Training On Grass: For Fun And Safety

It has become old hat to complain about the decline of General Aviation. We can rant about the costs, how airports have been fenced off, or any number of ailments.

This tract is a little about one of those symptoms, a little about how to make flying more fun, and about making flying safer.

There is a vicious circle, a fully developed spin that we must recover from. Something that used to be ordinary, but is now feared.
Something that is fun, but potentially lifesaving.

I am of course talking about landing on grass.

We have entered a feedback loop of insurance companies not allowing training or rental planes on grass. So students practice “simulated soft field” techniques. This of course increases the chance of an incident on grass, which causes more insurance companies to not allow training or rentals on grass…

It was not until I owned my first plane that I ever even performed taxi operations on the stuff. The panel of my poor 150 was probably flexing and straining as the yoke got pulled back. I had no real idea what maneuvering on what may as well have been hot lava would really feel like.

My second plane, the Seven-Oh-Fun, was designed for rough field operations. Never having been the type to let capability go to waste, I took advantage of my airports “grass” strip. At the time it seemed like grass, but really it was mostly dirt.

I slowly accustomed myself to the stuff. First some taking off from the grass, and then landing on the pavement. After comfort was reached with that, then finally a landing.

All this was done with much trepidation. Why? The FBO where I got my primary training was not allowed by their insurance to allow grass operations. This in turn triggered the CFI, who had gone through the same, to preach a fear of grass runways.

After getting used to grass, a whole new world opened up. Next came unimproved grass runways, gravel bars, packed beach sand, dirt, mud, and snow.

Each new surface gave me a better understanding of how to handle my plane. Each practice gave my muscle memory new vocabulary to work with… which brings me to my point.

Landing on grass, landing on unimproved strips, landing on any new surface that is within your comfort level may one day save your life.

Having that practice, knowing how the plane reacts… being able to read your plane’s reactions will give you that edge you may need during an emergency landing.

When my I lost my fuel pump in flight and had to make a forced landing, I spotted what looked like a paved runway. When my wheels touched, something felt different. I can’t explain why or how, but it felt different. I kept the nose up more than I would have. I used the aerodynamics instead of the brakes. This was “instinct”, trained muscle memory.

After getting out of the plane, it was obvious why the landing felt weird.The runway was made from fabric. I don’t yet know of any other pilot who has landed on fabric, hopefully I never will.

All that practice on rough fields, grass, sand, gravel, whatever, gave me the practice to deal with something new.

So I beseech you, go and land on the grass. Convince your FBO or their insurance to let them train off of grass. Get a CFI and train in your own plane.

One day it may give you the edge you need and be a ton of fun along the way.

 

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Comment by Ron Wood on April 14, 2016 at 6:15pm

After suffering wind damage a few years back I went in search of an affordable hanger option, that turned out to be at a grass strip. With the aforementioned reluctance of flying clubs to allow grass operations the first few landings were somewhat tense. After 3 years I don't think twice about landing on the grass and have explored other grass strips in the area. New horizons have been opened for me and my 601HDS.

There is also good news from the local flying club, they now allow grass operations and have included our grass strip in their annual poker derby.

Comment by KEVIN OCONNOR on April 14, 2016 at 5:00pm

Thats why I am doing a ch750,here in Ireland (Europe generally they have these things called landing fees hit you for 10 euros a pop even touch n go's whereas at unlicensed fields aka grass that does not apply so much, runways = expense as if avgas at  @€2.73 a litre was not enough people wonder why GA is dying not rocket science.

Comment by Larry Griffin on April 14, 2016 at 4:07pm
When I was training on a 172/162/Da-40 and now owning my 750, I have never t/o or landed on grass before. The main purpose I brought the 750 was using it for a bush plane. Maybe I'll try it this summer.
Good info.....

Thanks
Larry
N750ZE
Comment by Efe Cem Elci on April 14, 2016 at 3:52pm

Great write-up John! Interesting story, I first learned of Zenith and got interested in experimental homebuilt aircraft after noticing a grass strip on the way to the summer house one summer. Apparently the military used it once or twice a year for exercises and it wasn't in the most tip top shape yet still recognizable as a grass/dirt strip to knowing eyes. I imagined Friday afternoon trips from work to the airport, getting in my own plane, taking off for the summer house. I imagined about 15 minutes before touching down, I would call my wife to come with the trailer, and Sunday evening I would make the trip back to town for another week of work.

Comment by Chris Boultinghouse on April 14, 2016 at 3:51pm

Great post! I didn't get to do any grass field operations until I moved to Mexico MO back in '99 and finished up my flight training with the late Howard Wehrman. His short grass strip (and ventures into even shorter strips for 'short field' work) taught me a lot, and I really appreciate having had that experience. Of course, once I moved back to Austin, the grass field options went away. Someday I hope to have my own grass field!

Comment by Joe Hopwood on April 14, 2016 at 3:34pm

Our runway has nothing but grass.  Other than a variation in traction and smoothness I have not noticed any real difference.  Also the only warning I have ever received when renting was not landing on unimproved surfaces.  Do you know how hard it is to find a surface that has not been improved.  Never seen mention of grass.  I learned to fly at Oliver Farms in Ft. Worth, TX.  Its runway was a combination of dirt, gravel and yes even some of that dangerous grass.  :-)

Comment by Gary Welch on April 14, 2016 at 3:31pm

I think I have three grass landings in 25 years - and the first was after 15 years of flying. I too had built up this fear of landing on grass and was very surprised how soft and easy it was. I'm obviously no expert on the subject but I can say I was very nervous during my first landing. I would not want the first time I had to land on grass be a real emergency. That would just add more stress to an already difficult situation. Since I'm finishing up my 601 shortly I hope to do a lot more grass landings! Good post.

Gary

Comment by Zenith.Aero on April 14, 2016 at 3:06pm

Excellent information. Thanks for sharing!

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