Apr 08, 2014 28 Comments by
We’ve all heard the old adage, Takeoffs are optional; landings are mandatory. Bringing a plane back to the ground safely is a pilot’s top goal. Unfortunately, one of the hardest maneuvers for an RC airplane to perform is the landing, and it is the first one that we pilots must learn to perfect to keep our models intact. How should you get started? Read through these tips, and then go to the field and practice!
To ensure a good landing, the first thing you have to do is trim out the plane so that it flies with a predictable sink rate at slow speeds. If you cannot slow down the model, you have no hope of ever making a successful landing. Start at a relatively safe altitude, and bring the throttle stick back so that the engine slows down and the plane begins to lose altitude. You will have to feed in some up-elevator to increase the plane’s level angle of attack. If you continue to feed in up-elevator, the plane will eventually enter a stalled condition and will either drop a wing or fall forward. Practice entering and exiting this stall speed so that you know the speed at which the plane will travel before it enters the stall. Now you know your plane’s slowest speed; this is the speed you want just before touchdown. Knowing how to control your plane’s speed so that it can fly with a predictable sink rate and land at the slowest possible speed is the first step toward perfecting your landing.

A good landing starts out with a good landing traffic pattern. Start your landing pattern by entering the crosswind leg and then turn into the downwind leg. Turn into the base leg, start your descent and then set up your final approach. All your turns should be 90 degrees.
Using a landing pattern contributes to your touchdown’s perfection; emulate the same landing pattern that full-size aircraft use. Start by traveling into the wind and away from you. Your landing pattern will have a rectangular shape with four distinct 90-degree turns. Enter your first turn, and travel the upwind crosswind leg of the landing pattern so that the plane has about 100 feet of altitude. Your second 90-degree turn will also be in the same direction and should set up the downward leg so that the plane will be traveling parallel to the runway on the opposite side of the field and away from you. Fly the plane straight and level until it enters a spot directly in front of your location; then reduce the throttle to about 75 percent and begin your descent. Execute another 90-degree turn in the same direction, and begin flying the plane into the downwind, crosswind, base-leg descent. You should reduce your throttle to about 50 percent and let the plane’s altitude drop to about 50 feet before you turn into the final 90-degree turn. Remember to use the throttle to control the rate of descent and the elevator to control the speed.
At your last 90-degree turn into the final approach, have the plane lined up fairly well with the runway; you can make minor adjustments along the way to touchdown. Now the plane will head into the wind, exactly as it should. Depending on your plane, the throttle should be reduced to somewhere between 25 percent and idle. Most importantly, remember to keep the wings level on the final approach. Use your rudder to move the plane left to right, and line it up with the runway; use the ailerons only to keep the wings level. Aim for an imaginary spot just above the end of the runway. When the plane is lined up, it should cross the end of the runway at about 10 to 15 feet above it.
Just before touchdown, all pilots have to perform one of the most precise maneuvers known: the flare. The flare requires exact timing at the moment just before touchdown so that the plane lands softly without bouncing back into the air. The height at which you should flare varies according to the plane you’re flying. Pull back on the elevator, and raise the nose of the plane just enough to slow it down; then perform a stall with the wheels barely above the ground. If this is done correctly, the plane will softly greet the runway and do a smooth rollout. If it’s done too soon, you risk tip-stalling the plane and having one wing touch down before the wheels, thereby causing a spectacular cartwheel down the runway. Or, the plane could drop onto the runway and spring back into the air with little or no airspeed. If you flare too late, the plane could also bang down on the runway and bounce back into the air with little or no airspeed. Being in the air with no airspeed is a sure-fire recipe for disaster! If you do find yourself in this predicament, it is best to add power and fly around for another try.
That’s all there is to it; almost any plane can land following this approach. Heavy-scale planes and fast jets require more speed for landing than slow, high-wing trainers. This is why the first step in our process–practicing slow-speed stalls with altitude proves so valuable in discovering a plane’s stall speed. Every plane is different, so be sure to do your homework here.

In a crosswind landing, you should set up a crab heading angle that produces a straight tracking path. The stronger the crosswind, the larger the crab angle needs to be.

A smooth and consistant approach angle is also very important. Use throttle to control the descent rate and keep the wings level. Aim for an imaginary spot just above the runway, and cross the end of the runway at an altitude of about 10 to 15 feet.
Thinking backward. Many pilots encounter problems when the plane is coming towards them, and all of the controls are reversed. Over time, this becomes second nature, but in the beginning, it can be quite bewildering. If you are just learning how to land, try to keep in mind that when the plane is coming towards you and one of the wings drops, you’ll have to move the aileron stick in the direction of the lower wing to raise it up. Remember, when the plane is coming towards you, you are looking at a mirror image of it. Left becomes right, and right is left.
With the plane low to the ground, all of your stick movements should be done slowly. That way, if the plane does start to head in the wrong direction, it will travel just a short distance before you apply corrective measures. Smooth slow-stick movements will prevent potential disasters more often than they will cause them. Another trick is to angle your body in the direction the plane is flying and look over your shoulder, so the sticks won’t have the opposite orientation. The bottom line is that “backward thinking” will eventually become second nature. Use any crutch that helps until you have gained experience.
Crosswind landings. Crosswind landings are among the most difficult situations. If you have practiced all of the basic steps to landing, such as mastering a standardized landing pattern and using elevator to control speed, throttle to control altitude, ailerons to keep the wings level and rudder to steer the plane at slow speeds, you won’t find cross-wind landings so difficult. Regardless of the wind conditions, the key to any landing is a good approach. If you aren’t happy with your landing approach, call it off and come around again. Consistently following a rectangle pattern every time you land your plane will improve your odds of a good approach. To maintain better control, it is good practice to keep your approach speed a little above what you would normally use, especially in gusty winds.
When landing in a crosswind, the plane has a tracking path (the direction in which the plane is traveling). If you use a technique called “crabbing,” the plane also has a heading direction (the direction in which the plane’s nose is pointed). The strength and direction of the crosswind will determine how much crab angle you will need to keep the plane on a straight track down the center of the runway.
For example, a 15mph wind coming across the runway at a 10-degree angle will make little difference on your landing approach; however, a 15mph wind coming across the runway at 45 degrees will require some compensation on your part during landing. A 15mph wind coming across the runway at 90 degrees will require total concentration on landing.
Establish a natural crab angle so that the plane tracks parallel down the runway with the fuselage slightly angled into the wind (the angle will be dictated by the crosswind). Use the rudder to turn the nose into the wind and the ailerons to keep the wings level. If you have too much or too little crab angle, the plane will start to track off course, so adjust your rudder accordingly to get the plane to track straight down the runway. Once the plane is about a foot or two above the runway, slowly apply opposite rudder so that the fuselage straightens out parallel to the runway, and flare the plane as you normally would. Remember to move all of your controls (including the rudder) slowly. Moving the rudder quickly at this slow speed could cause a spin, and that’s the last thing you want. After a bit of practice, you’ll never fear crosswind landings again.
Using a computer radio will allow you to incorporate some mixing programs that can make landing your aircraft just a bit easier. If your plane is equipped with flaps, you can program a mix so that once the flaps drop down to slow the plane, the elevator automatically compensates for the extra lift by applying some downtrim. Even if your plane doesn’t have flaps, you can set up a mixture to have the ailerons drop down and act as flaps while still working as ailerons. This will slow your plane down but still give you the control you need to keep the wings level.
Other mixes that could help with landing the plane include one that automatically applies a little up-elevator as the motor is throttled back. This will keep the plane flying level at slower speeds. Another mix could be set so that when the rudder is applied, it gives opposite ailerons to keep the plane level. Dual rates would be helpful to have so that when the plane slows down, you can switch to high rates and have more control throw. This is equivalent to having more control authority at slower speeds.
The ultimate mixing program for landing is one that puts the plane in a landing mode. With one flip of a switch, you can have the plane lower the landing gear (if equipped with retracts); lower the flaps; incorporate a rudder/aileron mix to keep the turns flat; automatically adjust the elevator to compensate for the extra lift generated by the flaps; and switch all of the control servos to high rates. Now your plane is set up for a soft, gentle touchdown.
By following these pointers, you can greatly increase your odds of a perfect landing–not just occasionally but consistently. It’s important to become as proficient with your landing skills as you are with your loops and rolls. Perfecting your expertise at bringing your plane in safely is the most cost-effective talent you’ll develop! Before you know it, you’ll be landing like a pro.
Flight Techniques, Great Planes, How-tos

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28 Responses to “LAND LIKE A PRO”

  1. Ed Moreland says:

    Great article right up too computer assistance.
    I feel that new pilots that read this and are looking for help should stay away from computer programming. After they can get it done with stick and rudder then they can get lazy.

  2. John Reid says:

    That is a good point, but I do think that anything that will make the new pilot successful should be uses. I am not sure that computer programing makes the pilot lazy, it just helps their plane fly better and that is a good thing.

    • Berry Rosebrough says:

      Hello Mr.Reid, I am a new beginning RC pilot.I have love planes & helicopters all my life.But only since retiring from working I have had the time to start learning how to fly RC’s. I guess you can say I put the horses before the wagon.Meaning I bought my airplanes before learning how to fly.I did that thinking it would give me the insentive to learn how to fly having these nice planes.For learning I bought my self a nice 2-channel hangar 9 and a nice Cessna 182 four channel. But once I do learn I have bought my self a couple of real nice large scale jobs.I bought my self the C-17 Globemaster & the SR-71 Blackbird. I will not even think of flying these 2 planes until I have learned how to really fly a lot better than what I am now. For quite some time I have been trying to find a flying school where I can learn how to fly these birds. I also bought my self a Real Flight simulator to learn on. But I have not been having too much luck learning how to fly this simulator. I live in Torrance,CA and just retired from working for the City of Torrance,CA. I was wondering if you could help me out by letting me know of some RC flight schools ? My home number is: 310-217-0969. You can also contact me through my email address which is: I will do just about anything to have the chance of learning how to become an RC pilot. I know you are one of the best pilots around because there is not a book I do not pick up and not see you in there flying your airplanes. One way or another I intend on learning how to become an RC pilot. Thanks for letting me burn your ear with my desire to learn how to fly RC planes. Take care and hope to hear back from you when you have the time.
      Berry Rosebrough

    • Don Lewis says:

      I agree with John. Let’s make it easier for the new pilot to be successful. Many are happy flying circuits with a few simple loops and rolls thown in and don’t progress past this. I think that they should understand the concepts that the computer programming is doing for them, but learning to do it without the computer may keep them out of the hobby. I don’t thinkt hat something has to be painful in order to enjoy it. If computer assistance will help get new pilots not only soloing sooner, but help keep them in the hobby, then it would be inappropriate not to use it.

  3. Eduardo Roesch says:

    When you are landing with a cross wind, I usually go in the final approach with the wing from where the wind is blowing a little bit lower to avoid wind to lift the wing. If you have your wings leveld big risk of turning over the airplane by the cross wind.

  4. iceman77 says:

    great article! computer assistance is an excellent option, your guidelines are just wonderful!

  5. Jim Baker says:

    Enjoyed your article. Here some of my memories from military flight school a half century ago. We approached the runway, into the wind at pattern altitude (about 1,000′ AGL). At a point 1/3 down the runway, we pitched out with a 60 degree wing angle, reducing throttle to some point which now eludes me. Rather than two 90s, we made a 180 degree turn and leveled out downwind, then dropped the gear, still bleeding speed. At the end of the runway (still at pattern altitude), we turned base, dropping full flaps and did another 180 turn to final, descending all the way and adjusting speed as needed. Like Eduardo recommended, we were taught to counter cross-winds by lowering the up-wind wing, then countering the tendacy of this to produce a turn by applying opposite rudder. The extent of rudder & aileron needed depended on wind velocity and direction. The crab would be held until the last moment in the flare, as the danger of flipping over would increase as speed decreased. You could hold the crab as long as you didn’t drag a wing tip. Rudder would continue to be needed after touch down to counter cross winds during roll out.

  6. Greg Hofmann says:

    I would like to reinforce the importance of the appropriate instruction in Reid’s article to new pilots as to “what to do when the plane is coming toward him”.

    “Many pilots encounter problems when the plane is coming towards them, and all of the controls are reversed. … If you are just learning … , try to keep in mind that when the plane is coming towards you and one of the wings drops, you’ll have to move the aileron stick in the direction of the lower wing to raise it up.” The latter statement is correct, but ineffective as an instruction often given new pilots.

    The effective instruction, given in Reid’s article, is ” … angle your body in the direction the plane is flying and look over your shoulder, so the sticks won’t have the opposite orientation.”

    I have found this to work without fail for dozens of student pilots, while the ineffective instruction fails without working. I frequently get students who have all but given up because of this ineffective instruction.

    Greg Hofmann

  7. Scott says:

    I agree with Ed on the mixing. Fly the airplane don’t let it fly you. If you are an expert without computer help then go for it. Dual rates no problem. All that other stuff. Not so sure about. Case in point. Patty Wagstaff Extra 300 DLE55. Suddenly the pilot calls to me, “I don’t have it”. Way in the sky and flying off the field toward houses. I grab the box start walking toward the plane for whatever that is worth. I start moving sticks and the plane moves. Keep flying like it had full up elevator. I push the stick forward, full down, get it back to the field, it is in a stall but manageble little throttle and it plops on the field with a slightly spread gear. Look at it. Whole bunch of up elevator, and a whole bunch of down flaps (ailerons). He had mentioned something about “speed brakes”. Well that was it, hit the switch in the air. Asked how you fly like that, he said you turn them on just at or before touchdown. I know of at least one broken prop from such silliness.
    From 30 some years of flying, landing seems to be the least practiced but most important. This is the case with this very good flying aero ship. As your diagram says is dead on. Learn to land then play with the programming. Great article though.

  8. John Reid says:

    I agree with you Greg, that is the easiest way to land a plane coming toward you and that is the way I teach students now. Keep in mind guys, that this article is a few years old, but I felt that there was many good bits of information in it. There is some great additional information in the comments, thank you all for that!

  9. John Reid says:

    Well, I can see your point in the computer mixing and your concerns. However, I am just throwing out some mixes that would be useful for the pilot to use for landing. I am not saying that a beginner pilot should use them all. I believe that by the time, you can set-up a landing mode; you will be ready for it. My intention was to make people aware that there are mixes you can use to make your life easier. A good example of this was a gentleman at my flying field who is a very good pilots. But when he tried to land his 35% aerobatic plane, it would always float in and he would end up having to give it some down elevator to force the landing, sometimes it would down rather hard. He hated landing that plane. I showed him how to mix in some throttle to elevator mix, so that it would automatically put in some down elevator, about 2% – if that. His next landing was just about as perfect as you can get. Now he enjoys his landing.
    Bottom line for the new pilots reading this, listen to this great advice above and don’t over program your plane at the beginning. Just know that there are some mixes available that will make landing a little easier and hopefully your enjoyment a little more…well, enjoyable.

  10. Scott says:

    Hey John, that is a tell tale sign of a typically tail heavy plane as so many want to balance with the cg way to far back as well. Maybe not in your case but I have seen it quite a bit.
    On the mixing, you understand my point, switches aint gonna make you fly better if you haven’t learned already.
    Now I read your last mix, so basically down trim so the air speed is kept up without having to force down into it? Friend at the club has a hanger 9 corsair that is crazy to land as any Corsair, that may be just the fix to tame that bad boy down. Thanks

  11. John Reid says:

    Very kind words Berry, thank you, but my pile of crashed planes in the corner may prove your statement wrong :-) . The only actual flight school that I know of is the 1ST R/C Flight School, You can pay for lessons and learn as much as you want. Another option is to visit your local flying club (you can find out where they are by asking at your local hobby store), all the clubs that I know of have a trained person whose job it is to help the new pilot learn how to fly. This is the way you want to go, because in most cases it will help you to keep your plane in one piece. Having someone there to help you while you are learning is one of the best ways to success and we are all for that.
    Good luck Berry
    PS I fly at Prado and Whittier Narrows flying field when I can. Both have great flying instructors on hand.

  12. Doug says:

    Great article John. Landing is something I have never done well and am especially hard on trike nose gears. You have influenced me to incorporate your practice tips and practice more. I agree that I should be able to do the landings first without the computer radio’s help, even though I do have that at my disposal.

  13. John Reid says:

    Nothing wrong with that, getting people to offer up different advice and their way of doing things will always help a novice flyer. Keep on asking…or questioning, both are good. This is how we program that computer between our ears.

  14. Jose Alvarez says:

    Mr. Reid thank you for sharing this helpfull instructions, Im new at this hobby and been practicing a lot in the sim. This article will make my landings practice perfect with those drawings patterns.By the way I just got a new Computer radio I was wondering what those mixes mean, now I know what my radio is capable of doing for me. Thank you.

  15. John Reid says:

    I am glad to hear that it helped out, good luck with all your other flights.

  16. David Vietmeier says:

    Mr. Reid,
    Would you be willing to write an article on how to set up programing of a radio for the situations you described in this article under computer assistance? I have a new Spectrum DX8 radio and the manual is a little bewildering on setups. I mostly fly Sailplanes … I am old school and have been flying for a while on an old but good 72Mhz Narrow Band Cirrus 7ch FM radio. Thank you once again for your insight and tips. Sincerely

  17. Ron says:

    Added difficulty of crabbing is focusing less on the throttle since you have an extra channel (rudder) to worry about, i.e. more brain exercise. So in crosswinds up to 45 degrees, one way that worked well (some might not agree) is to approach the runway totally facing the wind at an angle with the tracking path without using rudder and then use rudder/aileron 2 to 3 feet before touch down to align the bird.

    My 2 cents ;)

  18. Lee Bonney says:

    “Even if your plane doesn’t have flaps, you can set up a mixture to have the ailerons drop down and act as flaps while still working as ailerons”.

    In fact a better method is to program both ailerons to move UP.

    Most pilots can’t understand or accept this, but from years of experience this is effective in
    reducing wing lift The bottom line is the plane adopts a nose up attitude & slows down. On landing it tends to bounce less & rather sits on the runway.

    On some planes a down ele mix should be added, this is a std option with Specktrum/JR flap mode.

    My observation is many pilots have landing issues due to:-

    Slowing down too much on landing approach, rather bring in hot & snake on the runway to slow down.

    Not using more than usual throttle when landing into a strong wind.

    Not using rudder for centering on runway, remember the rudder is more effective than ailerons at low airspeeds & doesn’t induce tipstalling.

  19. mike stroup says:

    Interesting you use a T-6 for your illustrations. This particular plane is often a handfull to land. Reason being the main landing gear are so far forward of the CG. The additional technique I will ‘splain below is particularly applicable to this plane as well as all tail draggers.

    I am sure we have all seen (and prolly done) a bounced landing… especially with a tail dragger… is there a way to not bounce? Well…. there is indeed…..

    If one is partial to “Wheel” landing…the trick is to ever so softly touch the ground tangentially with near zero descent rate at touch.. this is hard!! And really I can only see this tactic used with heavy tippy rocks that won’t land as I describe next… IMHO.. the preferred manner to land a tail dragger…

    But for a moment lets consider why a plane bounces…. if you look at slo-mo video of a bounced landing, you can see there is still considerable descent rate when the mains touch…. the CG being aft of the mains tend to continue descending even once the mains touch… in effect.. increasing the angle of attack of the wing and creating more lift and off the ground we go….

    here it is… here is THE TRICK to landing a tail dragger without a bounce…. ready????

    Touch on the tail wheel first!!

    that is it….

    and think about it…. if the tail wheel touches first.. the AOA Decreases as a result and lift is reduced…..

    and another hint.. while taxi’ing a taildragger… hold full Up Elevator.. it keeps the tail on the ground and makes the tail wheel more effective…


  20. Rick says:

    As far as computerized landing programs and beginners are concerned, how many beginners fly planes with ailerons, flaps and retracts?
    I really think it’s a non-issue.
    Great article, as always.

  21. John says:

    Today, someone at our local flying field made side slipping and forward slipping really really easy for me. On final, with ailerons, bank into the crosswind, followed immediately by opposite rudder. And wouldn’t you know it!?! It worked! Each time the plane slowed down to a nice soft landing all the while tracking down the runway. Very easy to remember and to implement. As for the forward slip, he said to do the opposite, turn with rudder first into the crosswind, followed immediately by opposite aileron, and the plane dropped in altitude but did not gain any airspeed. I was so pumped. I spent the next 5 tanks of fuel or about 1hr of flying on just doing crosswind landings. Now I look forward to them! Very simple rule of thumb.

  22. Peter Kraus says:

    I always tried to follow this advice, which is basically sound, but didn’t do so well until I learnt to fly full size. Rather then just “flare”, you should “arrest the descent” when almost down and then HOLD OFF! That is, with the plane almost on the ground and the power off or at idle, gradually feed in up elevator as the speed drops to try and keep that plane off the ground for as long as possible. Greases it on nice and nose high every time. Of course if you flare, (arrest the descent) too high you’ll end up dropping the plane in. Modellers are always told to flare but it was only when I learnt to fly full size that the importance of the hold off was taught to me.

  23. Ryan Smith says:

    I think one of the biggest lies that the FAA propagates is that you should “stall” an airplane onto a runway. This is useful if you have an extremely short runway (grass preferably) and want to get stopped asap. The reality is that a really good landing is done above stall speed with full control of the aircraft. Fly the aircraft down to the runway, use a blip of power to arrest your descent, then ‘fly’ your mains to a gentle touchdown, then idle the power maintaining directional control and pitch control while decelerating on the runway. There are very few aircraft that you can stall in for a touchdown without hitting the tail, banging the mains, then blowing apart your nose-gear as the aircraft rotates aggressively forward. For the tail-draggers, in most situations it’s better to perform a ‘wheel-landing’ by touching down on the mains at a positive flying speed and allowing the aircraft to slow on the runway. A full stall, or three point landing you risk damaging your tail-wheel and directional control can be difficult if not impossible to maintain. You’re landings will be 100 percent better if you practice them at a slow flying speed.

  24. John Carron, Ancaster Flying Farmers says:

    What happens when you run out of power before landing?
    You might not be close to the run way, or you may be on approach.
    Knowing how your model flies without power is also helpful. In some cases it may be best to let it fly straight ahead and land in a controlled manner rather than try to bring it back to the runway, or make a down wind turn.

  25. Ray says:

    Computer programing has its place and knowing how to use it is the secret to successful mixing. I bought my first programmable radio (JR-347) and wanted to find out what the big deal was with mixing. I like the linear feel of the sticks and became very comfortable with not using any mixing. I programed some exponential into my control surfaces. There was very little information out there at the time as to how much to use or what start points will provide a slow transition to expo flights. The results were disastrous. I gave up using my program features of my expensive radio. Many years later I bought a new JR radio which has more refined mixing programs, with the idea that I would force myself to learn how to use mixing/programing. After reading lots and asking even more questions from other flyers I was able to take full advantage of all the computer features my radio offered. I really wish this information was available when I first started to fly with my computer radio. Mixing/programing does not make you a lazy pilot in my opinion. Instead it allows you to fly those finicky aircraft that do benefit from these added features. This is probably one of the reasons we are now seeing many scale-like aircraft flying these days, and their pilots are having more fun flying them. Mixing as a beginner is something that needs to be done with guidance and understanding to gain the biggest benefit from the technology. You don’t need to learn the hard way just to start using mixing. That is a waste of time and a big deterrent to continue in the hobby. If you know that mixing elevator with flaps can provide a more stable approach than you must already know the relationship. Mixing has allowed a few more brains cells to be freed up to be used for the flare and landing.

  26. Andy LE GOURRIEREC says:

    Re: controlling the left/right problem on landing approach. You almost got it right, up to the point where you say to turn your back to the plane and look over your shoulder. I see this as the most dangerous and stupid thing anyone could do. Instead, as I teach my student pilots, move the aileron stick “under” the low wing, as if you were trying to slide you thumb under that wing to lift it back up to level. Do not try to think in terms of left or right. Too confusing. Simply “lift” the low wing with your aileron thumb. This way you NEVER take your eyes off the plane, very little problem solving is required, and it is a concept that is easily and quickly grasped and works every time.

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