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Feature Article 2

FEATURE ARTICLE

Max Trescott, 2008 National CFI of the Year mtrescott@comcast.net

 

Landing Technique in the Cessna 182

The Cessna 182 Skylane is a popular aircraft for good reason. It’s reasonably fast compared to a Cessna 172 or other trainer, it’s relatively inexpensive to operate, it hauls a decent amount of weight, and maintenance costs are low, especially compared to a retractable aircraft. So it’s little wonder that many pilots check out in one after they complete their Private.

The Cessna 182 does have one knock against it that’s undeserved. Many pilots say the Cessna 182 is “nose heavy,” making it difficult to land. I respectfully disagree. The Cessna 182 is not difficult to land, IF you know how to land it properly and remain proficient through practice. And while calling it “nose heavy,” seems to match what pilots experience when landing the aircraft, an aeronautical engineer would blanch at that description. The C182 balances at its center of gravity like any other aircraft; the front end is NOT heavier than the back end.

It is true that nose wheel damage and bent firewalls are common for C182s that have spent their lives as rental aircraft. So yes, it’s easier to make a bad landing in a C182 than in a C172. And those bad landings often involve the nose wheel hitting the runway before the main wheels touchdown. If you want to know three simple steps for better C182 landings, skip to the end of this article. If you want to know why those steps work so well, read on!

An article on AvWeb.com [http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/AVWebInsider_Practice_203402-1.html] states that in general “between one-third to as much as one-half of all accidents are what we call R-LOCs or runway loss of control. These are overshoots, undershoots, skids, slides, crosswind incidents, hard touchdowns and all sorts of runway mayhem related to the inability to just basically control the airplane. It's hand-eye stuff.” [AvWeb’s accident analysis of] the Cessna 182 revealed that 58 percent of all the accidents listed for this model are R-LOCs. Few other models come even close to this. A significant number of these were nose-first touchdowns or hard landings that damaged the nose gear and crimped the firewall, which is common damage for a Skylane.”

Why do pilots crunch the nose on C182s more often than on a C172? There are a couple of factors. First, let’s dispel the issue that it is a “nose heavy” aircraft. If it were nose heavy, it would be hard to lift the nose for takeoff. But it’s not. Yet takeoffs in a C182 are no more difficult than other aircraft. Many C182 pilots use 10 degrees of flaps for takeoffs, and in this configuration, a C182 floats off the runway with virtually no back pressure on the yoke.

To understand why the Cessna 182 seems nose heavy, I consulted with my friend Alan Brown, an aeronautical engineer who was the Chief Designer for the F-117 Stealth Fighter. My first theory was that the dimensions of a C182’s elevator, and its position relative to the wing, were different enough from a C172 that the backwash of air off the wing affects the elevator differently. But after measuring the elevator size of both planes, and their distances from the wing, I concluded that the differences were so minor as to make it unlikely that they account for differences in handling between the two planes.

After several rounds of discussion, Alan and I did find one major difference between the C172 and C182 that may account for the differences in handling between these planes. The mass balance of the elevator is significantly different between the C172 and the C182.

Control surfaces must be designed to reduce oscillation or flutter, and one way to minimize flutter is to design the elevator such that its center of gravity falls along its hinge line. This is known as mass balancing.

It’s easy to feel the difference in mass balancing while seated in these aircraft on the ground with the engine off. In this configuration, the elevator hangs down. If a pilot sits in a C172 and pulls back on the yoke to lift the elevator, he or she will see that it takes very little force to lift the elevator up from its resting position. Do the same thing in a C182, and a pilot will notice that it takes considerably more force to raise the elevator. That’s because their mass balancing is different.

In straight and level flight, the relative wind holds the elevator in a neutral position; it doesn’t hang down as it does when it’s parked with the control lock out. But when you pull off the power during landing, the wind generated from the prop decreases, and the elevator starts to drop, as it does when it is parked. In a C172, it takes very little backpressure on the yoke to keep the elevator from dropping. But in a C182, when you pull the power, it takes much more force to keep the elevator from dropping, just as it takes more force to raise the elevator when a C182 sitting on the ground.

When you’re in the flare in a C182 and pull the power, unless you apply a significant amount of backpressure, the elevator starts to drop. When it does, the aircraft pitches down. Unless a pilot is prepared to quickly pull back on the yoke, the pilot is headed for a nose wheel first landing and potential damage. But it’s not because the aircraft is nose heavy. It’s because of the poor mass balancing of the elevator.

Landing a Cessna C182 is simple if you do the following. 

1) Make sure you make a final adjustment to the elevator trim after you’ve slowed to your final approach speed. That will reduce the amount of muscle required for landing.
2) Leave some power on until you are in the flare. Avoid pulling the power completely off when you’re 20 feet high, as you might in a C172 over the pond landing on runway 31 in Palo Alto.

3) After you are level in the flare, simultaneously pull back on the throttle AND THE YOKE. Then land the C182 as you would any aircraft, in a nose high attitude so the main wheels touch down first.

Make your landings like this every time, and you’ll think the C182 is easy to land. Because it is, when you use proper technique!

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