At some point, everyone bounces a landing (yes, even you!). Here’s how to recover, and what you can do to prevent it from happening in the first place.
What Causes A Bounce?
Bad landings usually start in the pattern. If you can’t stabilize your approach to the runway early on, it’s going to be much harder to make a smooth landing.
There are two primary causes of bounced landings: landing hard, and landing too fast.
If you have a high sink rate, your natural tendency is to pull back on the yoke as you quickly approach the ground. The result? Your angle-of-attack rapidly increases, creating enough lift to propel your plane back into the air. The faster you are, the more this is a problem, because you can create more lift.
In addition to that, if you touch down hard, your main gear hit the pavement and rebound you back into the air.
The harder you land, the higher you’ll bounce.
Airspeed is another common cause of bounced landings.
If you land with too much airspeed, and you force the aircraft down in a flat attitude, your airplane simply isn’t ready to stop flying. As you touch down, you’ll skip off the runway like a rock on water, and bounce back into the air.
Whether you bounce from a hard landing, or because you landed too fast, your next step is to recover the bounce. Fortunately, recovery is the same for both.
Many bounced landings can still end with a smooth touchdown.
If you bounce, the first thing you should do is hold back pressure to keep the aircraft in a nose-high landing attitude. You might need to release some back pressure on the yoke or stick if your nose is too high, but don’t push the nose down. If you force the nose down, you could land even harder than the first time, or worse, land on your nose gear.
As you start descending back to the runway, you might also need to add some power to reduce your descent rate. But don’t over-correct with power. Adding small amounts of power is all it takes to safely reduce your descent rate for a soft touchdown.
The next step is easy: land normally. Small to moderate bounces will often leave you just a few feet above the runway, just like if you were initiating your final touchdown flare.
When Should You Go-Around?
If you’ve bounced well above the runway, go around. As you get higher, ground effect diminishes, and you could find yourself getting very close to stall speed.
It can be tough to judge exactly how high is “too high,” and it depends a lot on the type of airplane you’re flying. The safest option is, of course, to go around.
When you bounce, you also need to pay close attention to how far you’ve floated down the runway. If you bounced due to excess airspeed, there’s a good chance you’ve floated well beyond your intended touchdown spot. If you’re well beyond your intended landing spot, or if you’re uncomfortable with the amount of runway remaining, go-around and try again.
If You Start To Porpoise…
A porpoise landing is a bounced landing that, if not recovered, results in your plane touching down nose first. If you let it continue, it will set your plane off into a series of “jumps” and “dives”, like a real porpoise. Porpoise landings can happen when you are flying too fast during touchdown, or if you have too high of a descent rate at touchdown.
Immediately executing a go-around is the safest thing to do. Because porpoise oscillations occur so rapidly, flight control inputs to correct the oscillations are difficult, if not impossible to accomplish.
It Doesn’t Matter What You Fly
Whether you’re flying a Boeing 757 or a Piper Arrow, everyone will bounce a landing. The aerodynamics behind how they happen, and what you can do to recover, are nearly the exact same.
Stop A Bounce Before It Happens
The key to stopping a bounce is flying a stabilized approach, all the way to the ground.
If you come in too fast, bleed off airspeed during your flare, or go-around. And if you have a high descent rate just above the runway, go-around. Forcing your plane to land before it’s ready, or landing hard, comes with the high likelihood of a bounce.
Take the next step.
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