How low can you go?
Well that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Hopefully low enough to put the airplane on the runway, and not below it!
At this point in your flight training, you’ve already been practicing flying the airplane straight and level at safe altitudes, now you just have to do the exact same thing, but with a piece of pavement underneath the airplane.
As always, each instructor will have their “best” way of teaching something; here’s how I practice this with my students.
We fly a normal traffic pattern and descend with a stable approach of around 300-400fpm (feet per minute) as always. Upon being lined up on final with the runway and at around 200′ agl I will have the student add power (just enough to keep the airplane flying straight and level at normal approach speed) and fly right over the runway, correcting for any crosswind drift as necessary. We will continue this, practicing maybe 50′ lower each time until we are flying at approach speed over the runway at around 10′ agl (with the student carefully maintaining the standard approach speed, crosswind correction, and altitude). All of these maneuvers end in a “go around procedure” generally initiated with 1000′ of runway remaining or so to ensure we can achieve Vy and start a safe climb back up to pattern altitude before scaring the squirrels out of the trees.
Note: when you work your way down to lower altitudes (i.e. 10′ above the runway) it’s not uncommon when you are new as a student to not be able to maintain perfect altitude and actually descend lower and touch the runway. It’s not a big deal at all, when you feel the airplane touch the ground, simply add full power and perform a Go Around, and congrats! You’ve accomplished a “touch and go”!
The first half of the landing involves flying a stable approach down to just a few feet above the ground, similar to a low approach. Then, slow your descent rate with a little “flare” and maybe a little bump of power, and allow the airplane to lower gently the last foot or so down onto the runway (or have the runway raise up the last foot to meet the airplane, whichever you prefer).
As your wheels touch, transition to what you learned from highspeed taxiing. Remember that immediately after touchdown, the airplane is at a speed where it is nearly ready to fly. Avoid rapid or aggressive control inputs.