Rough landings: again, and again, and again!

A student pilot learns a valuable lesson

By Peggy Thompson

Thought I’d share this story, since someone posted a question about rough landings and I discovered I was too embarrassed to share this, initially. Then I thought, ‘it’s all about learning and sharing and learning some more!’

During my PPL quest I completed a tiring first cross-country, 3.1 hours, and felt pleased with my trip, overall. I had cleaned up things on the return leg that needed improvement, leg times taught me what I needed to know, corrections made, VOR use was successful, etc. It was a hot stop in Modesto and though I had a little time to cool returning to Santa Rosa, my total usage of nerves, joy, and discovery had worn me thin, (wish THAT was literal!) 😉

On downwind, with clearance to land, I heard that there was a small jet coming in immediately after me. From a previous landing at Napa Airport I recalled the phrase one controller used in regarding my station in the pattern to another aircraft, “…Cessna camped out on Final…” Well, that stuck in my craw, and on this afternoon I thought, “I will NOT be camped out on Final!”

Somewhere in my all-consuming reading of flight magazines, I’d read that once the nose is down it helps slow the plane down. So with that blip in my brain, I figured that once down, I’d get that nose stuck onto the ground and scoot off, clearing the runway for that fast jet! This was all I could figure to do to speed up the process, since I knew a Cessna needs its own sweet time to come down in a strong headwind.

Landing number one, rear wheels touched ground. Get that nose down, whoop! Whoop! WHOOP!!! The nose BOUNCED THREE TIMES!!! Each bounce raised the nose progressively higher! On the third bounce, ‘third time’s a charm.’ I got the heck out of there in a smooth go around. Anything felt smooth after THAT!!!

“WHAT AM I DOING WRONG? WHAT DO I NEED TO CHANGE?” Second landing attempt, same effect: no change, go around!

Next landing, same questions pounded my brain with even more urgency! Sweet, smooth ‘squeak, squeak’ of the mains, I exhaled, then ‘boing, boing, and BIIIIG BOING!’ One more go around!

“Santa Rosa Tower, One-Six-Echo, CLEARLY having difficulty landing…” I told them to call my flight school and my instructor’s name. I didn’t know what else to do, but to get instructions to fly around until my instructor could help me out. I was hot, tired, and obviously at a loss for solutions. With my need to get down growing with each landing I knew I had to relax on that idea, first of all! Second, I needed help!

“One-Six-Echo, I am also a flight instructor and can help you if you would like. We are calling your flight school as requested. What is your name?” I may not have the exact phrases here, but he asked me to tell him what was happening, I told him I’d been on a first cross country, jet on my tail, etc.

He so calmly suggested I complete a slow 360 about mid-downwind, and he talked me through this stage, and told me that they observed that on final I was not reducing my power enough. Oh, so I THOUGHT I was doing everything by the book, but in my rush to get down, I truly DID rush, and then had a rote pattern in my head for the next landing attempts! What a lesson!

My pattern was perfect, my final approach nice and Cessna-slow. My landing squeaked and my nose stayed OFF THE GROUND until it was good and ready to come down with me increasing the yoke pull gently until it was all the way back without raising the plane back into the air. My focus on the end of the runway and the nose: keeping that nose tip just at that focal point, and “AHHHH!” Textbook landing!

I thanked Tower and as I gently turned off the active I told myself to remember the excellent return flight and all of my achievements. That this was a lesson learned but that my solo cross country was a success and to hang on to that thought! Then I turned off the runway, now facing two fire trucks with all the guys and gals waving thumbs up! I waved back and then the wave broke, the welling in my chest gave way to a few tears, as the dangers became so visceral with the fire trucks there on the ready.

Taxiing back to the flight school, I again talked myself through the positive achievements. The heaviness in my chest felt pervasive, still I persisted in keeping the ‘get back in the saddle’ self-talk. The owner of the flight school kindly gave me a hug and said, “You need to know that the Emergency Response Team has only one response. Also, you need to know that they are actually grateful to get practice like that, not happy that it happened to you, but, just the drill…” He knew that was the hardest part of the landing, seeing the trucks! The rest was executed to the best of my (hot, tired) abilities, and lessons learned.

Humbled, crumbled and fighting to keep one foot in front of the other, I walked back to the building. My instructor had run from the school to the tower, he was up there during the final landing! Two women who worked at the school began gently unfolding their student pilot stories. I was amazed! These two kind women had gone on to get their licenses, so guess what! I got right back into it!!!

I booked a lesson for the next day, did some solo work after that, another cross country, night flight, instrument work, phase checks and CHECK RIDE!!!

Peggy Thompson, Private Pilot

p.s. In between all of this my father passed on, I thought it was sad he did not live to see me complete this. Upon completion I raised my thumbs up to the sun-roof of the Cessna and said, “I did it Dad!” and I swear to you, I thought he said, “I knew you would.” Now he flies with me all of the time. Happy Landings Everyone!

Peggy is a member of the Santa Rosa 99s. She passed her Private Pilot Land checkride on July 18, 2006. Reprinted with permission from the author.