Short Field Challenges

We’ve had a number of accidents at a nearby airport with a “short” runway. The reason I say it is “short” is because at 3000 feet, it isn’t a mile long – judging by the number of planes that have gone off the end of the runway and into the creek, some pilots need it to be. If you are the type of pilot that can learn from the mistakes of others, read on…

It was a beautiful, warm sunny summer day for an airplane ride. (Lets face it – it’s bound to be a beautiful day when things like this happen – since that is when all the rusty pilots dust off their skills and climb into the airplane.) Our pilot and his Cessna 182 had been up for a while, and it was time to land at the Joliet Airport, which is located southwest of Chicago.

OUR INTREPID (inept?) PILOT LINED UP ON RUNWAY 12 FOR LANDING. But the wheels touched down a bit further along the runway than he would have liked. Despite applying the brakes, our pilot and his plane charged off the end of the runway, down a shallow ravine, and into a creek, where this flight and the Cessna 182 came to an ignoble end.

THE PILOT MUST HAVE SLOWED IT DOWN SOME, since the plane didn’t get too badly bent in the mishap, but the landing should never ended up this way. For every long landing, there are danger signs. When enough of those signs add together, they should result in a go-around or they will result in something much more embarrassing. Things to look for:

  • If you have passed the halfway point on the runway when landing, GO AROUND.
  • If you are carrying more speed than usual at touchdown, and looking to land past the halfway point, GO AROUND.
  • If there are no headwinds to help reduce your forward speed and you have passed the halfway point of the runway when landing, GO AROUND.
  • If you are for any reason uncomfortable with the approach, GO AROUND.

Do not wait for multiple factors to combine for your detriment. If the aircraft is off the runway centerline on short final… if the airspeed is higher than you’d intended … if the airspeed is lower than you’d intended … if you encounter more turbulence at low levels than you expected … if your passenger asks something and you become distracted … why wait for something else?

When in doubt, go around. The worst that can happen is that you’ll make a better landing.

Nothing can get quite as bad as a situation that gets out of control while landing. While knowing when to go around is a key bit of training that pilots should receive, each pilot should set their own personal go-around point. For example, if you are a relatively new pilot, you should consider that if you don’t get the wheels down with the right airspeed in the first quarter to a third of the runway, and the runway is short (< 3000 feet), then you should GO AROUND. (Note: If the runway is 10,000 feet long, and you land in the first half, things are a lot less hazardous. If the runway is 7,000 feet long but situated at 7,000 feet… things may be a whole lot more hazardous than you realize.)

Flight and aircraft performance are dynamic variables — they change depending on circumstance (a pilot’s mood, the air’s temperature, the humidity, the altitude, etc.). By setting and abiding by personal minimums, pilots can avoid making mistakes that might otherwise turn their airplanes into off-runway vehicles.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Having watched several planes travel off-airport in my lifetime, I can assure you that while it is entertaining and painful to watch, the aftermath is never pleasant for the airplane or airplane owner. By setting your own personal minimums, you will be able to avoid becoming a bad example that other pilots learn from in the pages of!