The effect of proper landing speed is important when runway lengths and landing distances are critical. The landing speeds specified in the AFM/POH are generally the minimum safe speeds at which the aircraft can be landed. Any attempt to land at below the specified speed may mean that the aircraft may stall, be difficult to control, or develop high rates of descent. On the other hand, an excessive speed at landing may improve the controllability slightly (especially in crosswinds), but causes an undesirable increase in landing distance.
A ten percent excess landing speed causes at least a 21 percent increase in landing distance. The excess speed places a greater working load on the brakes because of the additional kinetic energy to be dissipated. Also, the additional speed causes increased drag and lift in the normal ground attitude, and the increased lift reduces the normal force on the braking surfaces. The deceleration during this range of speed immediately after touchdown may suffer, and it is more probable for a tire to be blown out from braking at this point.
The most critical conditions of landing performance are combinations of high gross weight, high density altitude, and unfavorable wind. These conditions produce the greatest required landing distances and critical levels of energy dissipation required of the brakes. In all cases, it is necessary to make an accurate prediction of minimum landing distance to compare with the available runway. A polished, professional landing procedure is necessary because the landing phase of flight accounts for more pilot-caused aircraft accidents than any other single phase of flight.
In the prediction of minimum landing distance from the AFM/POH data, the following considerations must be given:
- Pressure altitude and temperature—to define the effect of density altitude
- Gross weight—which defines the CAS for landing.
- Wind—a large effect due to wind or wind component along the runway
- Runway slope and condition—relatively small correction for ordinary values of runway slope, but a significant effect of snow, ice, or soft ground
A tail wind of ten knots increases the landing distance by about 21 percent. An increase of landing speed by ten percent increases the landing distance by 20 percent. Hydroplaning makes braking ineffective until a decrease of speed to that determined using Figure 10-17.
For instance, a pilot is downwind for runway 18, and the tower asks if runway 27 could be accepted. There is a light rain and the winds are out of the east at ten knots. The pilot accepts because he or she is approaching the extended centerline of runway 27. The turn is tight and the pilot must descend (dive) to get to runway 27. After becoming aligned with the runway and at 50 feet AGL, the pilot is already 1,000 feet down the 3,500 feet runway. The airspeed is still high by about ten percent (should be at 70 knots and is at about 80 knots). The wind of ten knots is blowing from behind.
First, the airspeed being high by about ten percent (80 knots versus 70 knots), as presented in the performance chapter, results in a 20 percent increase in the landing distance. In performance planning, the pilot determined that at 70 knots the distance would be 1,600 feet. However, now it is increased by 20 percent and the required distance is now 1,920 feet.
The newly revised landing distance of 1,920 feet is also affected by the wind. In looking at Figure 10-18, the affect of the wind is an additional 20 percent for every ten miles per hour (mph) in wind. This is computed not on the original estimate but on the estimate based upon the increased airspeed. Now the landing distance is increased by another 320 feet for a total requirement of 2,240 feet to land the airplane after reaching 50 feet AGL.
That is the original estimate of 1,600 under planned conditions plus the additional 640 feet for excess speed and the tailwind. Given the pilot overshot the threshhold by 1,000 feet, the total length required is 3, 240 on a 3,500 foot runway; 260 feet to spare. But this is in a perfect environment. Most pilots become fearful as the end of the runway is facing them just ahead. A typical pilot reaction is to brake—and brake hard. Because the aircraft does not have antilock braking features like a car, the brakes lock, and the aircraft hydroplanes on the wet surface of the runway until decreasing to a speed of about 54 knots (the square root of the tire pressure (√36) x 9). Braking is ineffective when hydroplaning.
The 260 feet that a pilot might feel is left over has long since evaporated as the aircraft hydroplaned the first 300–500 feet when the brakes locked. This is an example of a true story, but one which only changes from year to year because of new participants and aircraft with different N-numbers.
In this example, the pilot actually made many bad decisions. Bad decisions, when combined, have a synergy greater than the individual errors. Therefore, the corrective actions become larger and larger until correction is almost impossible. Aeronautical decision-making will be discussed more fully in Chapter 17, Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM).