You Can’t Land a LongEZ Good

Do you just really enjoy watching someone that’s extremely good at what they do?
Like my nephew, a master potter. I can look at one of his pieces in our home and remember seeing him go through his ritual of wedging and throwing and lifting and molding until it magically grew into the pottery that he wanted. A sax player at our church can give you goosebumps. I used to think that I would like to fly like he plays.

On the flying side, I remember that sometimes a bigger aircraft is easier to fly than a smaller one. Some of the larger helos were definitely easier to fly than the smaller Jet Ranger and Bell H-47 Bubble. Probably because they are a little less sensitive. But after a while, once we get some time under our belt, we are at home and don’t even notice anymore.

My first landings in the front seat of an EZ were in Nat Puffer’s original VariEze. They weren’t pretty or comfortable. Even with lots of back seat time and the instructor in back, I wasn’t comfortable even after several landings.

On the first approach I leveled off about four feet high and was tentative about going lower. Gravity helped me on down. For the rest of the landings on that flight my survival method was to hold a little more power and speed, and purposefully fly it down to exactly three feet below ground level. The power-off touch down just wasn’t comfortable.

The next day, after several hundred landings through the night, we tried it again. Piece of pie. No sweat. From the first landing I was in the groove and comfortable. Maybe all the practice through the night helped. But more likely it was just having more practice.

I think the main thing for me in the front seat was adjusting away from the awareness of the canard as I initially planned, but rather to gauge the attitude using the canopy area at the frame in front of my eyes. For me, that glare shield space is a little more useful for adjusting to the horizon than the canard.

The canard is still a very useful attitude indicator otherwise. There was an unexpected and interesting canard reference occurrence on the first landing in my plane. I had flown three months in the front seat of the red-striped C-85 VariEze and was very comfortable.
On the first flight of my plane, coming around through the base turn to final it was on airspeed but it didn’t look quite right. Based on the attitude I was used to seeing rolling final in the other plane, I decided to make a slight pitch adjustment to lower the nose just a little, which added 5 or 10 mph. It felt better and the landings were fine.

But after the flight the inconsistency bugged me. I went and looked at the air speed indicators in the two planes. His was knots, mine was mph. Details. In lowering the nose a little on mine to get the attitude I was expecting, it added about 8 mph, resulting the airspeed I was used to in knots, and would have been if I had thought about it. Those Knots and MPH- they are so confusing.

When I hear folks talking about getting ready to fly in the front seat for the first time I encourage them to imprint the proper attitude by sitting in the plane with the canopy closed looking down a long taxiway or something with a good distant horizon with the extended nosewheel on a gallon paint can or something to approximate the right attitude, which is about the same for lift off and landing.

It may help to do this several times. There is no other plane that gives you this perspective so it helps to see it a few times in your plane. Some of the early problems in the 70s were likely caused by folks maybe having full back elevator and being surprised by the attitude at rotation, and with the sensitive elevators, pushing the nose over too much and getting into PIOs, pilot induced oscillations. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. Sitting on the can can help.

If you are lucky, during takeoff you can set the elevator about an inch trailing edge low, which should enable the plane to lift off with a pretty good attitude without you having to jostle it around too much.

On The Numbers
I got to ride with a friend while he made a similar landing adjustment. We were both off a little just before touching down, but his recovery was quicker and more graceful than mine. His transition was from heavies to his sleek new nine hundred-pound toy. On the big day he taxied up to the hangar and shut down. He had been updating us with his progress finding and firming up a deal and finally taking delivery of his beautiful speedster. Sitting gleaming out in the sunshine - it was spectacular.

But he was not smiling. He set it on the nose and walked away from the plane. After a few minutes I went over to congratulate him. He said that someone should have told him that you can’t make a good landing in a LongEZ.

If anyone could put one on the numbers, it would be him. He was one of the most experienced pilots I know. He had done the work to find a good EZ and took the time and expense to ensure it was as advertised before he took possession. He had done everything he needed to do to get himself up to speed in small planes. He was thorough and as demanding on himself as on any one else.

He asked me to fly the plane and see if I noticed anything. I asked just what the problem was. He said overall it was great and all that he expected but it was horrible on landing. He agreed to take notes from the back seat.

Checkout. During the in-depth preflight I did a quick alignment evaluation. Standing about 30 feet behind the plane with my line of sight along the undersides of the wings, both sides seem to have the same angles and lower area showing. Then a squint at the winglets. Nothing obvious.

Then from out front, with each canard tip lined up with a matching vortelon, a one-eyed line of sight aiming back and forth to see if the canard and wings are level with each other. These are. They aren’t always.

These imprecise measurements would at least give an indication of why the plane might want to wander around. It looks good.

The gear seem sound and the rudder pedals seem adjusted and balanced. Giving it a shove forward shows it to track OK. Everything bolsters the checkout he has already had done.

So we go for a ride. Rolling onto the runway the static RPM is good and we have good oil and fuel pressure. The acceleration is good. With the elevators 3/4 inch low the nose lifts off around 55 mph to a comfortable attitude and she climbs out steady and true. I am excited.

On downwind she flies easy and straight. I ask him to check for any aileron deflection and he says they are faired with the wings. He begins voicing frustration that someone should have at least mentioned to him that LongEZs just have bad landing characteristics, that you just can’t land a LongEZ good.

Turning final, he’s questioning the parentage of the previous owner. On the touchdown chirp he stops in mid-complaint and says “How did you do that?”

I ask him to do one. Everything’s smooth around the pattern but as he rolls out on final the airplane’s attitude starts to become erratic and forced. After a slightly harsh touchdown he says “See… there’s no way to put it on the numbers”.

Oh, the numbers…
The next circuit I ask him to let the numbers go for a while and this time land one-third of the way down the runway, a good aim point for a new front seater to start out with. On final the wind is calm and I ask him to make sure his forearm is comfortably on the arm rest and to have his hand on the stick but this time fly mostly with a couple of fingers and thumb. It’s steady down the glide slope and he greases it on.

From there we play with moving adjusted touchdown point by moving the 90 degree position on the base turn further in or out and then flying a constant final attitude. Making these adjustments in a turn isn’t his normal practice in heavies, doing mostly straight-ins. We talk about the approach turn with a strong head wind or even on the other end of the spectrum, with a slight tailwind. He knows all this. But it gives us something to talk about.

After a few circuits he’s greasing it on the numbers, or close enough, consistently. Ace of the base. He’s having all the fun and I ‘offer’ to make another landing.

Earlier, as the new owner on his first solo, the plane didn’t fit his precise landing parameters. Or… another way of putting it might be that his vast experience just hadn’t yet been in the LongEZ’s arena. Nowww they’re cookin. He recovered a lot quicker than I did.

We have heard this instruction all through training- the landing point is set up starting on downwind, rather than on final. I try to work in plenty of throttle at idle approaches so I’m forced to be in the groove before starting the turn.

I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Warning System-
One day in the hangar Dancin’ Dave got our attention and pointed to a flat-bottom nosed EZvisitor limping up to the doors. He had just made a gear up landing, his second. The first was in another state, on the day he bought the plane, half way home, landing to refuel. He maintained that he didn’t need a warning system. Dave helped him with the repair, several times.

Comparing these landing events, on one hand it could be suggested that if you just leave the plane alone it will do fine. Mostly.
On the other extreme, there are probably those that would testify of a blustery day, not being attentive enough, and swerving through a breathless crunch. A gorilla grip no good but watch the two fingers and a thumb stuff. I think that was meant for general flying.

There is also something to be said about landing distractions- and system priorities. Like loading the dice in your favor. I have heard it said that an inoperative throttle/gear/canopy warning system should be a no-fly item. I agree.

With a little practice and attention, and the nose gear down,
you can’t land a LongEZ bad. Mostly.

Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze

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