A 5 Step Guide to Soft Field Landing

Pilots · 4 min read · Dec 16, 2022
soft field landing

A soft field landing is a type of landing in which the aircraft touches down on a soft surface. The main objective of a soft field landing is to minimize the risk of damaging the aircraft during the landing rollout. Although it may seem like a simple task, there are several factors that must be taken into account when performing a soft field landing.

This blog post will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to successfully soft-field land an aircraft so you can master soft field approach and landings and open up more destinations for flight. And don’t be mistaken, this article is not just for bush pilots!

The soft surface and soft field landings

Before we go to the step-by-step process, it is important to make clear what a soft surface is in terms of a landing surface.

Generally, soft field landings involve an aircraft landing on a runway that is not paved with asphalt or concrete but is covered in grass, gravel, turf, dirt, or other loose material.

Landing on a soft or rough field requires a small amount of extra power than landing on a traditional hard-surfaced runway in order to ensure the aircraft has enough lift to avoid potential obstacles and provide cushioning for the landing gear. However, this should not be excessive since directional control may be lost at higher speeds during approach and landing.

The added airspeed also helps dissipate aerodynamic forces upon touchdown which can help reduce damage to the aircraft, especially forces that act on the nose wheel of the landing gear.

Soft surfaces also require special braking techniques since there is less friction between the tires and the soft surface material compared to that of a hard surface runway. Pilots must also take into account any crosswinds which may affect their ability to stay on course when attempting a soft field landing.

An airplane on a

How do you make a soft field landing?

Now that we are clear on what kind of surface is a soft runway surface, it is time we dive into the details of how to perform a proper landing on a soft field.

Step 1: Select an Appropriate Runway

While this is not always possible, selecting a suitable touchdown point on the soft field that will serve as the runway may be a good practice to ensure safety.

When selecting a runway for a soft field landing, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • Length of the runway.
  • Width of the runway.
  • The surface condition of the runway.
  • The slope of the runway.
  • Windsock direction and speed.

In general, it is best to select a long, wide runway with a flat surface and minimal slope. If possible, you should also choose a runway that is perpendicular to the wind. This will help you avoid crosswinds during your landing roll that may create difficulties to maintain directional control.

Step 2: Perform a Pre-Landing Checklist

As with a normal landing, it is important that you perform all necessary checks before beginning your descent. This includes checking your fuel levels, engine settings, and flight instruments.

You should also make sure that your seat belts and shoulder harnesses are fastened and that your seat is in the upright position. Once you have completed your pre-landing checklist, you are ready to begin your descent and approach.

An aircraft performing a soft field landing.

Step 3: Begin Your Descent and Approach

When beginning your descent to approach and landing, you should aim for a rate of 800 feet per minute. During the descent, you should keep an eye on the aircraft’s nose wheel level so that you maintain control of the descent rate.

Make sure your flaps are down before you start your descent. This will help reduce your speed and increase your lift which will make it easier to control the aircraft on approach.

Keep your speed steady on approach. Do not increase your speed just because you are landing on a soft surface. You want to control your speed so you can maintain the proper position of the aircraft and avoid any obstacles on the ground.

As you get closer to the ground, slowly pull back on the control yoke to prevent the nose wheel to touch before or even together with the main wheels. This will also help you stay longer in ground effect during your final approach and landing.

The goal is to dissipate your forward speed and allow your wheels to touch down at a slower speed, all while reducing the nose-over force on your aircraft when it touches down. Also, keep a close eye if all correct control inputs are there.

An aircraft parked on a soft surface after a soft field landing.

Step 4: The Touchdown

When you are flying in ground effect, you may need that small amount of power to level off and make sure you touch down as slowly as possible, but this is not really necessary. Actually, the goal at this point is to make the wings support the weight as long as possible to make sure the main wheels, and not the nose wheel, touch the ground as softly as possible.

Try to touch down with a minimum sink rate and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with the center of the runway.

After the main wheels have touched the ground, it is time to start reducing the speed, but this must be done slowly while trying to keep the nose wheel off the ground. The nose wheel may not withstand the forces at this point, or it may go too deep into the soft ground.

An airplane parked on a soft field.

Step 5: The Rollout

As we mentioned in the previous step, the nose wheel should stay off the ground until the speed is safer for it to touch down. This can be achieved by maintaining back pressure on the yoke.

Once you have touched down, use your brakes judiciously to avoid skidding or losing control of the aircraft. Most of the time the approach and landing on a soft field do not require brakes at all.

An aircraft stationed on a soft or rough field.

Some final thoughts

There you have it. As you can see, the main goal of a soft field landing is to touch down at the slowest possible speed and then bring the aircraft to a stop without damaging the airplane or exposing passengers to undue risk.

Following these steps will help ensure that you successfully complete a soft field landing properly. Always remember to select an appropriate runway when possible, perform all necessary checks before beginning your descent, adjust pitch attitude accordingly and maintain control of the aircraft during the entire process to guarantee a stabilized approach and landing.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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