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How to: Techniques for landing your bush plane on a gravel strip

Matt Keller

Blue Ice Aviation - airplane landing

This photo shows me touching down on a nice 500-foot airstrip.  You can see I just touched down because of the rocks flying from my impact with the ground.  

Notice my flaps are already up and I have not even rolled 10 feet.  That probably means that I was flying a bit fast and retracted them while I was still 6 inches off the ground.

I do this subconsciously for a couple of reasons.  

Dumping the flaps in-flight allows me to hit my touch-down point because it drops me out of the air like a rock. It's incredibly important to land on the very end of the stip to allow maximum distance for braking. This is ideally done by reaching your critical angle of attack at precisely the right moment. 

Others prefer to fly their aircraft into the ground at the touch-down point, a technique which is usually bouncy. Or you can cheat and dump your flaps in flight over the top of the touch-down point.

The reason I choose to cheat is that it allows a faster final approach for added control and increased margin to the stall. It also improves visibility over the nose of the cub, and it keeps my tail up, so it does not get pounded by the rocks kicked up by my huge tires.  A 500-foot airstrip is plenty long enough to dissipate the added energy of a slightly fast touch down, and the added margin on final is always nice.

The rocks on this airstrip are no small factor.  If I touch down in a 3-point attitude on rocks like the ones in the photo, my horizontal takes a nasty beating, costing me hard-earned money.  But like I said, dumping the flaps is totally sub-conscious. My left arm just does it when my brain thinks it's best.  

So is this the absolutely best way to land?  It was the best way for this scenario, and I probably used a slightly different technique at the next location.

Matthew Keller is the owner and operator of Blue Ice Aviation. He was born and raised in Alaska, and his office is the cockpit of his Super Cub. His goal is to transport everyone into Alaska's vast wilderness. See more of his videos and writing at Blue Ice Aviation.