A Confession

Posted on: October 29th, 2013 by
2

As some of you may know, despite my part-time job as a Fear Dragon, I am also an airline pilot with some 20 years experience.

Despite my consummate skill at this craft I must share with you a dark secret… sometimes a”smooth” landing is not as good as it seems…

Young swan landing 1a

Let me start with the meaning of the word “aviator”. Anyone can be a “pilot”, but to be an “aviator” the sky has to be your magic. The mysteries of the clear air, the physics, the dynamic realities of flight are the things that quicken your blood and make you feel alive. All of us have something that does that for us, and for an “aviator” it is the air.

So, as with all religious fanatics, we aviators look for precision and perfection. In an environment that has variables (weather, wind, mechanical…) we always try for that “perfect” landing.

But the term “perfect landing” is not as clear cut as you may think. As a passenger, not part of our mysterious clique, you may think that a “smooth” landing which you can barely feel is the desired goal. A logical assumption, for sure. And yet…

Science has proven that an airplane that is flying does not slow down as quickly as one which is on the ground with it’s brakes and speedbrakes and reverse thrusters operating.

Therefore, sometimes, it makes more sense to PLONK it on the runway rather than to smoothly finesse the landing.

In particular, if it is wet, or if it is gusty, the best place to be is on the ground. If it is wet a hard landing will push your tyres through the aquaplaning water layer allowing your brakes to work better; if it is gusty being on the ground reduces your exposure to vagaries of the wind.

If you are flying in these conditions and you experience a (pilot euphemism warning¬†) “solid” landing do not doubt the pilot. There are very real reasons why he or she did it that way, and sometimes a solid landing is the best landing.

boeing_747-8_wet_landing_500

So here’s the confession…

When I’m standing at the door farewelling the passengers sometimes they complement me on my “smooth” landing. I do not have the heart to tell them that, sometimes, I wished it was a little harder.

Sometimes “smooth” is not the best that it can be.

(Having said that, when the conditions are good, there is NOTHING more satisfying to an aviator than a “greaser”… the kind of landing where you’re not really sure if you’re on the ground yet. Of course, in benign conditions, I do these all the time!).


2 Responses to A Confession

  1. Max Flight had this to say about that:

    You know, I hate to admit it, but this was a little bit of an eye opener for me. I didn’t really have an appreciation for the fact that a “smooth landing” isn’t always the “best landing.” Thanks!

  2. Rob Mark had this to say about that:

    While I’ve never actually heard another pilot admit it, you are right on the money doug.

    I used to try telling captain upgrades that “we can’t get it stopped while we’re still floating three inches above the runway.”

    Your prose explained it much better.

    Rob

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