Short Final: Happy Landings


Back in the late 1970s, I worked in the admissions office for the A&P training program at East Coast Aero Technical School in Lexington, Massachusetts (some of you may have heard of that town). The pilots and aircraft owners on the staff would often take new members of the office staff up for an airplane ride to give them a taste of what this aviation thing was all about. One summer day, I was the one called upon to initiate our young, freshly hired receptionist.

She was kind of quiet and this was her first-ever ride in a light airplane. She listened carefully to my passenger briefing after I had preflighted my little blue two-seat Grumman AA1-B and made sure she knew how to strap into the shoulder harness. It was a smooth, sunny day, and I could tell she was enjoying the short flight. Then I explained the traffic pattern and set up for landing.

Thanks to smooth air and a steady breeze straight down the runway, the touchdown was one of those that author Frank Kingston Smith would have described as “like a butterfly with sore feet.” As we taxied in, she said, thoughtfully, “So, I guess the little ones land a lot smoother than big airliners.”

Over the next several days, I made it a point to walk her around the campus and have her describe for all the other pilots on the staff the difference between how airliners and “the little ones” land.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. LOL Good for you, Mark, doing your part to make sure her evaluation of your landing got around!

  2. East Coast Aero Tech. Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time.
    I worked at maintenance shop in the parts department at Hanscom the same. I can’t remember the name of the shop, but it was a fun time. I was just out of the Navy looking to work in aviation and was considering going to ECAT.
    I went into tech instead and now retied.

  3. Lucky you Mark.
    I was fortunate to become the custodian of a glorious little RV6 about 5 years ago. I’ve done about 350 hrs and about 830 landings in it. A couple of them I was lucky to get away with; many have resembled a happy child skipping down the garden path in springtime, the majority have been somewhere between that and OK. There have been some, like the event you described, so smooth that the only way I knew I had landed was I could hear the wheels spinning. The thing I noticed though is there is never anyone around when I grease it on and always a congregation of grinning goons every time I play skippy.

    • At our airport they sometimes sat out there with scorecards. Big sh– eating grins on their faces.

    • My son and I acquired an RV6 nearly 21 months ago. We LOVE it! I’m still working on consistant landings, but my son – who is bulding time towards professional flying and already has over 600 hours on the RV6 – mostly greases them in now. I’m very proud of him but have to admit I somethimes ask him to NOT give me pointers on final. 🙂

    • I remember two times I started up and tried to taxi with the tail tiedown still secured. The first time, I got away with it. No one was around. The second time, there was a full lineup of ramp commandos leaning on the fence watching me. They laughed so loud I’m betting they’re still telling the story.

  4. Reminds me of the time I was standing next to the flying club dispatch desk when one of the members came up to turn over the log book and keys. He had just got his Private Pilot License and was taking his wife and 4 year old boy out for their first flight.

    I asked the boy how he liked flying with Dad. He was very enthusiastic and told me he had seem his house from the air, and how the cars he saw looked just like his toy ones, but he finished by saying the best part was landing. He said the plane went bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, and Daddy said a bad word !

    The father turned beet red and everyone tried with varying levels of success not to laugh.

  5. The only time I make good landings is when I’m alone in the plane and no one is watching. I guess I can’t handle the pressure of having an audience. 😑

  6. I feel good when I make a greaser also. But I still feel good when it fully stalls and settles onto the runway with a bit of a thump and nary a squeak. I know I’ve saved a mm of rubber from departing the tires🙂.

  7. At martini time the bumps go away. Don’t forget “Bax seat” when you refer to dandy aviation scribes.