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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.