“My worst landing ever was the one I never actually made”

“My worst landing ever was the one I never actually made”

The worst landing I ever completed was the one I never actually made

Fortunately, no damage was done – the only thing that really took a hit was my ego. The simple fact is that, back in 1978, many years ago, I ‘arrived‘ in a passenger jet well before I even thought I needed to commence the landing flare manoeuvre.

This is the first article in a planned occasional series, sharing the most memorable and invaluable experiences – and not only from the career of Captain David Jacobson, creator and developer of the Jacobson Flare: We plan also to feature other highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, only too willing to share their collective aviation experience with you, in the interests of improving flight safety. The invaluable lessons that we learned are just as valid today.

I was the (8-year-reasonably-experienced) First Officer (co-pilot) of a B727-200, one of the most forgiving airplanes to land (lots of ‘ground cushioning effect’). Yet, in perfect conditions on a cold, calm, moonlight night with unrestricted visibility, no rush and a completely stabilised approach, a visual illusion of our height above the runway caused me to not even commence the flare before the jet planted itself firmly on the runway surface. Firmly enough that it didn’t even skip or bounce.

Let’s backtrack a bit: On a cold but clear evening in June 1978, our flight plan originated from our base, Melbourne (Victoria YMML) to Launceston (Tasmania YMLT) and on to overnight in Hobart YMHB. The 55 minute first night sector was uneventful and flown by the captain. On the brief 25 minute turn around, he visited ATC/MET to review any changes; the flight engineer performed another walk-around inspection and I reset the flight deck and nav data (INS and radio aids, back then) for the short 15 minute flight to Hobart.

Our through passengers remained on board: one, easily recognisable, was the legendary Australian Rules football former champion player, captain and coach, Ron Barassi. We had a brief chat and he commented “a nice clear night to go flying?.” I concurred. He then enquired who had landed the aircraft, just then? I answered, “the captain.” “So”, he replied, “it’s your leg to Hobart, I presume?” I replied in the affirmative and that was the end of the brief conversation, as we had to get on with the departure. I didn’t feel under any added pressure but, perhaps, you can start to see a set-up coming?

The 158 nm flight down to Hobart went well; we climbed to FL 130 and back down again, for a night visual right-hand circuit around to runway 30 (into the North West: 300ºM), ideal for a first officer: I was seated as usual in the RH seat. It was a beautiful moonlit night, totally calm and just 5ºC: perfect conditions and beautiful reflections on the waters around Hobart Airport, as we circled to join final approach at about 4nm and 1200-1300ft AGL. The approach sequence went smoothly: flaps, reducing airspeed, landing gear, further flap, further airspeed reduction and so on. Shortly after I stabilised on the extended runway centre line, 3º glidepath (aided by a T-shaped visual approach slope indicator system of lights, installed non both sides of the runway) and our final approach speed, we completed the landing checklist. We were cleared to land and it felt like the 727 was on ‘rails’, as we approached the runway threshold.  It was a beautifully stable aeroplane to fly.

The next thing: Bang! We has ‘arrived’, firmly on the runway. As outlined earlier, somehow, on a night with unrestricted visibility, no rush and a completely stabilised approach, a visual illusion of our height above the runway caused me to not even commence the flare before the jet planted itself firmly on the runway surface. Firmly enough that it didn’t even skip or bounce.

Like me, both the Captain and Flight Engineer were also lulled into inaction … not even the normally-expected sharp intake of breath from either, just before we ‘arrived’; the illusion fooled them, also. There was much embarrassment all round, especially when (after clearing the runway), our Purser enquired, “Which one of you aces is responsible for the 6-rows of rubber jungle back here?”  Of course, she was referring to a collection of dropped oxygen mask panels.

Out of sheer embarrassment, I made sure I didn’t pass through the terminal before all our passengers had claimed their bags and departed; and there was no way I was going to let the famous Ron Barassi have a free laugh at me; after all, he knew that I was the pilot flying that sector. Later, at the crew hotel, it cost me a few rounds of drinks for my colleagues and cabin crew, in justifiable reparation!

Next morning, when we alighted from our crew transport and entered the terminal to flight plan and prepare for our single return flight to Melbourne, Ron Barassi spotted me and moved to intercept. Apparently, he’d been a guest speaker at a sportsman’s dinner and was returning on our flight, this following morning. He said, “Hey, what happened last night? I knew you were flying the jet and it was a really comfortable flight down here. In the circuit, I glanced out my RH cabin window, marveled at the reflection of all the lights on the water and then went back into my book again. Next thing, bloody bang! What happened???”

I enquired, “Have you ever done any flying, Mr Barassi?” He replied, “No”. “Then”, I offered, “let me put this into football terminology: Let’s call it ‘one off the side of the boot’!

So, the worst landing I ever completed was the one I never actually made.

The problem

That embarassing experience sure made me think about how we continue to land airplanes by guesswork and trial-and-error techniques that hark back 100 years to the end of WW1. The ‘conventional wisdom’ seemed questionable even when I was learning how to land a plane as a 17-year-old student pilot. Even at that very early stage, I had had an inspiration for a simple solution … from the RAF 617 Sqn ‘Dambusters’ operation, back in 1943. Now that solution was screaming at me.

Of all manoeuvres flown in fixed-wing airplanes, the landing flare remains an enigma to most pilots. It  should be the most precise flight manoeuvre that pilots are required to master. It’s critical to the safe and satisfactory conclusion of every flight. But historically, it has attracted little serious thought and attention.

The original pilots were self-taught. Their haphazard trial-and-error practices gradually blossomed into a loose collection of landing myths and methods that ultimately came to be regarded as gospel. Surprisingly, these have remained for the most part unchallenged by generations of flight instructors.

The best explanation for this may be the law of primacy in education: people tend to believe implicitly what they are first taught, creating unshakeable views about any given subject – especially on how to land a plane.

In accepting that ‘this is how it’s done’ and passing that baton on, pilots using conventional flare practices have:

  • Used educated guesswork and the repetition of trial-and-error methods to solve only the immediate problem – what about the next airfield, or a future airplane endorsement? And the next?
  • Prolonged unnecessary stress for students, instructors, passengers and airplanes;
  • Accepted the lack of consistency and predictability;
  • Wasted valuable training time and expensive resources trying to teach landing judgment;
  • Had no logical and constructive means to critique and troubleshoot the landing flare manoeuvre;
  • Suffered far too many landing accidents and incidents – worldwide statistics in this category have remained unacceptable for decades.


The solution

Conventional training practices have assumed that manual landings are non-quantifiable. This is no longer the case. Since 1987, the Jacobson Flare has enabled precise comprehension and command of a manoeuvre historically regarded as an ‘art’.

This technique discusses the development of a practical and tolerant method for establishing a universal and consistent landing flare that does not rely solely on a pilot’s peripheral perception of vertical height. Simple triangulation principles are applied to determine a visual fix for the commencement of the flare.

The key Jacobson Flare advantages are:

  1. It fully defines the entire visual landing manoeuvre;
  2. It enhances landing competence and confidence for pilots – at any level;
  3. Most of the variable factors affecting judgement are eliminated (as many variables actually self-correct);
  4. A visual fix eliminates the unreliable guessing of flare height;
  5. This longitudinal fix is 400-times more tolerant of errors;
  6. The increased tolerance enables its use on gravel and grass airstrips as well;
  7. It is universal. It works on all fixed-wing airplanes that flare;
  8. It is quantifiable from final approach to touchdown (a world first);
  9. It offers standardised and measurable levels of competencies;
  10. It simplifies ALL pilot training for students and instructors;
  11. It significantly reduces total training time and costs;
  12. It can be applied throughout a pilot’s entire career;
  13. It enables better consistency for ALL pilots at all levels;
  14. Runway occupancy times are substantially reduced. This is especially beneficial at busy airports;
  15. Wear and tear on wheels, tyres, brakes and runways are reduced;
  16. Flight safety is greatly enhanced through reduced damage and loss, due to fewer landing accidents;
  17. No device or modification is required, so there are no additional costs;
  18. It is perfectly compatible with modern Head-up Guidance Systems;
  19. Troubleshooting is simple and effective for any landing situation;
  20. Finally, pilots have a clear, simple and accessible explanation.


Wishing you many safe landings


Captain David M Jacobson FRAeS MAP


Would you care to experience that unsurpassed sense of accomplishment, derived from executing consistently beautiful landings, more often?

For starters, Download the FREE Jacobson Flare LITE, our no fuss/no frills introduction. Here we demonstrate, step by step, the application of the Jacobson Flare on a typical grass airstrip at Porepunkah, YPOK.


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Then download the COMPLETE Jacobson Flare app – for iOS. You’re already possibly paying $300+/hour to hire an aeroplane: You’ll recover the cost of the app, in just ONE LESS-NEEDED CIRCUIT. Moreover, you’ll have an invaluable reference tool, throughout your entire life in aviation.

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David Jacobson