DON’T BREAK THE NOSEWHEEL, it can be a lonely expensive walk back to the clubhouse!
If you look through the CAA AIIB accident bulletins you will notice that the most common type of damage to light aircraft is to the nosewheel and nosewheel leg assembly. Nosewheel oleo legs have nothing like the same strength as their main leg assembly counterparts, they are designed to steer the aircraft on the ground, not to be smashed into the tarmac. Consequently if you do arrive heavily, nosewheel first, there is every chance you may be walking back to the clubhouse and even worse maybe facing a big bill (have you asked your club if you damage the aircraft – who pays?)
If you look more carefully at the details of light aircraft landing accidents you will see almost all without exception follow a very similar ERROR CHAIN format something like this:
Low hour pilot or student rounds out too high and bounces heavily, on the second or third bounce the nose wheel assembly collapses or detaches. Sometimes the accident error chain starts with the pilot failing to round out at all and arriving heavily on all three wheels and bouncing back into the air but again it’s the second or third bounce that breaks the nosewheel. Clearly in all these accidents:
THE PILOT FAILED TO RECOGNISE THE PROBLEM AND FLY THE AIRCRAFT TO A SAFE PLACE.
Now for whatever the reason, the bounce is the big clue and your possible last chance to STOP THE ERROR CHAIN.
If the aircraft is still together and you can’t see daylight through the fuselage it’s time to FLY THE AIRCRAFT TO A SAFE PLACE, this action is called, in this incidence, A GO AROUND.
What is actually happening when you bounce or make a large balloon and I am talking large, not a small skip or bounce which we all do from time to time, is that the speed is washing off and you are getting closer and closer to the stalling angle of the wing. Guess where the one place in the whole world is where you do not want to investigate the stall characteristics of your aircraft?. I think you know and you don’t want a ringside seat do you because believe me this is one gig to definitely miss playing a big part in!
As you probably remember something very strange happens at the stalling angle, the nose pitches down, even if you pull back on the column or stick, this pitch down, together with a loss of control and increased rate of descent, means that if you do not recover IMMEDIATELY you are going to get star billing in one of those AIIB bulletins.
So after the first big balloon or bounce your first consideration must be a GO AROUND:
OK, so let’s say you got it wrong, it wasn’t that a big a bounce or balloon but you went around anyway, what did you lose? In fact you lost nothing but you gained some valuable handling experience as well as some decision making skills. Contrast that with making the wrong decision of just trying to stick with it and hoping the aircraft may make it safely onto the runway eventually, I would say the choice of safe action was a no-brainer, wouldn’t you?
There is far too much empathize amongst pilots on smooth landings and I am sure you have heard that old joke,’ any landing you can walk away from is a good one’. It’s not true, any landing that does not require a technical log entry is good enough but every go around must be excellent, well executed and early!
Amazingly a lot of schools and instructors pay scant attention to GO-AROUNDS especially before first solo. Going around instinctively without any effort is much more important than being able to land well and needs to be prioritized. An instructor who sends any student, at any stage, solo without that student being able to perform consistent safe go arounds from a bounce or balloon is not doing his job properly and in my book is irresponsible.
REMEMBER IF IN DOUBT, THERE IS NO DOUBT GO-AROUND.
It takes a pilot to fly a go around but a commander to initiate one
TAKE CONTROL – GO AROUND
See GO-AROUNDS for more tips
As Captain Jon originally August 2005 re-edited August 2011