The “power off, 180-degree accuracy landing” defeats many commercial flight test applicants. It is a high bar; managing the aircraft’s energy to elegantly land on a point within 200 feet. Many disappointed candidates report unhelpful advice from their CFIs in training this maneuver, and serious disparities in what DPEs define as “success.”
The burning qualification questions seem to be “Is this a ‘one try’ maneuver?” and “Can you slip despite the requirement for a stabilized approach?” Remember this maneuver is just the more demanding form of a normal landing and all landings should be accurate and on a predetermined aim point. Here are some pointers to make every landing better and the 180° power-off accuracy landing easy.
The Power-Off 180° Is a Logical Extension of a “Normal Landing!”
First, it is important not to overcomplicate this maneuver. *Every* landing should be to an accurate aim point, right from the first solo. As we progress as pilots, we should be continually sharpening this skill to be more precise. And having power available often just corrects for poor judgment or sloppy flying so this is an “opportunity to learn.” Let’s unpack this and give you tools to make this maneuver predictable and consistently successful.
Allowances: First Determine What Your DPE Wants
The first question to resolve if this is for a check-ride is what techniques will be allowed by your evaluator during the demonstration of this maneuver; get on the same page here. Some examiners carry the “stabilized approach” criteria too far and insist on full flaps, gear down immediately, and no slipping allowed. But the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook clearly regards this maneuver as almost an emergency procedure; allowing basically whatever it takes to achieve the result specified in the ACS.
Pilots may use S-turns, slips, early or late extension of flaps, reduce airspeed below best glide, or increase airspeed slightly above best glide in a headwind in order to stabilize the remaining approach, to reach the desired aiming point at an appropriate speed, and to touch down where planned…
A crab or side slip can be used to maintain the desired flight path. A forward slip may be used momentarily to steepen the descent without changing the airspeed. Full flaps should be delayed until it is clear that adding them will not cause the landing to be short of the point. AFH
Another critical question to resolve with your evaluator before the flight is whether a go-around is allowed for a second try. There is no written specification in the guidance for a single attempt in the ACS or any other current published guidance I could find, but recently released recurrent training for DPEs says one try is all you get:
AFS-810: July 5th, 2022 Clarification
This responds to an email inquiry provided to the Airman Testing Standards Group on June 15, 2022, and then forwarded to the Training and Certification Group. In your email inquiry you request official national guidance regarding power-off 180 degree accuracy landing and ask two specific questions.
1. If the applicant chooses to go-around on the Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing, is that ALWAYS unsatisfactory? Answer: No. However, the intent of the evaluation is for the applicant to successfully complete the 180 degree accuracy landing on the first attempt. If the applicant were to execute a [go-around/rejected landing] without a risk mitigation justification (such as a deer on the runway or some other reason making the landing area unsafe), the applicant would normally be disqualified for that landing task.
This idea first appeared in the “FAA Designee Update” (which is no longer in print) and this has occasionally appeared verbally in national DPE training. Examiners still seem to differ on this point but the intention is clear; you get only one shot at this maneuver. Make sure to ascertain what *your* DPE is looking for. The “one try” rule certainly creates intense pressure that leads to some desperate and unsafe “arrivals;” go around for safety and suck up the failure. Always ensure safety in your practice or testing with a go-around if the maneuver is going badly.
Aim Point: Pick the Touchdown Target
The first step in the successful flying of this maneuver is to pick a good touchdown point. This should not be the runway numbers since your “aim point”would be short of the runway, and this does not allow a safety margin if the maneuver is misjudged. The AFM is pretty clear on this.
Note that selection of the runway numbers as the touchdown point does not provide a safety cushion in case of a mechanical problem or
misjudgment. Selecting a point farther down the runway establishes an increased safety margin.
The second essential decision is how far your aiming point will be *before* the touchdown point based on the conditions of the day. When an applicant during an oral tells me they are aiming exactly where they intend to touchdown I already know we are going to be unsuccessful (there is a serious lack of understanding here or they are doing a “stall-down” landing). Basic physics demands some energy to arrest the airplane’s descent and touch-down in the landing attitude. A plane traveling 60K is using 100 feet per second. A standard 3-second “float” from a co-located aim point would already make this maneuver unsuccessful.
A/C Performance: Determine Your “Float!”
Deciding the aim point will depend on the type of aircraft you are flying. Two essential factors are your *ground speed* entering the level-off, and the amount of “float” your aircraft provides. Obviously, the airspeed has to be precisely controlled by the pilot, but the ground speed will inevitably vary with the wind conditions. So pick your aim point carefully based on the conditions of the day (closer to the point with more headwind).
What speed to fly into ground effect and the amount of float are the essential data every pilot must gather and apply while practicing this maneuver to achieve a predictable result. The amount of “float” varies with each airplane, loading and conditions; some airplanes float and some are “bricks!” Managing this is the real secret to accuracy landings.
All this is energy management, physics, and understanding determine the control during the last part of the landing. This is the number one problem with most of these accuracy landing attempts. Forcing the plane onto the runway is not allowed, the ACS specifies touching down in the landing attitude. So depending on the wind down the runway every applicant should have a calibrated aiming point before the touch-down point. Way too much focus is put on all the other pattern procedures of this maneuver. These adjustments are all intended to achieve the proper energy state at the predetermined aim point over the runway. Ultimately every pilot should be able to fly this maneuver in any plane on any day with varied configurations and conditions.
Airspeed: Fly Precisely and Consistently On Speed
So starting abeam on the downwind, practice this maneuver the same way every time (whatever your technique might be). And this should not be some unusual and exotic formulation. Keep this maneuver as “normal” as possible and eliminate all the variables; just shorten the ground track to the runway for the greater (power-off) rate of descent!
One important difference from a “normal” landing is that after power reduction, is slowing to the best glide speed (and trimming) immediately. This slower speed in every plane is (by definition)is the “bottom of the drag curve.” This means that a subtle +/- five knots will add drag and increase your descent rate (a very powerful expert tool). Add the first flap selection before turning base as usual, to help stabilize the airspeed, configuration, and descent rate. The base turn position is critical and determined largely by the wind down the runway (just like every landing).
Attitude/Altitude: “Relative Motion” to Judge the Descent Trend (Use Your Ground Track)
If the speed is stabilized and the descent rate is as desired, add the second notch of flaps halfway through the base before the “key position.” More important than a rote (pre-determined) altitude or point on the ground, is the descent trend you are observing and relative motion in relationship to your aim point. This maneuver is different every time and you will have to adjust based on observed conditions. You also may be asked to perform this at any airfield or wind condition; not just your “warm fuzzy home base airport.” Focus and adjust based on what matters: standardized configuration, stabilized descent, and the visual movement of the aim point.
At a stabilized airspeed and standardized configuration, carefully determine if the aiming point on the runway is moving up or down in relation to your airplane. This is the critical decision point at the key position.
This relative motion will tell you whether you should turn toward the runway (if the point is rising and you are trending low) or high (the point is descending in your visual field and you are trending high). Fix any variations in altitude with ground track.
At a constant rate of descent, adjusting the distance to the runway will determine your touch-down point.
Adjust your track over the ground, cutting toward the numbers if you are low, and squaring off the base if you are high. The objective turning final is to be a little high since you have more drag available to create a higher rate of descent, and a forward slip is available if you misjudged the wind on the final approach.
Keep everything standardized and save the final flaps for the final approach, when subtle adjustments can be applied. As mentioned, the final should be slightly high since more flaps are available (meaningful repetition). But wait until you are lined up and stabilized to make this determination. If you are low at this point the maneuver is already unsuccessful.
Again: the most important data point once established on the final approach is the relative motion of the aiming point in relation to your nose picture at a stabilized airspeed. The three tools you have to add drag are more flaps, slowing your airspeed a little for more drag (raising the nose slightly), and a variable forward slip. Exercise each of these options carefully and one at a time. The objective is to smoothly reach your aim point with the proper airspeed. Everything about the commercial checkride is demonstrating smooth accurate control.
If all your adjustments have worked out, your airplane should be entering ground effect with the aiming point just over the nose, at your pre-determined airspeed (energy state). The last 200 feet should be stabilized and on speed. Remember that slipping causes inaccurate airspeed indications, so maintain your pitch attitude (don’t chase the A/S) to control your energy.
The final adjustment (expert-level technique) that can fine-tune your touchdown is how you manage the flare. If you are slightly short, you can extend your distance in ground effect with a more aggressive “hold off” gaining almost 200 feet of runway: Diamonds work best for this, Cessnas pretty good, but Pipers “not so much.” It is far better to be a little short for this reason and know your airplane. If you are long on the aim point or have extra energy entering ground effect, you are out of tools to create a “touchdown at a proper pitch attitude. ” If this was Air America you could dump the flaps and other tricks. Read the Commercial ACS carefully for this maneuver; have fun, and practice in varying conditions. The video below is a 360 ° Power-Off Accuracy Landing, but demonstrates many of the techniques mentioned above. The “slipping turn” is a powerful tool many pilots fear (lack of understanding) but we use extensively in gliders…
And then, of course, there is the amazing Bob Hoover, with a loop, roll and landing all power-off in a Shrike Commander: HERE
If you make every landing an “accuracy landing,” the 180 will not seem so intimidating; skill acquisition is the whole objective here. All these subtle adjustments should be what a pilot is doing on *every* landing. You do not get better with just one day or one maneuver, we should always be working to improve our skills. Fly safely out there (and often!)
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