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Discussion How to Land a 3D airplane

Discussion in 'Giant / Scale RC General Discussions' started by gyro, Aug 28, 2012.

  1. gyro

    gyro GSN Contributor

    This is Ben Fisher's (3DHS) advice and commentary on how to land a 3D airplane:

    1. Landing is a maneuver, like any other. You are the pilot, not the passenger. The very first step to making good landings is to take responsibility for them. If you are at the field, and you see a pilot make a bad landing, and he turns around and says "the plane did..." then you can be pretty sure he's never going to be a landing expert. Once a pilot can say "I screwed that up, I need more practice" (about any maneuver) he is on his way ot being an expert.

    2. CG

    CG (Center of gravity) is important for landing. When you are landing, you should (if you are doing it right) be flying slowly on final approach. We are all aware that if we go too slow, our wing will reach a speed at which it no longer works and will stop flying. We call this a stall. When we stall, we lose lift, and the plane will fall out of the air.

    However, our aircraft has two wings (if it's a monoplane)...one in front, and one in the back (the horizontal stabilizer with elevators). In flight, the main wing holds the plane up, and the tail wing provide up or down lift to hold the plane stable. This is why a nose-heavy plane requires some "up" trim and why a tail-heavy plane requires some "down" trim (and why expecting your elevator to always end up perfectly in line with your stabilizer is not correct).

    When you slow way down for final approach, the smaller tail wing stops flying first. As the tail wing loses efficiency, the balance of the plane takes over. A nose-heavy plane will drop its nose (the heavy end) and a tail-heavy plane will drop its tail (the heavy end). Dropping the nose is not a problem...dropping the tail causes the plane to slow down more and we may stall. This is why a tail-heavy plane is more difficult to land, because the pilot has to use elevator to push the nose down to maintain flight speed.

    You might want a tail-heavy airplane for 3d tricks, but first be sure you can land it. To help:


    Do not glide down to landing. Your throttle is a speed *control* and if you set it correctly (about 1/8 on the SHP) it will help to keep your plane at the proper speed on landing, not too fast and not too slow.

    If you learn to fly a full-size plane (or learn to fly an RC plane correctly) you will be taught at some point to fly a "stabilized approach". This means that your landing approach is stable, in that it has no time limit. You could start your approach at 20 feet high or 2,000 ft high, and you can fly in this mode as long as you want.

    The opposite of a "stable approach" is a "decaying approach"...this is an approach flown without enough throttle or too slowly which has a time limit. The plane is slowing down (because there is no throttle) and the pilot is trying to get it on the runway before something bad happens.

    To fly a stabilized approach, put the nose down about 10-15 degrees, use 1/8 throttle or so, and point the airplane at the spot you want to land. Start high enough and far enough away that you get a chance to fly a stabilized approach down to the runway. Don't "flare" or do anything else until you are very low. If you cut the throttle and pull back on the stick, make sure you're only ankle-high. Too many pilots want to have a dramatic flare at the end of their approach...leave that to the experts. Just fly down to the ground and close the throttle for the last foot or so. Done.


    The elevator is the important control for landing. DO NOT land on 3D rates. Use your low rates. First, fly a pass down the runway about 2 feet high on low rates at about half throttle. Can you do it? For most of us, probably not. Lower your low rates and increase your low rate exponential until you can smoothly fly just above the runway consistently and smoothly. When you are flying a stabilized approach, having the correct elevator repsonse will allow you to actually pilot the aircraft in a straight line, rather than fighting a bucking bronco. Get your elevator repsonse right!


    Watch people who can land. Watch people who cannot. See their habits.

    What we do not want to do is to go up really high, cut off our motor, and dive at the runway, then pull up and glide along the runway, bouncing up and down, hoping to be able to smack the runway on a lucky bounce.

    Instead, we select low rates, select low throttle, point the nose 10-15 degrees down toward the end of the runway and fly a smooth straight line. When we are very low we cut our throttle and bring the aircraft to level and let it touch down.

    If we mess it up, we make any necessary repairs, change our CG or transmitter as needed, and try again. Once you know how to land, your repair bills go way down.
  2. Steve_B

    Steve_B 70cc twin V2

    Just a small comment...
    You can fly a stabilized approach with no throttle too, you just need to descend on a steeper glide slope in order to maintain constant airspeed. This is in fact required if you fly from a small field where you have the likes of trees to get over on the landing approach and so don't have space for the luxury of a nice long power-on approach.
    It does help to make for a good landing if you add a little power just before touchdown as this allows the rate of descent to be reduced for a nice gentle arrival.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 29, 2012
  3. teookie

    teookie 70cc twin V2

    +1 to everything in this thread. :)


    Excellent write up from Ben. This is the most overlooked maneuver, yet the most important. I don't know how many pilots I've seen over the years who can hover, torque roll and perform all sorts of maneuvers, yet rip their gear out due to poor landing technique.
  5. Vintauri

    Vintauri 50cc


    I tell pilots of all skills and ages don't think it below yourself to go out and just practice landings for a few packs. Nothing worse then flying well then cracking up your plane because you can't get it back on the ground.

  6. Agree....110% As the old saying goes "Take offs are optional....Landings are mandatory"

  7. rod.d

    rod.d New to GSN!

    Funny that when I started flying 3d planes, the ones I had were small enough that I could harrier land them pretty easily. Then I got a giant scale plane. While it is possible to harrier land them as well, they carry a lot more weight obviously and it can be really hard on the airframe unless you are a pro at it (I am not). Consequently I had to learn to land properly. I have since come to really appreciate a smooth landing where the pilot makes a nice approach and can correct properly for crosswind, etc. It is something that I still struggle with from time to time. Goes to show that you never stop learning!
  8. great article!
  9. dth7

    dth7 3DRCF Regional Ambassador

    Great article, most overlooked maneuver in RC flying- take a look at "Top Gun" (I use the term loosely, it really should be called "Top Builder" since they all are master craftsmen) from 2009. I think I saw about 3 out of 30 or so clips of absolutely beautiful scale airplanes using a rudder on crosswind takeoffs and landings (yes it was a strong cross wind but at least try!). Rod.d touched on it and I'm sure it is intended to be assumed but lets not forget that thing that controls the tailwheel! lol. If you fly a stabilized approach, power on or off it provides a predictable attitude to fly a crab for wind correction and on short final to ease out of the crab into a side slip in order to land straight. Another good drill is doing that low flyby in (forced) slips in both directions or on calm days do your approaches with slips- don't "pop" out of them on short final, fly out of them smoothly into your flare and touchdown. Get comfortable using the rudder until your plane is parked. Landing gear doesn't like side loads!
    Learning more with every flight.
  10. Since reading this article, my landings have improved drastically. Now, I never chop the throttle during my approach. My method for keeping power on is to simply hold the stick on a comfortably minimal power setting while letting the plane lose altitude and or airspeed. Then, the throttle automatically holds the plane above stall speed before even getting to the point of stalling.

    I know Ben referred to the throttle as a speed control, but using his methods, I can effectively use the throttle for descent control the way I've learned from other instructional materials. I've even read that glider pilots use their elevator to maintain airspeed. Having no throttle, Rate of Descent is controlled only with the spoilers.

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