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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, I've 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 airplane's nosewheel contacted the runway, I managed to inform my passengers, "This is the worst landing I've 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, I've done the go-around thing a few times, but I've 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. Don't forget the gear.

Unless allowed to get way out of control, a bounced landing rarely results in serious damage. With most piston-powered aircraft, we're 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, there's 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 airplane's 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 airplane's 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 airplane's nose came up, it started to roll to the right, and the airplane started to veer off the right side of the runway. The airplane's 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 airplane's 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.


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

We've 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--it's 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 we're not adding power to at least stabilize the airplane's pitch control or climb away from the runway, there'd 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.


The Airplane Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-3A, emphasizes three principles of the landing go-around:



The instant the pilot decides to go around, full or maximum allowable takeoff power must be applied smoothly and without hesitation, and held until flying speed and controllability are restored. Applying only partial power in a go-around is never appropriate.


The airplane executing a go-around must be maintained in an attitude that permits a buildup of airspeed well beyond the stall point before any effort is made to gain altitude, or to execute a turn.


Since the airplane has been trimmed for the approach ... application of maximum allowable power will require considerable control pressure to maintain a climb pitch attitude. Forward elevator pressure must be anticipated and applied to hold the nose in a safe climb attitude.




EMPTY WEIGHT: 5488 lbs.

MAX GROSS WEIGHT: 10, 165 lbs.




RANGE: 1122 nm

Vso: 76 knots
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Title Annotation:ACCIDENT PROBE
Author:Burnside, Joseph E. (Jeb)
Publication:Aviation Safety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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