Botched Bounce

When a bounced landing leads to a prop strike, the only smart thing to do is close the throttles.


When it comes to botched landings, Ive certainly had my share. In perhaps my worst one, I vividly remember plonking a 182 down on a paved, beachside runway many moons ago. About halfway through a series of six or so times the airplanes nosewheel contacted the runway, I managed to inform my passengers, “This is the worst landing Ive ever made.” Lucky them. Still, we survived the ordeal, and were able to fly the airplane home later that day.

I learned two things from that episode. The first is never, ever relax back pressure when landing a tricycle-gear airplane until well below the speed above which the pitch control is effective. The other is to seriously consider a go-around much earlier in the sequence. Since then, Ive done the go-around thing a few times, but Ive never again gotten into the kind of pilot-induced oscillation I did that day. Of course, I could easily “unlearn” those lessons by the next time I fly and be in the market for a new nosegear, prop or worse.

Bouncing a landing is something we should have learned to deal with in our primary training. Step One in Plan A for recovering from a bounced landing should be firewalling the throttle and getting out of there. Once full power is established, stabilize the bouncing by establishing a constant, slightly nose-high pitch angle, maintain directional control and let the airplane fly itself off the runway. Then, go around for another pass, noting whatever conditions helped you bounce the landing in the first place. Plan to correct for them on the next attempt. Dont forget the gear.

Unless allowed to get way out of control, a bounced landing rarely results in serious damage. With most piston-powered aircraft, were not likely to have either the speed/energy or available power to get too far over our heads. But stuff can happen, especially with more-powerful airplanes. Still, even minor damage is relatively rare. Serious damage or injuries are relatively unheard of, as are fatalities. Of course, theres an exception to every rule.


On July 16, 2008, at about 1015 Pacific time, a Cessna 441 Conquest II impacted terrain about 400 feet east of the runway at the Sunriver (Ore.) Resort Airport. The solo private pilot was killed during the accident sequence and the airplane was destroyed by the impact and post-crash fire. The Part 91 flight departed Bakersfield, Calif., about two hours and fifteen minutes prior to the accident and was operating in visual conditions. The pilot canceled an IFR clearance as he approached Sunriver.

A number of witnesses were watching the airplane approach from the south. Pilot-rated witnesses said that the airplanes speed and approach path looked appropriate, and all the witnesses said the airplane appeared to make a normal touchdown on the two main wheels near the south end of the runway.


Witnesses did not agree on what happened next. Some thought the airplane simply bounced, skipped or hopped back into the air. Others thought the nosewheel touched the runway surface, and then the airplane lifted back off the runway. At least one witness thought that after the mains touched, the nosewheel came down abnormally fast, hit the runway hard and the plane bounced back into the air.

All agreed the airplane contacted the runway a number of times, bouncing back into the air after each contact, with increasing amplitude. After the third or fourth bounce, the airplane entered a nose-down, right wing-low attitude and its right propeller contacted the runway.

At about this point, the airplanes engines increased to what sounded like full power. The airplane once again lifted back into the air, this time in a nose-high attitude, in what appeared to some witnesses to be the beginning of an attempted go-around. However, soon after the right propeller contacted the runway it almost completely stopped rotating.

As the airplanes nose came up, it started to roll to the right, and the airplane started to veer off the right side of the runway. The airplanes right wing collided with a 25-foot-tall tree about 200 feet east of the runway centerline and the airplane descended into terrain in a nose-low attitude. Soon after the airplane came to rest, a small fire started near the outboard section of the right wing. According to witnesses, the fire soon began to spread, and had engulfed the entire airframe within three to four minutes.

Winds reported to the pilot by a Unicom operator were 337 degrees at four knots. There were reportedly some areas of scattered clouds around 10,000 feet agl and the visibility was at least 10 statute miles.

Examination/inspection of the airplanes surviving airframe, engine and system components did not reveal any evidence of an anomaly or malfunction that would have precluded an uneventful landing and rollout from the point of initial main gear contact with the runway.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to include: “The pilots misjudged landing flare and improper recovery from a bounced landing, and the pilots failure to maintain directional control during the go-around after one of the airplanes propellers struck the runway.”

Weve all bounced a landing or two. How we handled it was based, in part, on the airplane, the runway, the conditions and how badly we bounced. After reading the foregoing accident description-which is almost Shakespearean in its progression from bad to worse-its easy to conclude the pilot mishandled the bounces and the attempted go-around. Sure. But the lessons we should take away are three-fold.

First, even a seemingly normal approach-as this one reportedly was-can result in a bounced arrival. Being on-speed helps immensely; without excess energy, bounces can neither begin nor progress.

Second, the time to go around is after the second, higher bounce. If were not adding power to at least stabilize the airplanes pitch control or climb away from the runway, thered best be a good reason. A too-short runway qualifies, as does a mechanical or other operational problem.

Third and finally, a prop strike signals “game over.” Close the throttles, maintain directional control and fly the airplane until it stops. Climb out and call the insurance company. Trying to save things after a prop strike creates unknown engine and controllability problems is asking for more than you bargained.


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