Big Red Car here. So we have another question and it makes sense. Question No. 2 was all about taking off in a Bonanza and now that you know how to take off, you damn sure will have to know how to land. Makes sense, right?
So The Boss is often flying to the East Coast and then returning from the East to the West. He flies out of Georgetown, Texas which is a lovely little airport just north of Austin with a couple of runways — Runways 11-29 almost West and East and Runways 18-36 South and North.
Georgetown has a nice new tower but no radar of its own.
Air Traffic Control
The process of getting ready to land starts about 45 miles out from the airport when The Boss gets switched from Houston Center ATC to Austin Approach ATC.
You will fly with Austin Approach until you get switched over to Georgetown Tower. Georgetown has to pick you up visually as you head toward the Georgetown Airport because they have no radar.
Once on the ground, Georgetown Ground will provide taxi instructions to get The Boss to his hangar.
Just before or after you get switched over to Austin Approach ATC, The Boss gets the weather on the Georgetown radio. The weather is available on the ATIS at frequency 118.6 which provides an updated recorded weather report.
When you first speak with Austin Approach they will give you a snippet of information about the weather or ask the pilot if he has the “weather” or the “numbers”. The Boss likes to have it all in hand before he speaks to Austin Approach.
When The Boss checks in with Austin Approach after being directed to that frequency by Houston Center, he will likely say something like:
“Austin Approach, Bonanza, 1-3-6 Mike Delta, 6,000′, inbound landing Georgetown, Kilo.”
This means that the airplane is a Bonanza with identifier N136MD. The plane is at 6,000′ and is intending to land at Georgetown. The Kilo means The Boss has the “kilo” weather report. Each report is identified sequentially from Alpha to Zulu and than back around again.
This weather report will allow you to ascertain what runway is being used as the “active” runway at Georgetown. When you know the wind direction, you can determine which runway is likely the landing runway because you will land INTO the wind. Think “land into the sock.” Do you understand what that means?
As The Boss flies toward Georgetown, he sets his radios for the appropriate frequencies to communicate with the ATIS (for weather recording), Austin Approach for guidance, Georgetown Tower for landing and Georgetown Ground for taxi instructions after landing.
The plane has two radios and can toggle between frequencies on each radio. You can listen to more than one radio at a time. In this manner, you can control a total of four radio frequencies simultaneously.
In this picture, the radios are part of a system which includes a GPS in addition. The lower two instruments on the right side are the Garmin 530 (bigger display) and the Garmin 430 (smaller display). These instruments each include a communication radio and a navigation radio plus a GPS and a display for each instrument.
Normally, The Boss would use the Garmin 430 to set the ATIS frequency, listen to the weather while also operating on the Houston Center ATC frequency on the Garmin 530. Once The Boss has the weather report, he would set his radios so that he had Houston Center ATC and Austin Approach ATC on the Garmin 530 and Georgetown Tower and Georgetown Ground on the Garmin 430.
In this manner he can smoothly go from Houston Center ATC to Austin Approach ATC on one radio and then from Georgetown Tower to Georgetown Ground on the other.
All of these radios would be set about 75 miles out so there is no time crunch as the flight gets into the critical approach zone near the airport. Preparation.
The GPS’s, which are part of the same instrument package as the radios, would be set to provide a graphical picture of the airport environment on the Garmin 530 and critical flight data (speed, distance, fuel consumption) on the GPS 430.
This situational awareness is particularly important if the airplane were encountering visibility limitations or flying solely on instruments with no ground frame of reference. For our example here, we will assume it is clear and that the flight will end with a visual approach to the Georgetown Airport.
The Georgetown Airport is located at approximately 875′ above mean sea level. The airplane is likely flying at 6,000′ and thus has to lose 5,125′ of altitude in its descent to the runway.
Climbing out of the departure airport, that altitude was very costly in terms of fuel and on the descent you want to get that investment back by converting altitude to power to fly the airplane to the runway. So, you will descend under very low power and let the altitude be cashed in in the form of speed.
At an appropriate distance out — 15-20 miles out — Austin Approach ATC will give instructions to descend.
“November 1-3-6 MD, descend and maintain 2,000′. Report Georgetown in sight.”
The Boss reduces the throttle to about 16″ of manifold pressure and lets a bit of speed bleed off to about 140 knots and turns the nose down just a bit primarily by using the trim and then begins to descend in a smooth and controlled manner.
During the descent, The Boss is very careful to monitor engine temperature to ensure that the thickening air does not starve the fuel-air ratio and make the engine heat up while simultaneously being careful not to allow the reduced fuel requirement to otherwise inappropriately cool the engine. It all depends on the time of year and fuel-air mixture at the time of descent.
As the plane descends to 2,000′, The Boss may need to enrich the fuel-air mixture to ensure the engine does not get too hot and apply a bit more throttle to ensure that airspeed does not get too low. At about ten miles out, The Boss wants to be going about 140 knots because all mechanical requirements (deploying flaps and extending the landing gear) must be accomplished under 154 knots in a Bonanza.
The Boss is constantly monitoring the engine temperature, the altitude, the airspeed and making smooth adjustments to the throttle and the mixture to ensure that things are on the right levels of performance.
At all times in close vicinity of the airport, The Boss’s head is on a swivel looking for traffic to the left, front, right, up, down. Observe and avoid traffic.
As soon as The Boss sights the airport — typically about 15 miles out and just east of Interstate Highway 35, he reports that fact to Austin Approach who then orders him to change frequencies to Georgetown Tower for the actual landing sequence.
“Austin Approach, 1-3-6 Mike Delta, airport in sight.”
“Approach, 1-3-6 Mike Delta, switch to Georgetown Tower, frequency 120.225, no traffic between you and Georgetown, good day.”
“Approach, 1-3-6 Mike Delta, 120.225, good day. Thank you.”
Then The Boss checks in with Georgetown Tower by switching to his second set of radios on the Garmin 430.
“Georgetown Tower, Bonanza 1-3-6 Mike Delta, inbound landing, airport in sight, Kilo.”
“Bonanza 1-3-6 Mike Delta, Georgetown Tower, we do not have you in sight, fly an extended base for Runway 18, report in 5 miles out.”
Since Georgetown Tower does not have radar, he is looking for the Bonanza visually with a powerful set of binoculars.
“Bonanza 1-3-6 Mike Delta, Georgetown Tower, have you in sight about 3 miles east of the Interstate. Cleared to land Runway 18, landing winds calm.”
Cleared to Land
Now the Bonanza is cleared to land, is at 2,000′ and is flying at about 140 knots. The Boss goes through a pre-landing checklist. Things are going to happen fast from here on in.
The Boss lowers the flaps to their first detent setting, retards the throttle to reduce speed to 120 knots and descends to 1,800′, the traffic pattern altitude for Georgetown (1,000′ above the ground elevation of the airport). The descent is effected by adjusting the trim tabs on the wings. This is done electronically from the yoke by pushing a switch. Trim becomes very important from here on in.
At this point, he also enrichs the mixture to full rich and advances the propeller setting to “full” — 2600 RPM. He checks, double checks and re-checks all instruments to ensure everything is ready to land.
At 3 miles out, The Boss lowers the landing gear not taking his hand off the landing gear knob until he sees three green lights indicating the landing gear is fully extended.
He reduces the throttle to approximately 15 inches of manifold pressure and begins a 500 foot per minute descent while reducing speed to approximately 110 knots.
At about one mile from the final approach leg, The Boss extends the flaps to their fully deployed position. He visually checks to ensure they have both deployed. The flaps will now allow the airplane to descend at a steeper angle. The plane is now physically fully configured to land. Now it is just a matter of flying the plane in its descent to the numbers at the end of the runway.
The airplane is now “established” on the left base leg of the traffic pattern and getting ready to turn onto the “final” leg of the landing pattern.
The Boss’s head is on a swivel looking for any traffic.
Final Approach Leg
As the plane approaches the extension of the runway that is the Final Approach Leg of the landing pattern, The Boss smoothly anticipates the turn and gently, gently, gently banks the plane to a heading of 180 degrees right down the extension of the center line of Runway 18. This turn is done very smoothly and gradually as turning too late or having to turn back to the center line is the source of many a landing mishap and crash.
You do not want to be low and slow approaching the stall speed of the aircraft while losing lift because the airplane’s wings are not level. This is the danger zone. Keep your damn speed up. You should be at 100 knots bleeding off to 90 knots as you become established on the Final Approach Leg.
If you find yourself low and slow and off course, then the prudent pilot applies full power, cleans up the flaps and landing gear and goes around for a second try. There is nothing wrong with having to go around.
At this time, the plane is established on the center line of the runway slowing down through 90 knots to 80 knots and smoothly descending to the numbers at the end of the runway. In this case Runway 18.
The trim has been adjusted to a pre-ordained setting consistent with landing.
When The Boss’s eyes read the numbers, he makes one last check of the landing gear and the flaps and the instruments and the trim tab setting.
He is carefully sensing in the seat of his pants, in the movement of the aircraft, in his fingertips on the yoke and with his eyes if there is any type of crosswind or turbulence or other movement which would require him to make an adjustment to the landing approach.
Tonight the wind is calm and everything is solid and stable. The Boss has one hand on the throttle and one hand on the yoke with a thumb on the trim tab switch and is ready to instantly correct for altitude or speed. He will cross the numbers at 80 knots.
Sometimes on a night like tonight, the plane feels like it falls into a “slot” that is so stable and calm that the plane seems to stop moving and almost lands itself. Sailors will understand this feeling as when a sailboat is so well trimmed that it just seems to sail itself.
As the plane flies over the numbers, The Boss smoothly and gently rotates the plane to fly at a fixed altitude over the runway. Parallel to the runway surface.
As the plane becomes established in this flying attitude — which is now naturally beginning to bleed off speed — The Boss begins to ease back on the yoke to keep the nose up, begins to reduce the throttle and to add nose up trim.
As the plane descends to the runway elevation, The Boss kills the power and continues to gently pull back on the yoke to make the nose rise. This bleeds off the plane’s energy and speed.
As the speed dissipates The Boss lets the plane get to within just a foot or inches of the runway and just holds the plane there, losing energy and slowing down. He does nothing else other than trying to stay on the center line of the runway.
Finally, the plane has had enough. “If you are not gong to feed me, then I am going to quit flying.”
The plane gently squeaks onto the runway. The Boss gently keeps the nose high to bleed off all speed, then applies the brakes and lets the plane smoothly roll to a stop.
The Boss guides the plane to a taxiway off the runway to the hangar.
Switching to Georgetown Ground, The Boss gets permission to taxi to the hangar.
Now, see, that wasn’t too hard, was it? Of course, The Boss has done this a few thousand times.