Touch and Go – No!

As a flight instructor, I have made several thousand touch and goes – but I don’t do them anymore. The only real reason to do a touch and go is economy not learning or proficiency. It is true that you can get more landing practice in during an hour if you never stop, but I have concluded that the benefits don’t out weight the risks.

I understand that convincing you not to do touch and goes will take more than just my opinion, so let me present the evidence. Exhibit A is the photograph that I took of a Cessna 152 nose-down in a ditch. This was the conclusion of an attempted touch and go landing by a student pilot. On the upper horizon of the photograph you see a tree line. Those trees are on the other side of a runway that from this low angle cannot be see. The the runway is just at the top of the embankment. Exhibit B is the photograph I took from the air of the accident site. Look carefully and you will see the airplane and its position relative to the runway. This student’s instructor had told the student to make a full-stop landing, but being a student, he thought that request was just a waste of time. The weather was good. There was a slight crosswind, but no greater than 5 knots. After the airplane touched down, the student quickly transitioned from worrying about the landing to worrying about the takeoff. The end of the short runway and the trees at the far end were getting larger, so he jammed the throttle forward. The engine sputtered. Opening the throttle of a carberated engine too quickly invites more air into the engine and momentarily the fuel can’t keep up which makes the mixture suddenly very lean. A smooth throttle application is always best. But when the engine sputtered, the student became distracted. He looked inside the cockpit to see what the problem might be. With his eyes inside, the airplane came off the centerline. When he looked up and saw he was headed for the runway edge he over corrected. Remember airplanes are only tricycles – they are not very stable. Off the left side of the runway the student went. He said that he almost got the airplane stopped before he reached the top of the embankment. He pulled the mixture to idle cutoff, but it was too late. When the airplane got on the down-hill slope there was no stopping it until it hit the bottom of the ditch and flipped over. The student got out without a scratch.

My conclusion is that there is just too much going on both in and out of the cockpit to make a safe transition between takeoff and landing while in motion on a touch and go.

Okay you probably are still not convinced. After all, the story is of an inexperience student pilot who was disregarding the wishes of his flight instructor. Let me then try to pursude you with Exhibit C. Exhibit C is the photograph I took of a retractable landing gear airplane’s attempted touch and go. This pilot was practicing for the Commercial Pilot flight test with his flight instructor. The landing was normal. The pilot had his eyes outside, watching the centerline, when he tried to reconfigure the airplane for takeoff by ‘feel.’ He grabbed the landing gear handle instead of the flap lever. He realized his mistake immediately and returned the handle to the down position, but it was too late. The nose wheel retracted and the airplane plowed into the runway. You should realize that landing gear handles are all round and look and feel like wheels, while most flap levers are flat and look and feel like a flap – this is on purpose to prevent exactly what happened in Exhibit C. It didn’t work this time.

Bottom line: Think of all the things that must be done to prepare an airplane for takeoff. It is simply too much to ask to get all those items taken care of while moving down the runway at the same time. In the first example, the student looked inside and got into trouble. In the second example the pilot looked outside and got into trouble. You can’t win either way. Touch and goes could save money because you can get more landings completed during an hour’s flight. But think about this – these two pilots paid insurance deductibles that were far more expensive than the money they thought they were saving by doing touch and goes. So, I have concluded: Touch and Goes – No!