Teaching and Learning Flying - Private Pilot, Single-Engine Airplane

Soft-Field Approach and Landing


  • Soft-fields in this context refer to rough or soft surfaces such as snow, sand, mud or tall grass
  • Soft-field approach and landing technique involves control of the airplane in a manner so that the wings support the weight of the airplane as long as practical, to minimize drag and stresses imposed on the landing gear by the rough or soft surface


  • How to determine landing performance and limitations
      POH, Section 5
  • In low-wing airplanes, beware that extended flaps may be damaged by rocks, mud or slush thrown by the wheels after touchdown
  • Forced landing on very soft or rough field: gear up
  • Obstructions and other hazards which should be considered


  • Private Pilot PTS, XI E
    • Explain elements of soft-field approach and landing, including airspeeds, configurations, operations on various surfaces, and related safety factors
    • Evaluate obstructions, landing surface, and wind conditions
    • Establish recommended soft-field approach and landing configuration and airspeed
    • Maintain recommended airspeed, +/- 5 knots, along the extended runway centerline
    • Touch down smoothly at minimum descent rate and groundspeed, with no appreciable drift, and the airplane longitudinal axis aligned with runway centerline
    • Maintain directional control during the after-landing roll
    • Maintain proper position of flight controls and sufficient speed to taxi on soft surface
  • Commercial Pilot PTS, IX D adds:
    • Selects a suitable touchdown point
    • Maintain precise ground track on final
    • Recognize and promptly correct deviations during approach and landing
    • Make smooth, timely, and precise control applications during the transition from approach to landing roundout (flare)
    • Touch down smoothly within the selected area at minimum descent rate and airspeed, with no drift, and with the airplane's longitudinal axis aligned with the landing area
    • Completes the after-landing checklist in a timely manner


  • To develop the student's knowledge and skill in planning and performing safe soft-field approaches and landings to meet the appropriate practical test standards


  • Discuss elements of the soft-field approach and landing, including definition, safety factors, tolerances, objectives, and procedures
  • Demonstrate soft-field approach and landing
  • Configuration and trim
    • Soft-field final approach is similar to final approach to a normal landing except short-field approach speed, approximately 66-70 KIAS may be used
    • Full flaps are recommended whenever practical to aid in touching down at minimum speed
  • Trim
    • To relieve control pressures to stabilize approach
    • On touchdown and after landing roll, full nose-down trim increases effectiveness of elevator in holding nose off ground
  • Effect of wind and landing surface
    • POH, Section 5, Landing tables and figures
    • TR182: For operations on a dry grass runway, increase distances by 40% of the "ground roll" figure
    • Even more distance may be required for wet and/or slippery surface
  • Selection of touchdown area
      Select touchdown aim point to allow use of maximum amount of suitable area
  • A stabilized approach at the recommended airspeed to the selected touchdown area
  • Coordination of flight controls
  • A precise ground track - See above
  • Timing, judgment, and control technique during roundout and touchdown
    • As in normal landing, except maintain some power during roundout to help produce as soft a touchdown as possible and
    • Hold airplane 1 to 2 feet off the surface as long as possible to dissipate forward speed to allow wheels to touch down gently at minimum speed
  • Touchdown in a nose-high pitch attitude at minimum safe airspeed
    • After the mains touch down, hold nosewheel off as long as possible with elevator back pressure (full nose-down trim may help maximize elevator effectiveness)
    • A slight addition of power during and right after touchdown may aid in easing the nosewheel down
    • Very gently lower the nosewheel to the surface
  • Proper use of power
    • Some power should be used throughout the soft-field approach, roundout, and touchdown
    • Slight addition of power during and right after touchdown may be useful
    • Some power may be needed to maintain enough speed while taxiing after landing to prevent bogging down on the soft surface
  • Avoid use of brakes
  • Directional control after touchdown
  • Use of checklist
  • Coach student practice
  • Critique student performance


  • Improper use of landing performance data and limitations
  • Failure to establish approach and landing configuration at proper time or in proper sequence
      Use checklist
  • Failure to establish and maintain a stabilized approach
  • Failure to consider the effect of wind and landing surface
  • Improper technique in use of power, wing flaps, or trim
    • Maintain slight power throughout roundout and touchdown
    • Full flaps
    • Trim to relieve control pressures to stabilize approach
  • Inappropriate removal of hand from throttle
  • Improper technique during roundout and touchdown
  • Failure to hold back elevator pressure after touchdown
  • Closing the throttle too soon after touchdown
  • Poor directional control after touchdown
  • Improper use of brakes
      Avoid use of brakes in a soft field

Greg Gordon MD, CFII