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Playing flight simulator in a C172 (since we don't have any in my local schools) and the 'co-pilot' I fly with (only know him online) insists on calling out "50...40..30..RETARD, RETARD".

I know airbus does this automatically, but it annoys me and puts me off, but he argues that we still need to do it to remember to reduce throttle and flare.

Is he right? Would this be acceptable in a real lesson?

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    $\begingroup$ How does he count down since a C172 doesn't have a radio altimeter? Not to mention you should be aware a C172 and an Airbus flare differently and at different heights. (I don't know if that constitutes an answer or a request for clarification.) Also please make sure the title is more specific and not clickbaity. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Aug 7 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you have the power on at all as you approach 20' altitude in a Cessna 172? $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Aug 7 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ You're kinda doing it wrong if you're flying a C-172 like an airliner. If your buddy really wants to do that stuff, why not do an Airbus sim? $\endgroup$ – John K Aug 7 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Cloud If you want to have a flying partner for your simulator flying, then find someone who shares your goals. There's nothing wrong in treating a flight simulator as a game, and pushing it to the limit (or beyond). However, doing so is generally not conducive to developing good piloting skills. (One flight simulator tutorial I found at one point put it well in saying something like: decide up front for each flight if you want to fool around, or if you want to fly seriously, but do not do both at the same time.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 7 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ A lower glide slope angle would have a little power in for a 172. It also depended on how they set the idle RPMs at the school. Even if you cut the throttle completely, a few extra RPMs would affect the "glide". But RPMs really could be fine tuned to control aiming point power on, flaps you only have 0, 10, 20, 30. (Learning to slip helped here). But landing without throttle was great practice for "emergency engine out". At 60 - 65 knots right on target, I would not do anything on short final but round correctly before pulling power completely out. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Aug 7 at 23:37
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It is not common to call out the height above ground level when landing in a small aircraft. The main reason for this is that there simply is no way to measure it:

  • A radio altimeter, which could directly measure the height, is not typically installed on a small aircraft.
  • A pressure altimeter is not accurate enough. With the correct QNH reference pressure and known airfield elevation (or you directly set QFE) one could read the height off the altimeter, but just one hPa difference (the range between two QNH values) corresponds to about 8m (26ft) height (this reduces to about 9ft when using inHg instead of hPa). And this is before taking instrument errors or any time delay into account.

The RETARD callout in particular is only used on Airbus aircraft because the autothrottle works differently than in other aircraft:

  • A more conventional aircraft (like any Boeing) uses a servo motor to move the thrust levers when autothrottle is engaged. These will be used to automatically retard the thrust levers when landing, so no pilot input is necessary (see this answer for more details).
  • On an Airbus, the physical thrust levers do not move with A/THR engaged. They typically remain in the CLB (climb) detent during the flight. When landing, the pilots have to manually retard the thrust levers to the IDLE detent. The callout exists to remind the pilot flying of this (see this question for more details).

When landing a Cessna 172 you should already have one hand on the throttle, so there is no need for a reminder. Additionally (as noted by ymb1 in the comments), reducing throttle at 20ft height is probably not what you want to do in a C172.

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    $\begingroup$ I would disagree a bit. For me, the main reason not to call out stuff in a small plane is that I'm usually the only one there, and I've not gotten to the point of talking to myself that much :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 7 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf In fairness, OP describes a situation in which they are two persons in a simulated airplane. So it's probably more similar to what it would be flying either two pilots together, or one student pilot and one instructor. Especially in the latter case, saying what you're doing can have significant benefit even if there's no specific need for any given callout. (One time for me, at one point when on final I decided to go around, but my instructor misinterpreted that as me pushing the throttle in by mistake and took action to correct that perceived mistake. It worked out, but bummed me.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 8 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ (That's not to say I disagree with the point @jamesqf is making; just that I can see situations, such as that described by OP in this case, where some callouts -- not necessarily specific heights -- can be beneficial.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 8 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ @a CVn: Sure, and if I'm taking a check ride, or have an interested passenger, I often tell them what I'm doing. But that's considerably different from the situation in an airliner, where you have two pilots who need to communicate. (Or at least that's my understanding. I don't happen to have an Airbus handy to practice on :-() So the OP's friend is doing something entirely inappropriate for a 172, both because it's not generally going to be needed, and because what he's calling out is not applicable to landing a 172. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 8 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ Calling out stuff to yourself can be a useful safety check and helpful in learning; see Japan's practice of Point and Call for railway operations, and some have applied it to aviation. See also here. Even if you're the only one there, talking to yourself can cue you to to focus on checking something more conscientiously. $\endgroup$ – Zach Lipton Aug 8 at 23:15
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he argues that we still need to do it to remember to reduce throttle and flare. Is he right? Would this be acceptable in a real lesson?

If you (for any value of "you") need a reminder for that, then you shouldn't be flying. Seriously. I suppose an instructor could accept needing to call it out or even do it themselves (while the student is following along) the first few times, but reducing power and initiating the flare at the correct point would be something a student would be expected to get the hang of fairly quickly. It doesn't need to be perfect early on, but it should be about right.

Look at it this way. In a small piston-engine airplane, the typical procedure for getting down on the ground after the turn to final is to establish yourself on or maintain an established proper glidepath while maintaining proper lateral position, correcting for wind if necessary; get to a low altitude roughly above but not before the threshold of the runway, with a moderate sink rate; and once you pass the threshold of the runway, flare to reduce to landing speed and arrest the descent, with the aim of touching down at landing speed, with basically zero vertical speed and aligned with the runway.

There's a million variations to this depending on the specifics of the airplane and the runway, and an instructor would help you work out the quirks of handling the particular model you're flying, but that's the gist of it.

To reduce power and flare are absolute cornerstones to getting down on the ground. It's not something that should need a reminder from a second person. It's not like there's a whole lot else going on in the cockpit at the time. (By the time you turn base, you should basically be set up for a landing.)

If you set the wheels on the ground with the engine power in, then at the very least you're going to use up more runway than you need to get stopped. Any good instructor would work with you to break that habit, because sooner or later you're going to be doing short-field landings, or even short-field stop-and-gos. In small airplanes, it's perfectly sufficient, and often encouraged, to fly a significant portion of the landing at a glide. (One instructor I've flown with likes to fly the whole base and final legs at glide, with the engine at idle, and to only push in a little throttle to correct if you end up low as a result.)

A more useful callout in a small airplane would probably be whether you're climbing above or sinking through a proper glidepath, as defined by touchdown on a desired point of the runway with no further glidepath adjustments. (I'm assuming here that your approach speed is well above stall speed and not higher than marginally below a limit speed, which may or may not be the case depending on the aircraft, its load, and configuration at the time; if your approach speed is close to stall speed or close to a limit speed, that's another thing to keep a very close eye on.) However, that's your <> responsibility as pilot, and likely also pilot in command, to judge correctly! Relying on another person in the airplane to make that judgement means you're losing valuable moments before correcting the error, even if that person reaches the same conclusion that you would at the same time you do, because that other person needs to (1) recognize the situation, (2) realize you're not correcting, (3) articulate the need to correct the situation, and (4) wait for you to take corrective action. This should rather be (1) recognize the situation, and (2) take corrective action.


More generally, if you (again for any value of "you") want to simulate flying an Airbus, then simulate flying an Airbus. Don't simulate flying a small single-engine piston propeller plane and pretend it's a commercial jetliner. If your simulator of choice doesn't offer Airbus models and you want to simulate flying an Airbus, get one that does offer Airbus models. (FlightGear is free and open source, hardly horrible, comes precompiled for Windows 7 and newer, and has a large selection of aircraft including the A300, A320 family, A340-600 and A380. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the modelling, though.)

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You are asking: "Should I keep flying with something that annoys me and puts me off"?

Answer: No

I am guessing that you are aiming for realism: In reality, if this annoying something were part of the C172 checklist, then you should not fly the airplane again until you had found a way to overcome your annoyance. If it weren't part of the standard then it shouldn't be included in your landing procedure in the first place.

Also, in reality, you would not allow your friend's argumentation to influence your safety (concentrating on irrelevant callouts such as RETARD takes away from your total capacity to handle the landing or an emergency).

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I guess it depends whether or not you feel this information is at all helpful.

The best thing for both of you would be to take a lesson in a Cessna 172. It is extremely important that ubiquitous knowledge of flight can get you in a lot of trouble if you are not familiar with the type of aircraft you are flying.

Specifically and to the point, a light GA aircraft is not landed by rote, or by a standard glide angle. What you want more than anything else is a standardized APPROACH SPEED for safety, and trim your plane as early as possible (like as soon as you turn to base leg). Your co- pilot can keep an eye on the airspeed indicator.

Rounding out over the runway will depend a lot on your glide angle, which will depend on your flaps setting. It will be a bit steeper at flaps 30 than clean, so you round a little earlier, with the goal of leveling around 10-15 feet AGL. Then, cut power (if any is in) and gently flare to land as speed bleeds off.

If you have power in, removing it before rounding could cause the plane to sink and pancake into the runway. Round first (which will start to slow you down), power off, flare and land.

Keep in mind your Cessna can glide in all the way from downwind (at the same approach speed), with more of a chance to make the runway in the event of an engine failure. This is another difference from multiengined you may wish to consider.

It might be more appropriate to call out "ROUND", or "UP, UP" (with elevator).

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  • $\begingroup$ I would honestly like the person who downvoted this answer to step forward and explain why. Cutting power to a single prop GA changes airflow over the control surfaces. Rounding an aircraft requires a pitch change. The dangers of doing this simultaneously are obvious. This answer is based on over 40 lessons with an instructor in a Cessna 172. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Aug 9 at 9:33
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore, cutting the power will increase the rate of descent just at the time it needs to be decreased to round out. This simply is not the same technique as landing a jet powered 350 ton aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Aug 9 at 19:20

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