Technique vs. Procedure

I have four stories to share with you.

Story #1

It was about 10 years ago.  I was doing a little bit of instrument work with my little brother Chris, who is a CFII.  We were flying a Cessna 182RG, shooting approaches.  I told him that I didn’t want to shoot any missed approaches because I wanted to do some actual landings in the 182RG.  So all of our approaches that afternoon culminated in touch-and-go landings.

On the 3rd or 4th landing, as I crossed the threshold, I gave the airplane just the slightest hint of throttle, just a pinch.  I had done that on all of my landings so far that day.  Chris had rarely ever flown with me, so he didn’t know that I often do that on landings – land with just a touch of power instead of landing with a closed throttle.

As I was starting my flare, Chris asked, “Why are you adding power like that?”

With a sly grin on my face, I responded, “So I can do this…” and I rolled the mains onto the runway, no tire chirp, one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever done.  I’m telling you – this landing was so smooth, to this day, I’m still not 100% convinced I’m not still in the air…

Of course, I knew why Chris was asking.  We are all taught to land airplanes with a closed throttle.  You cross the threshold at the correct approach speed, close the throttle, manage your energy as you settle into ground effect, hold the airplane just above the runway as the energy bleeds off, and allow the mains to touch, preferably just as the wing fully stalls – if you do it right.

That’s the way we were all taught.  However, I had found through experience that if I keep just the slightest touch of power on, the energy doesn’t bleed off as fast, making it easier to manage that energy, and I can usually make smoother landings if I don’t close the throttle completely.  This management of energy is especially more noticeable in a plane like a 182RG which is significantly heavier than a 2-seat trainer or even a Cessna 172.

So here we were, on the rollout, having experienced as smooth of a touchdown as you’re ever going to experience, and I’ve still got my grin.  Chris, on the other hand, had a perplexed look on his face.  He couldn’t argue with the fact that I had just made a supremely smooth landing, but he also couldn’t deny the fact that leaving power on is not how any of us were taught.  After several seconds of reflection, he said, “Well, you’re actually not supposed to land like that…”

Story #2

Several years ago, a friend of mine was selling a Cessna Citation II.  He was preparing to have some photos taken of the airplane so that he could list it.  Knowing the airplane’s tail number, I decided to see if any of the “airplane paparazzi” had ever snapped any photos of it and posted them to Airliners.net.  Turned out, there were several good photographs of the plane, including a super cool one of the airplane in ground effect, just about to touch down.

I downloaded the highest-res version of that picture and sent it to him.  “I found this online,” I told him, “You should include it in your listing.”

“I can’t use that one.”  He told me.  “There’s something wrong with that picture.”  When I asked what the problem was with the picture, he was hesitant to tell me.  I pressed the issue, and finally he admitted, “I can’t use that picture because the speed brakes are extended.  That’s a non-recommended procedure when landing the Citation.”

I asked the obvious, “Well, if it’s a non-recommended procedure, why are the speed brakes extended?”

He said, “I found through experience that if I come in a little too hot, I can manipulate the speed brakes during the flare to help me settle into the runway, rather than floating for half a mile.”

Story #3

One day, I was shooting landings in a Cherokee 6 with the owner of the plane in the right seat.  As I was on downwind, he pulled the throttle and said, “Can you make the runway?”  I immediately turned for the runway.  However, due to the weight of the heavy single, my speed and altitude, and the fact that it was a pretty hot day, I couldn’t make the runway without giving it some power.  This was the only time I ever failed to make the runway in a simulated engine-out procedure.

I told a CFI friend of mine about it.  He immediately said, “Well, did you feather the prop when the power was pulled?”  Now, a Cherokee 6 doesn’t have a prop that “feathers”.  What he really meant was “coarse pitch”.  Regardless of the nomenclature, the answer was no.  I didn’t pull the prop because that procedure is not mentioned in the pilot’s operating handbook for that airplane.  This is sort of surprising, because I later did the exact same procedure, this time pulling the prop to full coarse pitch, and I made the runway.

Story #4

I was boarding a 767 to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu when the pilot invited me to come up to the cockpit before takeoff.  As I was sitting there checking out the instruments and systems and talking flying with the pilot, he said something to me.  “Yeah, they say you’re supposed to turn on the autopilot at 2,000 feet, but I prefer to hand fly the plane all the way to cruising altitude.  This is the easiest airplane to fly that I’ve ever flown.”

—–

All four of these stories have something in common.  They are all examples of pilots using techniques that are different than the published procedure.  Hang around pilots for any appreciable amount of time and you will eventually hear some pilot talking about, “Well, here’s how I do it…”  Invariably, the story you will hear will be contrary to what the published procedure is, or contrary to how you’ve been taught by a certified flight instructor.

Techniques are usually things that pilots teach themselves, or have been taught by other pilots in an unofficial manner.  Procedures are the official way things are supposed to be done.  In real life, pilots often use technique.  But the official FAA answer is never the “technique” answer.  The FAA answer is always the “procedure” answer.

Now, this article is not intended to justify technique nor justify procedure.  It is intended to get pilots to think and discuss how they do things and why.  It is also intended for pilots to begin thinking in terms of “technique vs. procedure”.

So let’s have a discussion.  Maybe we can start by answering one or more of the following questions:

  • What kinds of examples can you think of as a pilot that would be considered technique instead of procedure?
  • Have you ever done a technique that bit you, or almost bit you?  Do you believe that doing the published procedure instead of the technique would have been more or less beneficial in that instance?
  • Have you ever done a procedure that bit you, or almost bit you?  Do you believe that doing a different technique would have been a safer or more dangerous way to go than the established procedure in that instance?
  • Since pilots of varying levels of skill and experience often use technique over procedure, what are some good guidelines to use to stay safe?  How does a pilot know when using a technique instead of procedure is pushing the boundaries of safe operation?
  • Can you think of any techniques that you have used or ever heard of that were ridiculous and birthed out of pure ignorance, and were simply too dangerous to endorse?

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Heath Jarvis
On The Upwind Flying Club – Online Member

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