possible! We systematically rob the airplane of energy (energy from engine power, energy from airspeed, energy from altitude) until the plane can no longer fly, and settles gently on the runway.

But even as the plane is landing, the pilot is still trying to coax it back into the air to remove as much energy as possible. A big student mistake is to point the airplane at the runway, and try to force it to land there. That leads to landings too fast, too high, big bounces, porpoising, and sometimes nose-in crashes.

So don't think about "how am I going to land this thing?" Instead think about "How am I going to remove more energy from the equation to lose altitude and airspeed?"

A landing is a series of precise targets you are aiming to hit, each with less energy than the last one (but each one still with enough energy to keep flying and be safe)

Each target consists of Position (horizontal and altitude), airspeed, and descent rate. You hit each of these targets at 3 different points on a square (abeam the numbers, downwind-to-base, and base-to-final) Hitting a target that consists of a position + airspeed + descent rate is not easy! But the more precisely you can hit each target, the easier the next part is.

Although I hope I'm repeating the same instructions you've already heard, for the sake of the Site, let me re-iterate the standard instructions for a C-172.

  1. Be level at TPA (airport + 1000 feet), and at a cruise speed of approximately 100 kts. The runway should be approx 3/4 of the way up your strut.
  2. When you are abeam the numbers, Carb Heat (if applicable), throttle back to approx 1,600 RPM, and pull-back as necessary to maintain altitude (the consequence will be that you slow down).

  3. Watch your speed, altitude and position. Drop flaps 10° when speed allows, and aim to hit a speed of 85 kts, an altitude loss of 250 feet, and have the numbers at 45° behind you, all at the same time.

  4. Turn the corner to base, using approximately 30° of bank angle. Continue to reduce speed (by pulling back) to hit 75 kts, and drop altitude another 250 ft. (you're now 500 ft above the runway). Add Flaps 20 when appropriate.

  5. Turn the corner to final. You can "oval" your turn if you are undershooting the centerline, but do NOT over-bank if you have overshot the centerline.

  6. Aim for the centerline, acquire a PAPI/VASI, keep an eye on your airspeed relative to approach speed (68 kts).

  7. Watch 3 and ONLY 3 things:

    • Airspeed (Slowing towards 68 kts)
    • Centerline (left? right? on target?)
    • Slope (PAPI/VASI? Light configuration).
  8. Keep repeating "Airspeed, Centerline, Slope" out loud, describe if you're too far/too close on each one, and describe how you're going to correct. For example:

    • "Airspeed: 75 kts; too fast; pulling back to slow down"
    • "Centerline: Left of center; coming slightly right"
    • "Slope: 3 red+1 white is too low; adding power to slow descent"
    • (repeat!)
  9. When the runway is made, drop final flaps, engine to idle, and prepare to flare when you're about 10-15 feet, and hopefully right at the numbers.

Remember that your altitudes are 1000, 750, 500, touchdown.
And your airspeeds are 85, 75, 65.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Oh, and for your last part, the best part is that you have to adjust those precise targets based on the wind too! $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    May 23 '16 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks I am going to do this. I have not flown for 5 days its depressing. flying again on Wednesday I will post how it went. Thanks you.... $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    May 28 '16 at 16:24

The problem with simulators is that they do not have a very wide field of view, so it is hard to train your eye using a simulator. If they develop simulators with full VR panoramic vision someday, that will be much more useful. Some walk-in military simulators are like this, but normal students do not have access to these.

When you look down at the runway, it should be at the right angle. When you go onto final that angle is 3-degrees which is a 20:1 distance/height ratio.

Basically the way it works is as you go downwind you look left (or right) and espy the numbers, if they too are low (ie you are high) you keep heading downwind and gradually descending until it looks right. To learn what "looks right" learn all the distances and altitudes at your home airport. If you know the geometry of your home airport you should know EXACTLY where to turn for any given altitude.

It sounds to me like you do not know this. You need to sit down with satellite photos of the field, a ruler, pencil, and calculator and start measuring until you really know all the angles and measurements exactly. Every good pilot does this when they are a student. Once you learn it for one airport your eye will know what is right and can land anywhere.

This is really a homework and serious study problem. Don't just jump in a plane and wing it--that's how bad, sloppy pilots get made. You need to sit down and master it before you even drive to the airport. I was just sitting with a student yesterday and he showed me his notebook. Wow! Looked like engineering drawings. He had every dimension and angle all plotted out on graph paper in incredibly neat writing. He is going to be a really good pilot someday. That is the kind of behavior you need to emulate.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.