‘Aim small, and miss smaller’

Brown detailed several accuracy exercises that have led to better landings.

  • Remain on the centerline during taxi and takeoff. When flying from the left seat, “Put the centerline through your right knee … and lo and behold, it works.” He said starting out with precision and maintaining it contributes to “basic sight and muscle memory.” He confided that “it can be stinking hard” to maintain that precision during the takeoff roll because of large power changes, P-factor, crosswinds, and gusts. He suggested smaller and more constant steering inputs to dial yourself “into a higher standard of performance” all-around, and he suggested that pilots “aim small and miss small.”
  • Know your aircraft’s power settings and have them close “at hand.” This is critical for getting your airplane to perform the way you want it to perform during different phases of flight, including approach for landing. Brown uses a certain power setting during an IFR vector to final; a setting for the “final approach fix, [and] descending”; and other descent phases. He memorized the correct power setting for downwind, the power for “perch onto base,” and so on. “Basically, if you’re descending, you ought to be going to a power setting that you know is pretty close … and then tweak it” for headwinds, crosswinds, or other weather phenomena. Arriving at the runway environment during a “honking headwind” means he needs more power, and he responds by adding an inch of manifold pressure in a constant-speed powerplant, a similar RPM increase for a fixed-pitch propeller engine, and 5 percent extra torque in a turbine aircraft. “You’re going to need that” to counter strong headwinds and lesser groundspeeds.
  • Maintain directional precision on short final by “chopping out” roll drifts on descent with “quick, sharp countermeasures.” These inputs make an “enormous difference” when pointing an airplane where you want it to go. He said an experience “wallowing around down final” during a landing at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport led to the revelation. “The airplane should not go where you did not tell it to go,” so as a drift or roll begins, “chop it out” quickly and decisively to remain “stable as a rail” on descent. Brown said that “if you perceive making small changes more quickly,” it will eliminate the potential to compound those errors on final.
  • Choose a precise landing point. Brown said he borrowed this drill from a backcountry flying friend. “You should have a touchdown target—not an aiming point. You should have a place where your wheels are going to hit” the runway surface on the centerline with the aircraft aimed “dead-straight” ahead. “It’s easy to say, but it’s pretty hard to do.” At bigger airports, he suggested pilots use the 1,000-foot marker as a touchdown reference and “try to land within the last 10 feet of it.” At smaller airports, look for the runway numbers, a taxiway, or a landing light as a reference point. He said that “just like an ILS,” the sensitivity gets finer the more you move down the slope to the touchdown point “and you want to hit it dead-on.” To achieve perfection, pilots must constantly make “little adjustments to stay exactly where you want to be” rather than waiting and making big adjustments. When closing to about 20 feet to 50 feet above the runway, Brown used to say to himself he was just “going to pull the power back, hold it off, and land.” He later learned that “if you want to hit that touchdown point exactly where you intended from the beginning—on the centerline, dead-straight” then “you’re not going to be able to ‘check out’ at 50-feet” above the runway. “You’re going to be flying the airplane right to the asphalt, and that’s the beauty of this drill.”
  • Grade your next 10 landings. This may be a humbling experience, but Brown recommended self-critique as a starting point to improve precision and control in the runway environment. “The only way you can get an ‘A’” is after a stabilized approach, “meaning your speed was good and you’ve been making small corrections” to stay where you need to be. “When the wheels hit the last third of the 1,000-foot marker while the centerline runs right through your right leg,” plus or minus one foot and pointed “dead straight” down the runway means high marks. “If you get an ‘A’ with a crosswind, well that’s a bonus. That a really beautiful piece of airmanship in my opinion.”

Brown said that “aiming small and missing smaller” is particularly helpful during gusty conditions, IFR-to-VFR transitions, and when operating a taildragger. He said the runway drills are harder than they sound, but they’ve made him a better pilot during every attempt at a perfect landing, “even if I don’t get it.”


David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot

AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.

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