A Photo Story of Landing a Cirrus

Getting tired of reading about Cirrus landing accidents?  We've seen a lot of them.  Let's do something about them.  But first, why so many?

A common factor emerges: landing with excessive speed.

But then how should you land a Cirrus?  And how do you land your Cirrus?  If you do it differently, then what are the risks?

To find out, I spent some time reviewing recent COPA forum threads, such as Airspeeds - Landing Poll SR22 Only and Another, ho-hum, landing incident/prop strike and the recent accident thread SR-22 landing mishap in Mulege, Baja Sur

And those threads convinced me of two things: 1) people are using the same words to describe different things, and 2) I needed to see this for myself.

So, at the recent Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program at Evansville, IN, I took my camera out on the ramp and photographed two CPPP instructors while they flew Cirrus SR22 and landed them in front of me. The first helped me with my photographic technique, but my camera failed me and the picture were out of focus.  The second attempt was perfect.

Here's a sequence of photos of the landing, taken from south to north on runway 36 at KEVV. (Click to see a larger view, or see the full-sized photographs below.)

Very pretty airplane, very pretty landing.  (FYI, this is N430CD, a Worpe9 variant of the SR22 from Next Generation Aircraft with a refit TAT Turbo engine, Avidyne Release 9 avionics, updated interior and new paint scheme; but of course, that had nothing to do with the landing, eh?)  We'll use the paint scheme to highlight the attitude as the plane progresses through the landing sequence.

Factors in Cirrus Landing Accidents

But back to the landing accidents in a Cirrus.  At least 30 aircraft have had substantial damage due to landing accidents, at least two of them fatal: Gurupi, Brazil when the wing tip touched the ground and the plane cartwheeled killing the pilot, and Crystal, MN when landing in rain and the plane failed to execute a go around after touching down.  These accidents involve many variations of problems, such as loss of directional control after touchdown, pilot induced oscillations, and running off the end of the runway. 

A common factor, not necessarily the cause but something that stands out, emerges: excessive landing speed.

What the POH says about Normal Landings

Here's what the POH states (see page 4-18 in the section on Normal Procedures):

Normal landing approaches can be made with power on or off with
any flap setting desired. Surface winds and air turbulence are usually
the primary factors in determining the most comfortable approach
speeds.

Actual touchdown should be made with power off and on the main
wheels first to reduce the landing speed and subsequent need for
braking. Gently lower the nose wheel to the runway after airplane
speed has diminished. This is especially important for rough or soft
field landings.

Seems simple enough, eh?  Approach can be in any configuration.  Conditions may determine speeds.  Touchdown on the main wheels first.  Lower the nose wheel after speed has diminished.

Unfortunately, training was overtaken by events.  Tail strikes happened frequently enough in new airplanes during transition training that instructors began adding more speed to keep the plane from dropping onto the runway.  A bit of a good thing gone bad!

What does the Flight Operations Manual say about Normal Landings

Another guiding document from Cirrus Aircraft gives instructors and pilots standardized procedures.  Here's the section on Normal Landings (see page 3-66 in the section on Standard Operating Procedures):

Normal landings should be made with 100% flaps. Final approach
speeds should be adjusted to account for gusts exceeding 10 KTS by
adding half of the gust factor. Reduce power smoothly and begin
slowing from the final approach speed at a time that allows an easy
transition from final descent to round out and flare with minimum
floating or ballooning. Touch downs should be made on the main
wheels first at speeds slightly above stall. Gently lower the nose wheel
after the mains are on the ground.

More rigorous than the POH and more descriptive of the technique.  Introduces the distinctions of final approach, round out, flare and touch down.  However, this remains consistent with POH.

A great diagram is also provided to show the airspeeds and configurations in the traffic pattern:

What do we mean by "landing speeds"?

So, if the guidance is consistent and standard, why do we have a problem?  Seems that people use the phrase "landing speed" to refer to different phases of the normal landing procedure.  Here's my take on the distinctions:

  • final approach speed: the airspeed with 100% flaps during the descent towards the runway
  • short final speed: the airspeed for the last part of the final approach, often less than a mile down to about a quarter mile
  • over the fence speed: a colloquial term without precision, because where is the fence in relation to the runway threshold
  • over the numbers speed: another colloquial term that at least refers to the landing portion of the runway beyond the threshold
  • Vref speed: airspeed for crossing the landing threshold of the runway, defined as 1.3 times Vso, the stall speed in landing configuration at most unfavorable weight & balance
  • round out: the transition from nose-down attitude during final approach to nose slightly high to enter ground effect over the runway
  • flare: the nose slightly high attitude as airspeed decreases in ground effect prior to touch down
  • touch down speed: slightly above Vso, the full stall speed

What does it look like to land this way?

Frankly, that's a lot of words.  So, what does it look like when a plane is landed according to the Flight Operations Manual and the POH?  Here's the overview and then we can review each photograph.

Short final, about 1/4 mile from the runway threshold, 80 KIAS, 100% flaps, attitude slightly nose down (doesn't the paint scheme really help here?!)

Reducing power to slow from short final speed of 80 knots to Vref speed of 75 knots.

Vref at 75 knots over the threshold markings on the runway.  (Runway 36 at KEVV has a displaced threshold and it is visible in the heat haze.)  This airplane is a turbo with a composite prop, and the plane will decelerate quite rapidly as the power is pulled back, so expect the descent rate to increase.  Note that the attitude is still slightly nose down.

Round out and flare brings the nose up slightly with smooth application of elevator pitch.  Speed decreases as plane flies in ground effect.

Touch down on the main wheels at a speed just above Vso stall speed of 60 KIAS, with nose wheel still off the ground in a slightly nose up attitude.  Note that this is not "flying it onto the runway" but rather holding it off the runway until speed decreases to let the plane settle down out of ground effect.  The main wheels touch first and the plane continues to roll until the nose wheel drops.

Holding the nose wheel off the ground after touch down.  Note the elevator position keeping the attitude slightly nose high.  The pitch attitude does not require much angle of attack to maintain the nose wheel off the runway.

Nose wheel down.  Note elevator position indicates some remaining pitch control.

Completed landing and application of brakes.  Very pretty airplane, nicely landed.

Your landing check ride

We encourage you to fly with a safety pilot or an instructor to review what airspeeds you fly when landing.  They can call out or write down the speeds on short final, across the threshold, as you round out and flare and touch down.  They might also note the position on the runway where you round out and touch down.

What can go wrong?

This landing was typical of what the CPPP flight instructors seek as proficiency in Cirrus pilots.  Unfortunately, not everyone comes with good landing habits.  What can go wrong?

  • float forever: if the speed over the threshold is too great, it may take a long, long, long time for the plane to slow down.
  • nose wheel lands first: flying the plane onto the runway risks touching the nose wheel first, and that may cause a rebound into the air and starting a pilot induced oscillation
  • planting the main gear onto the runway: forcing the plane to touch down before it has stopped flying means it may start flying again before you are slowed down enough; why? a gust of wind may provide lift, or a bump in the runway surface may provide upward thrust, or the main gear spring into action and provide upward thrust on their own
  • brake lockup: with a free castering nose wheel, you may have directional control problems if the brakes lock up unevenly

Proficiency in landing will reduce risk of accidents

Become proficient yourself.  Watch for other Cirrus pilots who carry excessive speed in their landings.  Tactfully intercede.  Help them become proficient and avoid an accident.

 

Cheers
Rick

Comments
  • Rick,

    As a new pilot I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put together and post this 'textbook' guide to landing. It is very helpful.

    Mike

  • Rick, Thanks!  I will be using these photos to illustrate what we have been _telling_ transition pilots about landing Cirrus aircraft, when they are so deeply accustomed to Skyhawks.  The old adage about pictures and words was never more true.

    And yes, it is a very pretty SR22 - I bet you wish it was yours, but unless SD has moved to Oklahoma, I guess not.

    Jim

    PNE / PA

  • Excellent footage. It looks just like what Mike taught me. I'm proud to say I can do textbook 1 out of 5 as a student. thanks, Dan

  • Great article and photos.  We really need to get the word out about excessive speeds.

    During transition training, I was taught 84 to 85 KTS over the threshold. Further complicated by the fact that I was transitioning from a Cessna 310 where you can simply fly the plane into the runway, the excessive speeds made landings quite sloppy. Even cracked the nose wheel fairings one time with an all wheel landing at night. Fortunately no other damage.

    When I read somewhere that instructors have been teaching with too high a speed, I practiced with my instructor landing at closer to 80 over the threshold. My landings got so much better. My wife and kids concur!

    - Ashok Thareja

  • After 350 hrs I made a nose wheel landing. I had to touch down before the 15 birds...

    after first a go around. Looking at these birds I tried to touch down too early.

    I tried to decide when to toush down, but the speed should decide this.

    So the SPEED you have to decide- not the touch down point.

    I had a induced oscillation front wheel - not good.

  • Thanks for the articles. I have always understood the touch done speed was 75, not 60 as recommended in PoH. This would definitely help me to improve my landing skill.  

  • Diagram showing airspeeds and configuration in the pattern will not open.  Any suggestions?

    I am a new SR20 owner, headed to Duluth today for the transition training.  Being a low time pilot, I am reading all I can find on landing a SR20.

  • These are really the speeds rec'd for landing?  My instructor was really somewhat off put but speeds under 85 kias citing the concern for squirrelly behavior at 80 and under. Frankly he rather frightened me with his concerns.  How does the SR22 handle so near the stall?

  • @David Zuehlke: Yes, those are the speeds from the Cirrus Aircraft documents.

    What references did your instructor provide you?

    Squirrelly behavior? Yikes, attitudes similar to your instructor's attitude has gotten pilots within the Cirrus community into a lot of trouble -- runway excursions, prop strikes, tail strikes, pilot induced oscillations, even fatal accidents.

    Tell your instructor that you have been given access to documents from Cirrus Aircraft that recommend touchdown at stall speed, roundout and flare at Vref between 73 and 77 KIAS, and final approach speeds of 80 KIAS.

    Then get a different instructor. One that understands the aerodynamics of a Cirrus landing are no different than other high-performance single-engine piston aircraft. But one without a fear of slow flight -- that may kill you, as it has too many other Cirrus pilots.

    Cheer

    Rick

  • Thanks for your expertise. I had come to the same conclusion and yesterday got some training from a Cirrus Certified CFI. Slow flight down to near stall, power on and off stalls and landings with the appropriate numbers. Much more confident but plan several more hours with Sean .  Thanks again for the advice. It was great confirming what I was beginning to get on my own

  • Thanks for your expertise. I had come to the same conclusion and yesterday got some training from a Cirrus Certified CFI. Slow flight down to near stall, power on and off stalls and landings with the appropriate numbers. Much more confident but plan several more hours with Sean .  Thanks again for the advice. It was great confirming what I was beginning to get on my own

  • Thanks for all your advice and concern. I am a student pilot (recently soloed) and would appreciate your comments on how, if at all, you would reduce approach and landing speeds based on changes in Vso as a result of weights less than MGTOW.

  • @Michael Shroder: welcome to COPA and congratulations on your solo. You should know that few pilots who learned to fly in a Cirrus have shown up in accident reports. That is, you are among a safe crowd!

    As for adjusting Vso, my understanding is that does not change since it is a certification speed, but Vref does change with weights. Instructors at the Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program recommend that you reduce Vref, the airspeed over the threshold, by 1 knot for each 100 pounds less than max gross weight. So, Vref starts at 130% of Vso or 78 knots in an SR20, then if flying with half fuel and only 2 people about 500 pounds below MGTOW, then aim to cross the threshold at 73 knots.

  • Thanks for your quick response, I'll work on it.

  • Thanks Rick, what an excellent resource!  Perfect timing for me and very much appreciated!

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