“The worst landing that I ever performed was the one I never actually made” … 6 July 2018
Fortunately, no damage was done – the only thing that really took a hit was my ego. The simple fact is that many years ago, I touched down in a passenger jet before I thought I needed to commence the landing flare manoeuvre.
I was the (reasonably experienced) First Officer (co-pilot) of a B727-100, one of the most forgiving airplanes to land. 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.
Like me, both the Captain and Flight Engineer were also lulled into inaction … not even a sharp intake of breath from either, just before we ‘arrived’. 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 it cost me a few rounds of drinks in reparation for my colleagues!
That 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 andmethods 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.
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 (that have been available to the industry since 1987) are:
- It fully defines the entire visual landing manoeuvre;
- It enhances landing competence … and confidence;
- Most of the variable factors affecting judgement are eliminated (as many variables self-correct);
- A visual fix eliminates the guessing of flare height;
- This fix is 400-times more tolerant of errors;
- The increased tolerance enables its use on gravel and grass stripe as well;
- It is universal. It works on all fixed-wing airplanes that flare;
- It is quantifiable from landing approach to touchdown (a world first);
- It offers standardisedand measurable levels of competency;
- It simplifies ALL pilot training for students and instructors;
- It significantly reduces total training time and costs;
- It can be applied throughout a pilot’s entire career;
- It enables better consistency for ALL pilots at all levels;
- Runway occupancy times are reduced. This is especially handy at busy airports;
- Wear and tear on wheels, tyres, brakes and runways are reduced;
- Flight safety is greatly enhanced through reduced damage and loss due to fewer landing accidents;
- No device or modification is required, so there no additional costs;
- It is perfectly compatible with modern Head-up Guidance Systems.
- Troubleshooting is simple and effective for any landing situation;
- Finally, pilots have a clear, simple and accessible explanation.
Captain David M Jacobson FRAeS MAP