Precautionary Search & Short Field Landings

In which I learn how to do a precautionary search, fly at 50ft AGL and attempt a few short-field landings.


Today’s plan was to go through precautionary search and landing. Precautionary search is used when you don’t have to land (i.e. your engine hasn’t failed or anything) but due to night coming or bad weather etc you need to land.

To do a precuationary search, you choose a field then do a number of runs at different heights to inspect the surface of the field. The number of runs you do depends upon the circumstances – if you have less time then naturally you would do less runs. There are no set rules as to what heights the runs should be conducted at but generally runs are conducted at 500ft, 250ft and 50ft (AGL). Between the runs, fly a normal circuit at a safe height (e.g. in bad weather, a 500ft circuit may be safer than normal circuit height). After the runs, fly another circuit then do a short-field landing. The runs aren’t flown right over the field, each one is progressively closer to the landing strip.

For the purposes of this mission, we were using 36L as our strip. So the first run (500ft) would be flown just to the right of 36R, the second run (250ft) over 36R and the third (50ft) just to the right of 36L.

I preflighted 4929, we taxiied over to 36 and took off from 36L.

We flew a normal circuit, but flew an extended base leg to end up flying the first run just to the right of 36R. This run was the 500ft run (750ft indicated on the altimeter). You do the normal downwind checks to set up for landing but level off at 500ft rather than continuing the descent to land. As you fly the run, you have to look at the side to check out the potential landing strip, but also keep an eye on the horizon to keep level.

The second run was over 36R, at 250ft (500ft indicated).

The third run was just to the right of 36L, at 50ft (300ft indicated). With this run, it was essential to keep an eye out the front on the horizon, otherwise you would crash. I have to admit, flying at 50ft when it’s certain that there’s no wires to run into, it’s quite fun. I was half-considering doing a low level endorsement once I got my cert, but I think low level flying over anywhere other than an airstrip is getting to a level of danger that I’m just not comfortable with. I’ll just have to stick with practicing precautionary searches!

After the next circuit, we had a crack at a short-field landing. J offered to demonstrate one again since I hadn’t done one for a while, but I decided to have a crack at it and see what I could remember. With short-field landings on 36, instead of aiming to land at the threshold of the runway, you have to pretend that the first taxiway is the threshold, otherwise you risk cleaning up any cars going by on the road just before the threshold of 36. I ended up slightly high on final so had to pull the power back to idle before the aim point (normally with a short-field landing you’d aim to pull the power when you pass over the aim point).

The next time around was a short-field full stop on 36R. Once again I was too high on final, and J took control and sideslipped us down to the height we should be at that point, and demonstrated the landing with me following on the controls. I think I still need to get used to just how low we need to be going over the road before the threshold, which is probably partly the reason I keep ending up too high.

The plan for next mission is to do a session of circuits, doing more work on short-field landings and also doing a few flapped landings (after my last solo mission, I know my flapped landings need a bit of work!). I’ve also arranged to do the radiotelephony (RT) test set by RA-Aus, finally starting on the theory tests I need to get done!


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