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Training and Safety Tip: Eyes down the runway

Transition your eyes as you flare

You’ve likely heard the old adage “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.” I hope we all have higher standards than that!

Photo by Chris Rose.

While landing an airplane doesn’t always have to be pretty, there is one tip that made a huge difference to me for improving my landings as a student pilot. That simple tip was to adjust my eyes to look down the runway on short final and during the flare rather than focusing only on the point at which I want the wheels to meet the runway. I learned that by using peripheral vision to judge my distance above the ground and improve my depth perception, I was able to keep my eyes outside the aircraft, resulting in a landing that a passenger would applaud.

Here’s how it works:

On short final, when you transition from a stabilized approach to the final descent, flare, and touchdown, look at the aiming point but do not fixate on it. As you begin to bring the nose up into the flare, transition your gaze farther down the runway. Focusing too close to the nose, such as on the approaching runway numbers, will cause those objects to look blurry because of the aircraft’s speed. That induces a tendency to flare too high, which can cause the airplane to stall with the wheels still too far above the runway for a landing that anyone would appreciate.

Looking too far down the runway, on the other hand, will do the opposite—you may have little to no flare at all because you’re not able to judge your height above the runway. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle—a gradual transition from looking at the aiming point to looking to the end of the runway.

Especially during the flare, as the nose is high and the departure end of the runway disappears momentarily, peripheral vision offers cues about the airplane’s height above the runway.

Speak with your instructor about where to aim your eyes during each phase of the landing, and practice until you experience that “aha moment” yourself. And remember that applying power for a go-around is appropriate any time landing feels unsafe—for example, following an unstabilized approach.

ASI Staff
Kathleen Vasconcelos
Kathleen Vasconcelos is an instrument-rated flight instructor and a commercial pilot with multiengine and instrument ratings. She lives in New Hampshire.
Topics: Flight School, Training and Safety, Student
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