How to fly a perfect soft field approach and landing

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Soft field techniques can be deployed for landing areas that have soft or rough surfaces such as grass, snow, or even gravel. The objective when landing on these types of surfaces is to touch down as smoothly as possible and at the slowest possible landing speed – minimum controllable airspeed as opposed to a full stall landing. A pilot needs to control the airplane in a manner that the wings support the weight of the airplane as long as practical to minimize stresses imposed on the landing gear by a rough surface or to prevent sinking into a soft surface.

tecnam airplane

A pilot needs to control the airplane in a manner that the wings support the weight of the airplane as long as practical.

 

The approach for the soft-field landing is similar to the normal approach. The major difference between the two is that a degree of power is used throughout the level-off and touchdown for the soft-field landing so as to control the descent rate all the way to touch down. This allows the airspeed to slowly dissipate while the airplane is flown just above the surface in ground effect. When the wheels first touch the ground, the proper technique allows the wings to continue supporting much of the weight of the airplane.

soft field

Allow the airspeed to slowly dissipate while the airplane is flown just above the surface in ground effect.

The final approach speed for a soft field approach and landing should be the same as is used for a short field technique to minimuze float once you enter ground effect. Touchdown on a soft or rough field is made at the lowest possible airspeed (minimum controllable airspeed) with the airplane in a nose-high pitch attitude. In nose-wheel type airplanes, after the main wheels touch the surface, the pilot should holdback-elevator pressure to keep the nose-wheel off the surface. Using back-elevator pressure and engine power, the pilot can control the rate at which the weight of the airplane is transferred from the wings to the wheels.

Field conditions may warrant that the pilot maintain a flight condition in which the main wheels are just touching the surface but the weight of the airplane is still being supported by the wings until a suitable taxi surface is reached. At any time during this transition phase, before the weight of the airplane is being supported by the wheels, and before the nose-wheel is on the surface, the ability is retained to apply full power and perform a safe takeoff should the pilot elect to go around.

Citrabria takeoff

The weight of the airplane is still being supported by the wings until a suitable taxi surface is reached.

Once committed to the landing, the pilot should gently lower the nose-wheel to the surface. A slight addition of power can assist in easing the nosewheel down. The use of brakes on a soft field should be avoided or minimized as the soft or rough surface itself provides sufficient reduction in the airplane’s forward speed. Often upon landing on a very soft field, an increase in power may be needed to keep the airplane moving and from becoming stuck in the soft surface. It’s always good practice to investigate field conditions prior to operating on a rough or soft surface.

Execute your soft field approach and landing with these steps:

1. Ensure that the Before Landing Checklist is completed.Fly the appropriate traffic pattern. In the absence of a manufacturer’s recommended airspeed, a speed similiar to a short field technique, but not more than 1.3 VS0 should be used. If gusty conditions are present, increase final approach airspeed by one half the gust factor.

2. Add full flaps and establish recommended soft-field approach speed on final, approximately 1/2 mile from the runway.

3. Adjust pitch and power for the desired airspeed and approach angle.The approach should be stabilized on the extended runway centerline no lower than 300’ AGL.

4. Control the descent rate with pitch and power and touch down at minimum speed with the aircraft in a nose-high pitch attitude.

5. Maintain back pressure on the yoke to keep the nosewheel off the ground until it can no longer aerodynamically be held off of the field surface. At this time, it should be gently lowered.Maintain directional control and crosswind correction with appropriate rudder aileron input.

6. Avoid the use of brakes, and use power, if necessary, when taxiing on very soft fields.Maintain full back elevator.

Keep a hand on the throttle throughout the approach and landing in the event immediate application of power is necessary for a go-around.
Eric Radtke
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