The Story of The Jacobson Flare
While the first publication occurred in 1987, the story of the ‘Jacobson Flare’ goes back much further, to early 1965. I trained at Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia with Civil Flying School and soloed at seventeen years of age at the typically average total of about 10 hours. Even then I was dismayed with the widespread acceptance of ‘trial and error’ practices that trace back to the classic ‘circuits and bumps’, developed haphazardly through to the end of World War I in 1918 and recycled ever since.
We’ve all been told over the years, by instructors and training manuals, WHAT to do to successfully land an airplane; but the HOW has been a bit more elusive. Initially, I was taught to pitch the airplane to control airspeed and then use power to control the rate of descent. It made no sense to me, to use the secondary effects of controls to fly the approach – for most pilots, the most precise manoeuvre they are required to perform.
Have you ever watched the movie ‘The Dam Busters’? I first saw it with my father upon its release in 1956, and the use of simple triangulation to solve the problems of low flying at 60ft over water at night, together with a Y-shaped bombsight, captured the imagination of this then nine-year-old.
In 1965, at 18, this film became my inspiration. By then, thankfully, I had been taught how to aim my eyes at an aim point by pitching the airplane with the elevators, and controlling airspeed with power (as taught by the airlines, defence forces and the more enlightened flying schools). Then it clicked; my eye path to the aim point was a position line. A second position line, such as one over the nose of the airplane to a point on the runway centreline, short of the aim point, would surely provide a visual fix for the flare point, rather than relying on an educated guess of flare height. I didn’t have much flight experience back then, certainly not enough to dream that my idea might actually work, let alone be universally adaptable to almost any airplane.
My career followed the typical course through General Aviation as a flight instructor. In 1970 I was accepted by Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) to train as a F27 First Officer, and then flew the DC9-30 and the B727-100/200 before achieving command on the F27 Fokker Friendship in 1982.
1983 found me instructing again, on weekends, with the RAAF Point Cook Flying Club, Victoria. It was an opportunity to put something back, and to re-discover my love of flying training in a special and historic environment. By 1986 I was a DC9 Training Captain, finding that my landing technique on the DC9-31 was much the same as on a variety of light airplanes at Point Cook, although obviously commencing at different flare heights. One day, while waiting for the rain to lift, a couple of RAAF instructors, a private pilot, student pilot and I were gathered around a white-board with steaming mugs of coffee, discussing landings. The 1965 flare-fix inspiration from “The Dam Busters” was re-kindled that day.
For the next 2 years I gave myself a harder time than anyone has done since. I couldn’t believe that no one else seemed to have thought of it. However, many industry experts were very encouraging, and insisted I should publish my findings. Apart from the “The Dam Busters”, I had also been a young fan of “The story of Davy Crockett” and I recalled Walt Disney, on television, suggesting that Crockett’s motto had been “Be sure you’re right and then go ahead.” So I wrote and presented the first paper, ‘Where to Flare?’ for the 1987 Australian Aviation Symposium, Canberra ACT.
Triangles have had three sides for a very long time and we’d only ever used two of them. Moreover, apart from trying to judge the height of an invisible ‘opposite’ side of the triangle which, of course, varies for every type of airplane, every error occurring on this vertical side compounds about 20 times down the runway. Landing accuracy and runway occupancy times suffer as a direct result.
In comparison, the ‘adjacent’ side (on the runway centreline) is visible, and any errors occurring here are reduced to 1/20th in vertical terms. Flare point predictability, consistency, transportability (to other airplanes) and safety are only some of the benefits. It is tolerant of errors and actually self-compensates for runway slope, path angle and flap settings. Runway width is no longer a consideration, because the flare fix occurs longitudinally and the height illusions may therefore be discounted. It also diminishes ‘lack of recency’ issues. It defines a virtual eye path to touchdown.
The name came about because one cannot patent a training technique, or a formula. (A chef may copyright a cookbook, but he or she cannot patent a cake recipe.) So I called it ‘The Jacobson Flare’, and this name and the JF logo are registered trademarks.
Over the years the most common statement made to me by other pilots is “it’s quantified what we’ve all probably been trying to do.” I agree.
Some people believe that I developed a mathematically based theory that I have attempted to prove in practice. The truth is actually the converse: I observed landings and then I explained. The mathematics are necessary to validate the technique, and to produce a couple of simple formulas to make ‘The Jacobson Flare’ predictable and useable on our ‘next’ airplane. I haven’t invented anything; I’ve just made a couple of connections. The early Nose-in Guidance Systems (with a centreline indicator plus a separate stop indicator to the left) use the same kind of triangulation in a different plane.
I’ve used it for my own conversions from the DC-9 to the B737-300, -400 and -800 and on sailplanes at Mt Beauty Gliding Club; for all 50 of my DC-9 and B737 trainees’ conversions, and for every landing I’ve made on every type flown since 1985. Is every landing perfect? No, because we’re all human. The technique works consistently well, but if we’re not alert to the guidance cues, then we shouldn’t expect a perfect result, any more than would be the case if we didn’t follow the guidance cues of the Head-up Guidance System fitted to the B737-800. However, landing consistency is greatly improved and troubleshooting is very much simplified. As a matter of interest, the Head-up Guidance Systems (HGS) are totally compatible with ‘The Jacobson Flare’.
For too long, the landing has been regarded as an ‘art’. I prefer to think of it as a skill. Ask your friends (or any pilot) how they land. I suggest that you will get responses like the following clichés: “darned if I know”, or “I just close my eyes and hope for the best” or “you just get the hang of it”. It is attitudes like these that may eventually see the landing manoeuvre taken away from professional pilots as a normal procedure, because the results are too inconsistent.
Industry acceptance has been steady. Since 1988, many Qantas cadets at Parafield in South Australia and more recently at Moorabbin, Victoria, have learned to land using ‘The Jacobson Flare’ and they can easily apply the same principles to their ‘big’ airplane. The Aviation Safety Foundation Australia awarded a Certificate of Air Safety in 1998 and it has been featured in an increasing number of magazines including Flight International, Australian Flying, Flight Safety Australia and The Longreach Flyer. A number of flying schools now use it as one of their most effective training tools.
2008 was a significant year for ‘The Jacobson Flare’. November marked the 21st anniversary of its first presentation in Canberra at the 1987 Australian Aviation Symposium, co-sponsored by the then Institution of Engineers, Australia (now Engineers Australia) and the Royal Aeronautical Society, along with an article published in the DoT (now CASA) Aviation Safety Digest (ASD 134 Spring 1987).
A long-overdue website www.jacobsonflare.com was commissioned in 2008 and the Jacobson Flare received a great honour at that time: I was both humbled and very proud that the Chief Pilot and his deputy approved a link from the Qantas Flight Operations website to www.jacobsonflare.com, for reference by the company’s pilots. This represented a major step forward in terms of the acceptance of ‘The Jacobson Flare’ by the Company as a valid and valuable training tool, and I thank these gentlemen sincerely for their support, given that The Jacobson Flare was not then and is still not yet Qantas policy. I have also appreciated the honest and supportive attitudes of my fellow pilots.
The website is now the gateway to a key resource, for pilots at all levels. My contact details are included and I am always available to clarify any point of discussion. Feedback is always appreciated.
In 2012, I met Mr Jamie Durrant, of Benalla, Victoria, Australia and a whole new chapter began as we embarked on a project to produce the Jacobson Flare app for iPad. This collaboration with Jamie Durrant, producer of Essentials Magazine, revised and redeveloped the entire Jacobson Flare presentation, including the website, www.jacobsonflare.com. A new company, the Jacobson Flare Pty Ltd, was established and work commenced to produce the Jacobson Flare App for iPad – available on the App Store, in addition to Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In pages.
2014 saw the launch of the Jacobson Flare App for iPad. This exciting new app is the equivalent of a 350-page interactive book, including six videos and five on-board calculators; it was listed immediately by Apple on their ‘Best New Apps’ list. Met with immediate success, the app has now been taken up by pilots in 36 countries, to date, winning great respect for its content and Jamie’s fine design, functionality and presentation.
In January 2015, The Jacobson Flare Pty Ltd was short-listed as a finalist for the prestigious Innovation Awards of Aerospace Australia for Avalon 2015.
June 2015 saw the next exciting step forward: a collaboration was announced, linking the Jacobson Flare with ‘WINGMATE‘ – best described a a flight data recorder for light aircraft – and the brainchild of Peter Wezenbeek, air race tactician to the increasingly successful Australian Red Bull Air Race pilot, former RAAF FA-18 ‘Top Gun’, Matt Hall. Peter was formerly the Renault F1 Race Team Control Systems Engineer and assisted Fernando Alonzo’s team to two World Championships.
Now, these two powerful tools combine the unique JACOBSON FLARE landing parameters with the leading-edge technology of WINGMATE, to provide incomparable evidence-based feedback on approach and landing accuracy. This will greatly enrich WINGMATE’s Landing Report of recorded flights, and endow pilots and operators in any branch of aviation with finite results, to review and refine levels of competency, which are now increasingly required by aviation authorities.
1 August 2015 saw the publishing of the first Jacobson Flare podcast, on Jason Miller’s ‘Finer Points of Flying’ series.
‘Former Qantas Airlines Captain David Jacobson has developed a technique for flaring an airplane that is scientific, practical and can be applied to any airplane you fly from an A380 to a Cessna 172.’
On 23 June 2015, David was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society – a highly prestigious recognition from the worlds leading aviation-oriented learned society . *
‘Fellowship is the highest grade attainable and is only bestowed upon those who meet the requirements for Member and who can also demonstrate that they have achieved one of the following in the profession of aeronautics or aerospace:
- Have made outstanding contributions;
- Have attained a position of high responsibility in an influential role; or
- Have had long experience of high quality’
This is undoubtedly the greatest honour David has achieved. He was presented with his FRAeS diploma in Melbourne on 7 October 2015, just ahead of a very well-received presentation of the Jacobson Flare to the RAeS.
Captain David Jacobson FRAeS MAP
QF B737 MEL (Ret’d)