It Can Be Hard To Slow Down

I’m really an instrument flying kind of guy. Looking out the window is useful for seeing the airport for a visual approach, or searching for traffic, or enjoying the scenery, but the essential information to control the airplane is right there in front of you on the instrument panel.

You would be accurate to say that I do my best to fly by the numbers. There is a procedure for every phase of flight, and to fly that procedure with precision you will do best by knowing the proper airspeed, power settings and so on. I even have a CFI-I rating, but not a basic CFI. So the FAA thinks I can teach you to fly instruments, but not how to fly looking out the window.

But knowing the target numbers is one thing. Having had the recent practice to know how to hit those numbers is another. And that recent practice is what I was missing last week.

The mission was to fly EAA’s elderly Cessna 210 from Oshkosh to a sod field at Iola, Wisconsin. The airport is named Central County, even though it’s located in Waupaca County. Nobody I talked to was sure why the old potato field converted to an airport in 1946 is called Central County, but the name has stuck.

But one thing is very clear and that is why the airport—identifier 68C—was built. It says so in big letters right up on the main hangar—Built for the love of flying.

While many airports host fly-in pancake breakfasts, the Central County Flyers Association turns out an unbelievable Friday lunch. The enormous spread is served every Friday of the year, except when a major holiday falls nearby on the calendar. But even that rule doesn’t seem to hold on New Year’s Day.

To enjoy the feast you need to join the Central County Flyers Association. Ten bucks pays you and your family up for life. I know what you imagine a lunch menu at a little airport might be, but you would be wrong. On the day of our visit the menu was a full blown Thanksgiving spread with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and more. The one Thanksgiving oddity was wonderful sweet corn on the cob. After all, it was the height of sweet corn season.

The menu this week is popcorn chicken. The week before turkey day it was pork roast. Sirloin steaks, ribs, pork chops and beef stew all show up on the Flyers’ menu history on the website. Just Google 68c and it will pop up.

The longest runway at Central County is 2,600 feet, enough for a Cessna 210. But there are trees on the approach end so it was time to pay attention. I have flown the 210 several times over the past few months but almost always to use it as a camera ship on photo missions and always using normal size airports, not grass strips with trees.

I looked in the Cessna owner’s manual—the airplane was built in 1969 before the industry standardized on pilot operating handbooks (POH). The book advice was to approach at 80 mph—before knots—and expect to use about 1,500 feet to touchdown and stop using maximum braking after approaching over a 50-foot obstacle. The notes said to add 20 percent to that distance for a dry sod runway landing. That gave me a book required runway of about 1,800 feet, and that was at maximum weight. I would be several hundred pounds below that weight so the 2,600 foot long Runway 22 at Central County would be long enough.

The Central County lunch is so popular that the traffic pattern was busy with everything from LSA to T-6 warbirds. The Flyers put a chalk line across the runway for everyone to aim at for a spot landing contest. Closest to the line, but not short of, saves the lucky pilot the $7.99 tab for lunch.

Flying at 80 mph is something I haven’t done a lot of lately, but no worries, I’d just slow to that airspeed on short final. Flying at 100 mph seemed plenty slow as I approached but when I pulled the power back, all the way back, to slow to the final Vref of 80 mph, the airspeed stayed about the same at 100. I’m used to the drag of bigger flaps, higher wing loadings and a second propeller creating drag, but it wasn’t there on the 210 and my airspeed over the trees was closer to 100 than the 80 mph target.

I sailed over the chalk line indicating more than 80 mph. As usual, I was flying by the numbers but I was looking at the wrong number on the airspeed indicator and there was nothing to do but go around.

Next time around I got the airspeed down to 80 mph a long way out and held it there with power and everything worked out fine, though I didn’t win the spot contest. Rod Hightower couldn’t resist the opportunity to razz me about not being able to get the right speed on final, and, of course, I would have done the same to him if he hadn’t gotten his T-6 on the runway first time around. Flying by the numbers worked, even when the number I saw on the dial told me I had screwed up and the number told me there was nothing to do but try again.

If you are ever anywhere near Central Wisconsin at lunch time on a Friday be sure to drop in. Get there early and critique other’s landings, and also get in line early for chow. It is a very popular spot and lives up to its motto—Built for the love of flying.

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18 Responses to It Can Be Hard To Slow Down

  1. Bill Berson says:

    Does EAA have a blog for sport aviation kind of guys like me? (I thought sport aviation was VFR)

    • Skyfixer says:

      I have flown with many IFR guys , many of them with tons of time that were so engrossed in playing with the garmin panel, they scarred me.
      Nothing like looking out a window and comparing it to a chart. my kind of flying

  2. Tom Miller says:

    For the record, I really enjoy your blog, Mac.

    I’m a long-time EAA type, and I always file IFR in my experimental airplane. Remember everybody, the X-15 was experimental too. Low and slow is fun, but so is fast, high, and over the weather. Both can be done in experimental aircraft, and it’s in the spirit of Wilbur and Orville to push the boundaries.

  3. Robert D says:

    Great report, Mac. Every state needs a 68C.

    BTW, I just stepped down to a slower airplane and am having some “adjustment” issues as well. My new approach speed would have been a “fall-out-of-the-sky” speed on the old airplane!

  4. Stephen Tonozzi says:

    I have a 1960 210. When I was getting checked out in 1986, my flight instructor put it down and stopped in 400 feet at Redwing, MN airport.

  5. Dov Elyada says:

    I was thinking of writing:
    “I like Mac’s blog very much and I read it more often than not–and more often than anything else on e_Hotline. But I wish e-Hotline had also someone blogging about the sport pilot’s experience.”
    How interesting! As I scrolled to the responses area I saw Bill Berson’s response. Were you reading my mind, Bill, or do we both represent a great many who wish the same?

  6. Josh Johnson says:

    The “slow down” issue seems to get me anytime I’m near a Cirrus – they took all my tools away! No gear to extend for drag and can’t force the prop full forward for more drag! Otherwise, a nice flying airplane!

  7. James Wolfe says:

    Mac’s point about slowing down is a good one, and gives rise to some very important considerations. I am an ATP and CFI, and this is a hot button with me. Commercial and advanced students are constantly flying the aircraft too fast on final. They tell me it’s because their previous instructors have taught them to add some “for the wife and kids, grandma, etc.” They continue to pad these numbers until they’re screaming down final at 85 knots in a 152. I have the same problems with my First Officers who want to fudge the numbers upward, and for the same reason. The numbers ARE the numbers—learn to stary right on them. Fudging them upward makes less sense than riding high on the glideslope—keep the needles centered.

    A review of NTSB data shows how often inexperienced pilots run off the end of the runway as the advance to bigger airplanes. If you want to fly a cub off of 5000 feet, that’s fine, but if your aspirations are to be a proficient pilot, learn how to hit the numbers. Go around when you’re fast.

    My other complaint with pilot training is the checklist. Its value is indisputable, but students and First Officers race through the checklist without even asking what each step is for, and why they’re doing it. Don’t throw a switch unless you know the outcome and have a reason for wanting it now. First Officer and students are often working on the approach segment when we’re still in cruise. That means they have to by-pass items, that later get missed. I love flying. I see no reason to get there one minute sooner than I should. Slow down and enjoy the flight.

    • Dennis says:

      I have flown many airplanes, glider and helicopters in my 44 years of flying. The checklist I use in everything from the 777 to the Cub is “Cigar & Gump” I adjust each item for the airplane I am flying. Even in the 777 with all the checklists, I would go through those old checklists in my mind before I left the ground and before I touched it again. I have had the distinct joy to fly a lot of light planes (hauling mail, air ambulance, fire fighting, air taxi and more) and flying helicopters (military & civil) as well as earning different badges in a sailplane. All of aviation is fun. Each in it’t own way. I now fly VFR-Day for the sheer joy and to see old friends and meet new ones. Speed control is the answer to good landings in each type.

  8. Richard Bradberry says:

    Good piece, Mac, and a hearty amen! to James Wolfe’s comments. Your story reminds me of what was hammered into me when I began learning to land on aircraft carriers – be on speed, on altitude and on power when you begin the approach, or you will be chasing one, two or all three all the way to the inevitable waveoff.

  9. Thomas Boyle says:

    I don’t care for “by the numbers” flying, for the kind of flying where the information on the panel is more important than the view outside or the feel of the wing. But I’ve learned to fly that way too (instrument rating in a faster airplane), and in the process I’ve come to realize that pilots’ intuition about flying is strongly biased by the type of flying they’ve learned – and EVERY pilot’s intuition is wrong (in other types of flying).

    When I was younger and more experienced (!), I believed I could fly “practically anything with fixed wings”. After all, everything I had flown behaved in pretty much the same way, and the basic principles of flight are the same for any fixed-wing aircraft.

    I later learned that I was wrong, in subtle but important ways. The basic principles of flight are the same, but the subtle clues that give us our intuition for what’s happening – they change with speed and wing loading. What we instinctively expect to happen… doesn’t.

    If you watch online blog comments and magazine articles, you’ll see that some pilots decry the loss of “flying by feel”, wonder how it’s humanly possible to stall an A330 and not recognize it, and generally insist that it’s always possible to fly an airplane by feel – in fact, that it’s the right way to do it. It isn’t, though. High wing loadings, and the associated control gearings, rob an aircraft of the cues a fly-by-feel pilot looks for. And, speed reduces maneuverability much faster than pilots tend to realize, affecting altitude needed for stall recovery, turns in a canyon, and even just the flare for landing – all by non-intuitive (large) amounts. Speed also increases energies, so that it’s much harder to slow down than “slow” pilots expect (slow airplanes decelerate quickly, fast ones don’t); the “few knots for the wife and kids” is much more of a runway-eating problem; and accidents are much more lethal – all by non-intuitively large amounts.

    Now that the instrument-based pilots (people who learned in the Air Force or who have spent their lives in corporate flying) are grinning with that “told-you-so” look, here’s the thing: slow airplanes make your intuitions wrong. The evidence is there: you guys are wrecking LSAs when you try to fly the “simple little airplanes”! Large wing areas make gust upsets happen much faster than you expect. Wind gusts are a much larger percentage of your airspeed than you are used to; on a typical approach in a truly small plane, the gusts can easily be 30% of your stall speed (and, in an ultralight, 50% or more). The ASI offers general trend information, but meaningful precision is often impossible. Meanwhile, the airplane is giving you all kinds of feedback you’ve never learned to pay attention to, and it can recover from upsets you would consider lethal: a stall can be recovered in tens (!) of feet, and the “impossible turn” is not nearly as impossible as you may think. And, much of what you have learned to prioritize isn’t all that important: for a little airplane, a 5,000 ft runway is effectively infinitely long, 20 extra knots won’t put you through the far fence – and you should probably consider it on a gusty day, because 20 knots above stall will put you at maybe, oh, 55-60kt.

    So, I don’t enjoy fly-by-the-numbers that much, but thanks for the reminder of the time when I tried it anyway – it was very enlightening! (And maybe you should get out and try some slow, seat-of-the-pants flying once in a while!)

    • Bill P says:

      I appreciate Thomas Boyle’s post, as it is making me think twice about recent opinions I’ve developed. I have to admit that as I’ve become better at flying my taildragger through various maneuvers, including basic aerobatics, almost solely by feel, I’ve been starting to look down at the highly trained pilots of expensive aircraft who seem to be making basic airmanship mistakes, like stalling and reacting the wrong way, resulting in the deaths of many. I recently wrote a letter to an aviation columnist wondering why the airlines don’t simply buy a few cheap and simple planes, like Citabrias, Decathlons or the like, and make all their pilots fly the heck out of them on their off days through all kinds of maneuvers, just to develop and/or maintain basic airmanship skills they seem to lack.

      So let’s accept the indisputable point that expensive aircraft built for high speeds behave and provide control responses far different than those found in low and slow planes. My next question is, why can’t the pilots of the high speed, high wing loading jobs learn the feel of their airplanes just like pilots of the low and slow jobs do? Shouldn’t the pilot of an airliner know what his plane feels like as its approaching a stall — and how to react if he goes “over the edge?”

      I can think of at least two answers to that question, and would be interested to hear what others think. First, they probably could learn the feel of their airplanes in various flight situations more than they do, but just fail to do so because they are focusing on so many other things. In my opinion, that’s wrong. Certainly Bob Hoovers showed by his maneuvers in the Shrike Commander that transport type aircraft are far more capable than many might think.

      Second, and I think this is more interesting, its just a lot easier to practice stalls, spins, slow flight, etc. in planes that are built for it. E.g., its no big deal for a pilot to stall a tail dragger 4-6 times in succession, fly around in circles on the edge of stall, spin it and pull out over and over, etc., all of which develops a feel for the plane on the edge. Certainly its not as easy or, for safety reasons, even permitted or possible to do many of those maneuvers in many twins, jets, airliners, etc. So the point is, the design and flying characteristics of certain aircraft actually prevent pilots from developing the same ability to fly by feel as can be developed in other aircraft. So the pilots of such aircraft should probably be cut some slack accordingly.

      Even so, its just inexplicable to me, given the lives at stake and low-cost alternatives for developing basic airmanship skills, that the pilots of airliners wouldn’t be trained to have such skills, even if the training occurs in aircraft of different categories than the ones they fly for work.

  10. Fred Anderka says:

    Mac’s point about slowing down is particularly important when you are flying a Velocity. You have to nail the glide slope to arrive at the threshold at a reasonable 90 knots. If the approach is too high, this airplane is so slick that it will accelerate if you try to get it on the runway anyway. There are no flaps to slow you down and canard airplanes do not sideslip.

    Flying-by-the-numbers is critical and must start before you enter the downwind as you try to slow from 180 knots cruise to 100 knot pattern speed. While not as critical in my C-182, applying the same techniques has made landings smoother and on the numbers every time.

    Thanks for recounting your experiance and I wish I could get the Velocity into that grass field-never landed it on sod.

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  12. Cary Alburn says:

    Good you went around, Mac. The mistake was in thinking you could slow to 80 mph on short final. Whenever I’m going into a short strip, I get down to my 1.3 Vso speed waaaaaaaay out there, even on downwind if appropriate. I also use my Angle of Attack indicator a lot–more, maybe all, airplanes should have them, and then maybe we wouldn’t have people trying to land at near cruise speeds. Incidentally, my airplane is a P172D, and even with all the drag it has, I wouldn’t try to hit my final approach speed on short final.

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