Safety topic from Episode 8

Look before you land

Look before you leap ...

Flying into an unfamiliar airstrip will bring with it lots of unknowns. 

A precautionary inspection of an unfamiliar airstrip before landing is a logical and effective way to satisfy yourself that you have chosen a suitable landing area for your aircraft, and for your skill level. 

On arrival in the vicinity of the strip, remember the mnemonic that will provide the focus of your airborne inspection:

W Wind velocity & direction

O Obstacles – in the undershoot, field and overshoot

S Size – minimum 1500ft (450m) length

S Shape – suitable landing direction for current wind

S Slope – landing direction

S Surface – cultivated? Wet? Rocky? Livestock? Tyre tracks? Ant hills?

S Sun – landing into the sun, strobe effect through the propeller

E Elevation – key altitudes on altimeter for the circuit pattern

T Terrain – will the terrain surrounding the field affect the landing or go-around?

As there is little doubt you will someday need this skill, practising a textbook precautionary search and landing every so often makes good sense. It’s another way of getting on the front foot and being prepared for whatever unusual situations your flying is going to present you with. Book your instructor for a dual session if you are struggling to remember the correct procedure and ask for the take-home notes (which your flying school will almost certainly have available) on landing at ALAs.

If the strip is unfenced, stock may be “hiding” in surrounding bushes. Make sure you check both sides of the strip for any sign of wildlife that may be startled onto the strip after your precautionary pass, just in time for your actual landing!

You will be reminded of selecting and sticking to a maximum touchdown point for landing. You will have mentally marked this spot as abeam a gate, a particular tree, a big anthill or similar. Just don’t choose a cow.

Many pilots are overconfident of their ability to handle an aircraft safely on unknown strips. With recent practice under your belt you are far less likely to stray from the accuracy required in maintaining a safe height and indicated air speed during your inspection run whilst visually assessing the strip for suitability.

One thing to remember is not to rush the inspection. Don’t put yourself in the position where you are racing the clock to beat last light or deteriorating weather. What happens in that instance if you are unhappy with the landing area and have to continue on to locate another suitable field? 

All low flying is to be approached with the greatest respect for its inherent risks. Phone the owner of the airstrip for permission to use the strip and make sure you take the opportunity of quizzing him/her for any helpful advice about landing there. Consider also the insurance cover that may or may not apply to unregistered landing areas.