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How Do You Land an RC Plane?

Written by gozerian

They say, taking off is optional but landings are mandatory. The more landings you do the better you’ll become at it, as practice makes perfect. Landing your RC plane is without a doubt the hardest and most nerve-racking part of the entire flight, particularly when you're just learning to fly control airplanes.

That said, it can be mastered with patience and learning to land your rc plane safely is something that we all have to come to grips with. At some point it just clicks and you can land just about anything. I now find that I enjoy landings and I especially enjoy the compliments I receive from my fellow club mates. Let’s face it, watching someone grease it in is just amazing.

Practice is important

If you spend a few weekends practicing your landing technique you’ll be surprised at just how much better you will be at landing.

It is often said that if you don’t get the approach right you’re not going to land right. They are right of course. If you’re trying to correct a poorly executed landing it quickly becomes a nightmare. Landings need not be complicated and when broken down into steps become easier with practice.

Get a feel for the stall speed of your aircraft by climbing to a safe altitude and then slowing the aircraft until it stalls. Take note of what happens; does it drop a wing, drop the nose or does something else happen. When you’re coming in for a landing you’ll want to land as slowly as possible so getting a feel for stall speed is very important.

Simulator

A simulator is an excellent place to practice your landing manoeuvres, in it you need to focus on coordination of all four control inputs. Remember that throttle controls ascent and decent whilst the elevator acts as a brake.

Landing Approach

The approach is important as it sets the aircraft up to land. The procedure is made up of 5 parts; Upwing leg. Crosswind Leg, Downwind Leg, Base Leg, Final Leg.

At some stage during a flight all RC operators will need to land their aircraft. Taking off is optional but landing is mandatory. A good landing will result in the aircraft remaining in one piece and being serviceable. A bad landing will result a lot of extra work and expense to repair the aircraft. All pilots are judged on their ability to land, and it is the one manoeuvre all RC operators must master. Landing is one of the more difficult skills to learn, however landing can be mastered and enjoyed. A good landing approach is fundamental to a successfully landing. You need to be able to put the aircraft where it needs to be in order to perform a good landing

Landing Approach Sequence

Landing approaches are about lining the aircraft up with the runway ready to commence a landing. The following sequence explains what's involved:

  • Fly the circuit concentrating on the aircraft's height and speed.
  • On the downwind leg reduce the throttle of the aircraft and using the elevator to keep the nose of the aircraft level.
  • Perform two 90 degree turns ensuring the last turn finishes on the center line of the runway about 50 to 100 meters short of the runway.
  • Try not to bank any more than 30 to 40 degrees and apply sufficient amount of elevator to keep the aircraft level (ie do not gain or lose height).
  • Use the rudder to tighten the turn without having to bank anymore than 30 to 40 degrees. Try not to go past the centre line of the runway but roll out level on the centre line or just short of it. If needed perform a small correction to get aligned. Use ailerons and rudder (see Figure 25) to control the rate of turn. You will need to practice arriving on or short of the centre line and not overshooting it.
  • With the nose of the aircraft level use the throttle to control decent. Reduce throttle and put the aircraft into a gentle glide.
  • Monitor the speed of the aircraft and if required apply a little throttle but try not to adjust the elevator. You may find a blip or two of the throttle is enough.
  • Once on the centre line of the runway keep the aircraft level, from side to side i.e. wings level, and nose to tail level. Use the ailerons and/or rudder to make small smooth corrections to keep the aircraft on the centreline.
  • The landing approach should be repeated until you can line up with the centre of the runway every time, without going over the centerline.
  • If you find that you have not performed the landing approach properly fly through (do not attempt to land) and have another go. There is no shame in a go around. Take a deep breath and try it again.

Flare and Landing

Once the aircraft is lined up with the runway, and is straight and level (wings level and nose to tail level) at a reasonable height then a landing can be performed using the following sequence:

  • With the aircraft lined up with the centreline of the runway, reduce the throttle of the aircraft and keep the nose of the aircraft level.
  • Use the throttle to control decent. Reduce throttle and put the aircraft into a gentle glide.
  • As the aircraft slows down the wings produce less lift and the aircraft will start to descend.
  • Monitor the speed of the aircraft and if required apply a little throttle but try not to adjust the elevator. You may find a blip or two of the throttle is enough.
  • Once on the centre line of the runway keep the aircraft level, from side to side ie wings level, and nose to tail level. Use the ailerons and/or rudder to make small smooth corrections to keep the aircraft on the centreline.
  • Once your aircraft is just a few inches above the runway reduce throttle and continue to input up elevator trying for as long as possible to bleed off all speed and lift.
  • Flaring is achieved by pulling the nose of the aircraft up slightly and keeping it up, using the elevator. As the aircraft bleeds off speed it will lose lift and eventually settle on the runway, without bouncing.
  • Once on the ground the operator needs to ensure they continue to steer the aircraft along the runway using the rudder.

Tips

  • If the aircraft is descending too quickly apply throttle so the aircraft speeds up. If the aircraft is not descending quickly enough, reduce the amount of throttle. Try not to point the nose of the aircraft down. If you put the nose down you will lose height, however the aircraft will also pick up speed. The elevator controls the pitch of the aircraft ie whether the nose is pointing up, level or down and the throttle controls the rate of decent, by increasing or reducing the amount of lift the wings produce.
  • Use small smooth adjustments to keep the aircraft on the centre line and heading along the centre line of the runway, keeping the wings level and the body of the aircraft level.
  • Control the aircraft's descent such that the aircraft meets at or just past the front edge of the runway at about six to ten feet high.
  • If the aircraft bounced yet you were traveling as slowly as possible your plane may be nose heavy.
  • Spend a few hours watching modellers land taking note of the poorly executed landings. They will demonstrate some of the things we have discussed here.

Key points

The following points will assist in mastering landings:

  • The elevator controls the pitch of the aircraft ie whether the nose is up or down. The throttle controls the rate of descent.
  • Minimal control inputs (get set up correct - wings level and aircraft heading in right direction, small adjustments only).
  • Aircraft should be pointing level, not down or up. Do not get in to the habit of pointing the aircrafts nose down to lose height as you will just gain speed.
  • Practice landing approaches from both ends of the runway. This includes high and low approaches and short and long approach's. Wind direction will change so also tackle cross wind landings when you have begun to feel more confident.
  • Call out "landing" on the downwind leg so that those around you know what is happening. This means people will steer clear and fly around you.
  • Concentrate on height and speed control throughout circuit when preparing to land.
  • Lining up on the centre line - use 30 degrees of bank for final turn which places the aircraft on or very close to the runway centre line.
  • Land under power (even if just above idle). When the prop is spinning air is moving over the air surfaces and therefore the plane remains responsive.
  • Cut throttle on or just before crossing threshold.
  • Practice landing by performing touch and goes. This involves landing where the aircraft's main wheels just touch the runway and then taking off straight away.
  • You must practice landing from both directions. Its fine to gain confidence in one direction but you will need to master both directions.

Learning Curve

You will likely come across some common Issues when you’re leaning the land:

  • The downwind leg is too close - which results in tight turns and overflying the runways centreline. Take your time and go around. You will perform your best landings when you are not stressed trying to correct for a poor approach.
  • The base wind leg is too close - results in tight turns and either too high or too low to land properly
  • Excessive speed prior to or during the landing approach resulting in inability to lose enough speed to land. Remember, keep your nose up and use throttle to control decent and elevator controls airspeed.
  • Inability to approach aligned on the centreline - poor set up for landing. Go around and try again.
  • Approaching too high, too low or too far away - inability to adjust the rate of descent. Remember, Keep your nose up and use throttle to control decent and elevator controls airspeed.
  • Nosing the aircraft down to lose height - aircraft will pick up speed not slow down as it should. Avoid nosing the aircraft down as you will just build speed.
  • Dumping the aircraft on to the runway (not flaring). This creates an expensive repair bill so don’t be afraid to go around. Always land with enough battery that you could go around if you needed to. The reason you flare is to bleed off as much speed as possible.
  • Not being able to land properly from both directions.
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