As we begin any new venture, the basic task is to master the fundamentals of what we are about to undertake. The fundamentals form the corner stone of building advanced skills. If your foundation of skills is not solid, everything that follows is weak. So where do we stand on landing a gyroplane?
Often times the fundamentals are not thoroughly taught by the instructor and/or understood by the student. Also, with the passage of time, it is easy to let our skills become sloppy, as we tend to relax our standards.
Not long ago I flew in an airplane with a pilot who landed okay but touched down between the center line and the runway edge line. We were on a 100-foot wide runway with another 50 feet of shoulder. When I asked him why he did not land on the center line, he replied that he had plenty of room. His landing standard was anywhere between the edge lines and not necessarily on the center line.
Landing an airplane is one of the most difficult tasks for a student to learn. The flare is the most difficult part of the landing task for two reasons. First, the flare only lasts for a few seconds, so we don’t get much time practicing it. Second, the flare requires a sense of timing that again takes some time to learn. The greater the flare angle the more it has to be properly timed. Flare too late and you hit the runway and bounce back into the air. Flare to soon and you lose too much speed while still too high. You now have forced yourself into a recovery and a second effort.
When I teach a new student how to land an airplane I show him how to land with little to no flare! It is very easy to do if you understand the fundamental aviation equation of attitude + power = performance. You must understand and accept that attitude [nose up or down] determines airspeed and power determines altitude. With wings level you only have three types of performance. They are climbs, descents, or level flight.
In very smooth air I demonstrate a no flare landing to my students. By applying the fundamental equation on the down-wind, I set power for 300-fpm descent rate, set pitch for 60-kts, put both hands on my lap, turn base with gentle pedal pressure (in an airplane you hold heading with the rudder), turn final, hold center line with my feet, let the plane hit the runway, take my hands off my lap and throttle to an idle.
This may sound very skillful and advanced, but it is not. You just have to understand and apply the basics very well. My “trick” landing is no trick. In fact it is not even any work. Once speed and descent are set, all the work is done. Just sit back and slowly steer with your feet.
Well, now, you may be asking, what does this have to do with flying a gyroplane? Whether I am teaching a twin-engine instrument approach, a single-engine airplane takeoff, or a gyroplane landing, it is all the same! Attitude + power = performance.
In many basic respects and conditions, a gyroplane is no different than any other aircraft, therefore, you can treat them all the same. To make an easy landing, set power for a very shallow descent angle, set pitch for the proper approach speed, fly right down to the runway, gently raise the nose to slow down (good piloting practice is to touch down at the slowest possible speed). When the main gear touches, reduce throttle to an idle holding the nose wheel off as long as possible. Many RAF pilots will use full aft stick at touch down immediately rocking the machine back onto its tail wheel.
The most difficult landing profile is the short field approach. Here the engine is at idle requiring a very steep approach to maintain speed. The landing flare requires a huge rotation and must be timed correctly. By starting with shallow approaches you practice landings with less and less throttle requiring steeper and steeper approaches until you master the different flare angles. It all comes with time and experience.
All of this should not be confused with the additional profiles that rotorcraft are capable of flying that differ from airplanes. But, what is important to understand is that the same aviation fundamental formula applies to all aircraft when operated in a fundamental manner, e.g. normal profile. Select an attitude, apply a power setting, and it results in a performance of climbing, holding altitude, or descending.
Don’t get in a rush to look like a pro making steep descent landings. Coming in with power is a very sound technique for landing a gyroplane. In fact you can even modify this approach slightly to create an over spin on your rotors resulting in a no-roll landing. I’ll tell you how to do that in my next article.
CAUTION: Be patient and master each stage of flying before venturing on. The longer you are in aviation the more you find out you are never as good as you think you are. It is often said that a superior pilot uses his superior knowledge to stay out of situations that would require his superior skills.
Remember, “the air, even more so than the sea, is most unforgiving for the slightest mistake.” Get qualified flight instruction before getting into a gyro. Skillful pilots make it look easy, but it is not quick and easy to learn.