How to counteract and prevent a rough landing:
Go around. That's it. That's the whole post.
Just kidding! Somewhat....
Okay we've all had those days where we landed the plane so rough that we just taxied back in silence and thoroughly inspected the landing gear afterwards. In fact, my student and I had one yesterday so bad that we ended up popping the left main gear tire. It happens! You live and you learn. So let's talk about it.
First things first: set up for a good approach by having a good traffic pattern. Get your 'before landing' checklist done BEFORE getting established in the pattern. That's part of staying ahead of the plane. The less you're having to rush and scramble to make sure everything is complete, the better your odds are of being ready and stable.
In the picture above we're getting ready to land on 35L at Ellington, so we're entering at a 45 degree right downwind. By this point, all the 'before landing' items were done and our passenger briefing was complete so we could focus on the actual landing.
The second thing is to fly the actual traffic pattern. By this I mean take it back to your rectangular course maneuver: if there are winds, then establish the proper crabbing correction to actually hold your downwind, base, etc. If you're fighting winds the whole time and getting too close or too far from the runway, then by the time you turn final, you won't be lined up with centerline.
Now, when you actually turn final, work to maintain centerline the WHOLE TIME (not just as you're coming into flare) and fight for the right glide slope. What if you're too high? Don't accept it and chop some power out. If you're too low, add power in. If there is a PAPI or VASI lighting system then make yourself hold the red and white colors. The main thing about being on final is not to accept anything that isn't "perfect" and fight to get the airplane where you want it to be.
You keep descending on final and now it's getting time to flare: the key part. Don't start the flare too low and especially not too early because you have the danger of stalling too high. Know your plane and know when to flare it. Obviously, something like a C-130 won't flare at the same time as a C172. For the sake of this post and discussing flight training, we'll pretend we're flying a typical GA plane like the C172.
Don't flare until you're about 10 feet about the runway. This is when you transition your eyes from your landing point to the end of the runway and start working the nose up and power out. Remember, the goal is to have the nose wheel touchdown as late as possible. I've found the most common mistakes are that people don't pull the yoke/stick back far enough and the nose wheel hits first, and they jerk the controls rather than smoothly pull it back. Part of a smooth landing is always being smooth with your controls. SMOOTHLY work that nose up and keep pulling until the plane touches down. For the most part, your yoke/stick should be pulled almost all the way back. After the side wheels touch down, just hold the controls and easily start relaxing them to let the nose wheel come down on its own.
Let's say you do this and still balloon or bounce. What do you do?
That's easy: GO AROUND. Every single time you should execute a go-around because you don't know how hard your second touchdown will be.
Stepping away from my CFI role and preaching about go-arounds, we all know we'll have those days where we still try and stick with the landing. If it's a small and very minor balloon, hold the controls where they are and then as the plane comes back down go back to pulling back SMOOTHLY again and you should have a nice touchdown (again this is for a balloon that's small and under about 8 feet).
If you bounce 9/10 times, it's because you hit all 3 wheels at once rather than the nose wheel last so keep pulling back until your nose is up more. Again, this is only for a minor bounce under a few feet. If the plane bounces back up really high, throw in the power and GO AROUND.
I can't preach go-arounds enough. They not only give you another chance at trying to grease the landing, but they can also save the plane from being damaged.
The last and most important thing aside from pitch attitude in the flare is airspeed. Watch your airspeed and know your Vref. Let's say Vref is 70kts and you look down, having not even flared yet you're at 60kts. You know what will happen? An early stall and a rough touchdown. Now, let's say the airspeed is at 80kts rather than 70kts. This time you'll float and have the danger of running out of runway before being able to touchdown and bring the plane to a stop.
Landing is a game of airspeed and altitude. Once you get these down, then get the pitch attitude where it needs to be in the flare. Whenever you get a really smooth and soft landing, look up and take a mental picture of where your nose is in relation to the horizon. THAT'S what you want to work for every single time.
There's a lot to talk about with landings so you can expect more blog posts on them in the future, but I covered all the basic things that'll keep you safe and smooth.
Have any tips to add? Feel free to contribute below!
Until next time, Happy Landings!