Mastering Short Field Landings
When confronted with a short runway or one bounded by obstacles, pilots must adjust their
approach and landing techniques to ensure a safe touchdown and timely stop.
What are the essential steps for executing a successful short field landing? Let’s break it
down into four phases: approach, obstacle clearance, touchdown, and rollout.

Achieving a precise short field landing begins with maintaining strict control over airspeed
and descent rate. Stabilising your approach at the correct speed and glide path allows for a
precise touchdown and minimises the risk of floating down the runway or overshooting the
intended stopping point.

You can fly a slightly wider-than-normal traffic pattern in order to give yourself enough time to
configure the aircraft and establish a stable approach. Although not mandatory, this
approach strategy enhances landing predictability and control. If your Pilot’s Operating
Handbook (POH) does not specify a final approach speed, using full flaps and flying at 1.3
times the stall speed (Vso) on finals ensures a suitable setup for landing.
Mastering a stable approach in this configuration is often the most challenging aspect of a
short field landing. Being on the back side of the power curve during final approach requires
precise power and pitch adjustments to control descent rate and airspeed.

Obstacle Clearance on Finals
When facing an obstacle near the runway threshold, pilots should adopt a slightly
steeper-than-normal approach angle. This allows for safe obstacle clearance without
compromising excessive runway usage before touchdown. However, a steeper descent
angle necessitates careful timing of the flare. Delaying the flare results in a hard landing,
while premature flare can induce an early stall and a high sink rate. Regular practice is
crucial for mastering this critical maneuver.

Touchdown The culmination of precise preparation is the touchdown itself. Gradually
reducing throttle to idle as you approach the runway threshold is essential. The timing of
throttle reduction varies with aircraft characteristics; lighter aircraft require earlier reduction to
avoid overshooting, whereas heavier aircraft benefit from maintaining power slightly longer
to ensure sufficient airspeed.

Executing a smooth flare just before touchdown aims to achieve the minimum controllable
airspeed, slightly above stall speed. This minimises ground speed upon touchdown,
facilitating the shortest possible ground roll.

Upon touchdown, immediate application of maximum aerodynamic braking is key. Gradually
pulling back on the yoke enhances aerodynamic braking effectiveness by increasing weight
on the main landing gear. Careful modulation of brake pressure prevents wheel lock-up,
which can occur at higher ground speeds. Gradually reducing brake pressure as ground
speed decreases ensures a smooth transition to taxi speed.

Common Challenges in Short Field Landings
Achieving proficiency in short field landings requires overcoming several common
● Managing excessive airspeed during final approach, leading to extended float down
the runway.
● Controlling descent rate to avoid a hard touchdown.
● Maintaining a stabilised approach path to prevent oscillation above and below glide
● Applying brakes carefully during rollout to avoid wheel lock-up.
● Ensuring a gentle nosewheel touchdown to prevent structural stress.

Mastering short field landings demands disciplined adherence to approach procedures,
precise control during descent and flare, and effective use of aerodynamic braking upon
touchdown. Regular practice and familiarity with aircraft characteristics are crucial for
achieving consistent and safe landings in challenging conditions.