Each phase of the landing process must be planned and executed if the successful touchdown will be made. I will try to explain each step along with the speeds and altitudes for each phase of the landing. Please keep in mind that those of us who fly experimental aircraft do not have calibrated airspeed systems and your speeds may and probably will be different. For your information, N891JF has an empty weight of 625 lbs, no flaps, I weigh 190 lbs, and typically carry 15 lbs of stuff in my baggage area.
Phase 1 - Approach to the airport - The KR is a very slippery aircraft and you must plan to start slowing down before you reach the downwind leg of the airport pattern. I always try to descend to traffic pattern altitude (800 agl) and obtain a speed of 120 mph on downwind.
Phase 2 - Downwind - When I have stabilized my speed on downwind, 120 mph, my RPM on the 2180 VW with a 52 X 52 prop is around 2000. This is a very comfortable speed to check all instruments, ensure the mixture is at full rich, and plan the touchdown point. Don’t forget to plan for either a strong headwind or a crosswind component. If you are facing a strong crosswind, this is the time to review what you will do at touchdown. (Which wing you will have low on approach and which wheel you will land on first.) You may not have time for “thinking” later.
Phase 3 - Base - The base leg will be flown at 90 to 100 mph. I use the turn to aid in decreasing speed and lower my RPM to around 1600 to 1800. During the base leg, I will descend to an altitude of approximately 500 agl.
Phase 4 - Turn to final - This is one of your great opportunities to decrease altitude. I usually slip (if it is a left pattern) on this turn to decrease altitude to 300 agl as I enter the final leg. It is important that you determine your best altitudes for each of the legs and always consider safety. In other words, remember, in case of engine failure, altitude is your best asset!
Phase 5 - Final - Your two most important considerations on final are altitude and speed. You can always decrease altitude with a controlled slip. (The KR slips very good.) However, it is extremely difficult to decrease speed once you have let it build up. On final I will fly at 80 mph until I reach mid final, then I will decrease to 70 mph. I will hold this speed until short final (cross the end of the runway) at which time I begin decreasing speed.
Phase 6 - Float - The KR is so close to the ground that you will encounter ground effect in a VERY big way. You can and should use this to your advantage in making the “perfect” landing. Patience is a huge virtue during this phase. I will NEVER land my airplane above 60 mph. If I try, and for the first 60 hours I tried all the way up to 80 mph, I WILL bounce!!! The reason for this is very simple. When you touch the main wheels down, the tail will lower, your angle of attack will increase and you will go back up in the air. This will continue until you are at the appropriate speed. What we want to do is make the landing once rather than getting current (bounce 5 times) every time we decide to land. Remember, we had just crossed the end of the runway decreasing speed out of 70 mph. At this time I pull back the throttle all the way and try to hold my KR inches off the runway. The more I concentrate on holding it off by inches the better landing I am able to make. I will glance, VERY quickly, at the airspeed indicator until it is below 60 mph and then I will continue to pull back on the stick concentrating on NOT touching down but instead maintaining the inch or two above the runway. When the stick is approximately one half the way back, we are now somewhere between 50 and 55 mph, I will let it then settle on the runway. Then I will raise the tail to decrease the lift and allow me to see over the nose. I have seen airspeeds, solo, as low as 40 mph before I actually touch the wheels down. I will continue to apply forward pressure on the stick keeping the nose up until I am almost to the limit. Next I will allow the tail to come back to the runway and then apply full back pressure on the stick to ensure the tail wheel stays on the ground as it takes over directional control from the rudder. If you are landing in a crosswind most experts agree you should wheel land the airplane and raise the tail to ensure the mains are securely on the ground. Ensure you apply the appropriate aileron going all the way to full as your speed decreases. These controls of aileron and elevator must be managed as you complete your landing and as you taxi. You will learn how much of a crosswind component you and your KR are capable of over time and I recommend all early flights are with a crosswind component of less than 5 kts. I have found that the crosswind component I am capable of handling is more a function of my piloting ability (practice) than the airplane.
If I follow my own procedures, I will make a good landing every time. However, I seem to make exceptions when concentration lapses. For example, if I lower the nose on final I will gain speed very quickly, usually to 100+ mph, and this makes the landing more difficult unless you are very good at using slips to decrease speed. Another point that should be made is that when flying with two people I will raise the speeds on final by 5+ mph compensating for the increase in weight and stall speed.
What happens if I bounce? The first thing you have to decide is how bad of a bounce is it? I put bounces into three categories. First is BAD. If this is the case or if everything just doesn’t seem right your only good option is to advance the throttle to full and go around. Don’t worry about your ego just do it, GO AROUND. Second is a small bounce. If you come back up 6 inches to a foot, then don’t over control, just re-land the plane. The reason for the small bounce was probably that you were going too fast when you let the airplane set down. The third bounce is in-between. The recovery from an in-between bounce will depend upon your skill level with your KR. If you have only been flying for 10 hours, you should probably go around. However, as your skills improve there is another option. To recover, apply approximately half throttle, stop the oscillation, and re-land the airplane. This only works if you stay in ground effect and remember you are very close to a stall so DON’T try this unless you are comfortable with your plane, your skills and you have a long enough runway.
I certainly hope the information will prove helpful as you think about test flying your KR or are trying to improve your landings. If you can visualize and plan each phase of the landing process you will be able to make “perfect” landings. I am not a flight instructor and only present the information here in hopes you will not make the same mistakes I did in my early flights. If you would like to discuss these phases prior to flying your KR then give me a call. Perhaps we can improve this narrative for others.