May 2009 Issue

Soft Field Tactics

On anything but pavement, you may need a new way of thinking. Learn to use ground effect to your advantage.

Hangar flying seldom fails to enlighten, particularly when sitting out a wet, drizzly, gray day talking and watching what little action there is at my local aerodrome. The drizzle dropped visibility to around a mile and the 3000-foot ceiling let through only the flattest of battleship-grey light. Rain fell hard enough to send isolated sheets draining off the active; water filled every low spot on the taxiways and ramp. And we all knew how bad the parallel grass strip had to be this day. The evidence was as close as the shoeprints we made crossing a narrow strip of grass to get in the hangar. So it was imprinted on us all, how soft and wet the grass strip was. Knowing that, we held our breath watching one of those rare arrivals make a wide turn onto the grass. We instinctively expected to be making a rescue, extracting the Cessna 150 from the mud. But he steamed rather quickly through his turn on the grass and without slowing got back on the pavement. This was no stuck-in-the-mud pilot. That aviator, we knew, possessed at least some soft-field smarts. Naturally, witnessing this scene started us dissecting the entire soft-field skill set. Ultimately, we concluded practice at an actual soft field whenever possible and without pressure is one of the keys. Of course, practice is only part of the equation; pilots need a firm grounding in technique, also.

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