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Good Landings in a 727

Old 16th Aug 2020, 05:51
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Good Landings in a 727

Another good article from an old USA magazine about to be dispatched to the re-cycling bin. Greasers when landing a 727? Not likely by Len Morgan, Flying June 1993

Landing is the most interesting phase of flight in any aircraft. In some ways, it is the most challenging, particularly for a pilot unhappy with anything less than the delicious slide of rubber on concrete so aptly described as “painting it on.”

The smoothness with which an aircraft can be transferred from sleek flying machine to ungainly ground vehicle depends on several factors, most of them beyond the pilot’s control. Take its landing gear: The DC-4 had large tyres and long struts; hold it a foot off the runway with the nose up a few degrees and it would settle ever so softly onto the ground, making you look better than you were.

But “soft” landing gears are heavy, require large storage wells and therefore annoy designers whose last concern is flattering pilots. So, they made the DC-6 noticeably stiff-legged. You could pull off a good landing in a -6, but a “greaser” was rare. The same was true of the Connie. The Electra was downright humbling; for gear it seemed to have cast-iron wheels and I-beam struts. A remarkable plane in many respects, it could loosen your fillings on arrival no matter how hard you tried. The 707, on the other hand, would often reward an attentive driver with a gentle touch-down. (And the 747 was an absolute delight, I would learn a few years later.)

I’d wondered how Boeing’s trijet would compare. What an absolutely marvellous airplane! The 727 was more pilot-friendly from the first day than any other transport in my logs. It was easy to learn. The ground school was a snap and my flight training was completed days ahead of schedule without the customary simulator warm-up. Not everyone, however, found the transition to the “Three-Holer” to go as smoothly. This is not to say I was sharper than average. Far from it; I am a slow learner. I breezed through 727 training simply because I had already flown the 707.

Qualifying on that brute was something else. It was almost three times the weight of the Electra I had been flying. It was ponderous, accelerated slowly even at maximum power and hurtled along at the bottom of descent with power at idle. Unless you stayed miles ahead of it on letdown, there was no option but to request a 360 while speed dwindled, a common embarrassment among newcomers to jet flying.

Something we piston drivers never appreciated until we lost it was the braking provided by idling props. The turbojet developed considerable shove even with thrust levers back against the stops. Precise speed on final was extremely important. The 707 floated 1,000 feet for every 10 knots of excess speed over the fence. This could get you into trouble at a marginal field like Kansas City Municipal when braking action was reported as fair to poor.

The 707 was heavy on the controls until you learned to trim it. And, of course, we had to cope with its (then) astounding weight and blazing speed using the same instruments and navigation gear installed on piston equipment. The only computers in early jet cockpits were between the pilots’ ears. Yet after 200 hours I felt completely at home in the new marvel and wouldn’t have swapped it for a seat on the Stock Exchange.

This background provided a tremendous edge during transition to the 727, which is not to say it was a scaled-down of its big sister. Boeing’s new baby had rear-mounted engines, two rudders, four ailerons, 14 spoiler sections, 26 flap panels, nosewheel brakes and a tail skid. But the hydraulic, electrical and fuel systems were nearly identical to the 707’s, as was the cockpit layout.

In everything I had previously flown, powerplant performance was monitored as much by listening as by what the gauges reported. The 727 cockpit was eerily quiet; in contrast, you were scarcely aware of engine thunder even at takeoff thrust. This took some getting used to.

In flight the 727 was a dream, light on the controls and delightfully responsive. Descent, approach and landing techniques came easily to anyone with 707 experience. When a radar controller requested an expedited descent, you eased back on the “speed brake” lever that deployed the flight spoilers and you came down like a load of sand. You could lose altitude at 4,000 fpm and faster of you dropped the gear. The same trick in a 707, while safe and legal, caused an uncomfortable shuddering that made nervous passengers look out the windows.

Descent and approach posed no problems once you got the feel for the 727. Our descent drill was: idle thrust and Mach.80 from cruising level to 320 knots, then 320 to 10,000 feet, below which the speed limit was 250. The flight engineer noted weight and computed a reference speed (Vref), which was 1.3 times stalling speed with landing flaps. Depending on weight, Vref was 115 to 125 knots.

At five to 10 miles from the outer marker, flaps were extended “on schedule”. At 200 knots, the “Flaps 2“ handle position extended a pair of leading-edge slats on each wing and dropped trailing-edge flaps two degrees. At 190 knots, “Flaps 5“ dropped all remaining leading-edge slats and flaps and extended trailing-edge flaps to five degrees. At 160 knots “Flaps 15“ was selected and at 140 you moved the flaps control to “Flaps 25“. The idea was to cross the outer marker with flaps extended 25 degrees and speed nailed on 140 knots. There was nothing to it after a bit of practice.

When the glideslope came alive you dropped the gear and landing flaps, reduced speed to Vref plus 10 and tidied up the cockpit for arrival. Small power adjustments thereafter kept speed and sink rate where they belonged from outer marker to airport – and it was important that they were closely monitored.

Decaying airspeed or increasing sink rate had to be immediately set right, particularly below 500 feet. Any combination of low speed, excessive rate of descent or spooled-down engines was potentially lethal. There was more than one disastrous 727 undershoot before this deadly combination was fully appreciated. You had to stay well ahead of the 727 at all times which, of course, means it’s no different from any other airplane, large or small.

One thing we old piston drivers had to learn was that jets don’t touch down on the numbers. Instead, you aimed them at a point 1,000 feet down the runway. That seemed like a waste of perfectly good concrete but it made sense in that it prevented a pilot a trifle low from dragging his wheels through the approach lights. The natural urge to “duck under” when breaking out of a 100-foot overcast had to be suppressed.

“Hold what you got” was the ironclad rule regrading descent rate once the runway came into view. (I must digress at this point. I can already hear the hoots of men and women in Africa, South America and polar regions who routinely shoehorn 727s and other jets into short gravel strips where planting the mains is imperative. My admiration for those gutsy troops is unbounded.)

It’s said that a good approach offers the best shot at a good landing and I believe that’s true. So, you had best fly the Three-Holer precisely “on profile,” properly trimmed, with speed and descent rate right on the money down to the runway threshold and ease off the power. What then? If you were landing on one of Portland, Oregon’s incredibly smooth runways and it was wet from recent rain and it was one of your best days, you might just slick it on. But it was foolish to bet on it.

At most airports, our passengers knew when the flight ended. The touch down was firm, though not uncomfortably so, and often produced a short skip. A sudden sink during flare in the stretched 727-200 could sometimes be offset by releasing back pressure on the wheel. This lowered the nose and slowed the descent rate of the rear-mounted main gear, avoiding a jarring arrival. Sounds crazy but it worked. The Three-Holer rarely embarrassed its pilots on landing; neither did it often reward them with a greaser - and that’s a comment not a complaint. You’ll never hear anything but praise from me about Boeing’s magnificent Model 727.

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Old 16th Aug 2020, 06:56
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Sigh, Len Morgan, miss his writings, wish there was a compendium available.
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Old 16th Aug 2020, 08:55
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A good "push" at 50 feet to "roll it on" worked well if in the slot.
Worked for me on wide bodies too.
Like a butterfly with sore feet.
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Old 16th Aug 2020, 09:15
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Didn't they have issues with 727 full flaps back then? Most airlines never used full flaps anymore because of this.
And for the speed brakes: I seem to remember Pan Am pilots doing a lot of side slips for speed fine tuning instead of using the spoilers.
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Old 16th Aug 2020, 10:15
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Ahhhhh a bucket lister to fly!

Missed that generations by “” much......
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Old 16th Aug 2020, 16:41
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Another good article from an old USA magazine about to be dispatched to the re-cycling bin

Len Morgan wrote the most evocative stories. His writing style was beautiful. Please don't toss them in the bin. Toss the magazine in the bin if you like but extract Len's "Vectors" and hang on to them. They are like gold. I have many of his articles saved over the years and they are mine - all mine.

Better still, and with time to spare, why not reproduce each one on PPRuNe as you have already done with this thread. Few of today's current pilots would have been born when Len started to write his column in US Flying magazine. Here is your opportunity to pass his wisdom on to them. Len even uses the word "Airmanship" a new concept after NTS1 and NTS2 et al..
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Old 16th Aug 2020, 20:24
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A good "push" at 50 feet to "roll it on" worked well if in the slot.
Worked for me on wide bodies too.
Like a butterfly with sore feet.
Not so much a push as simply relaxing the back pressure.

The unsmiling Alan James taught me this on the DC-9 and it's worked for me too on every type I've flown since.
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Old 16th Aug 2020, 21:13
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Normal landing flap was 30 however the max was 40. Not often used but sometimes mandated such as at Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

Last edited by BalusKaptan; 19th Aug 2020 at 00:34.
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Old 16th Aug 2020, 23:08
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Normal landing flap was 30 degrees. 40 degrees was harder to get a smooth landing and had a lower maximum landing weight. On Ansett's 727-200LR, Max Landing weight was 72,574kg at flap 30 and 64,636kg at flap 40.

Dora-9 is correct with the 'release the back pressure' statement. There were people promoting the 'push over' technique, but it was not necessary, just release the back pressure with just a hint of nose lowering and it went on beautifully. Some of this push business has led to some real clangers, especially on the 757 and 767 with fuselage damage behind the nose wheel causing creases in the skin. I remember seeing a damaged 767 in Narita with top to bottom creases. It looked like a banana. Surprisingly they repaired it. Delta did one recently on a 757. Push too much and get on the nose wheel is asking for trouble. Having said all that 'Ace of the base' stuff, most 727 pilots missed it occasionally, including my good self. I banged one on in CBR once and the cabin manger came into the cockpit with a glass of water and placed it gently on the console. "Georgie dearest if you are going to plant it you had better water it" she said. Firm as it was, I didn't drop the oxygen masks. As long as there was no drift or side loading you could do that, a thumper and keep the masks up. (skill comes in various forms).
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 00:47
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Having moved to the US, one can still get jobs on them here. One is the vomit comet, the other is Air Horse One.

I'd love to fly one. Worried I'd have constant nightmares featuring that blue book though.
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 01:58
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First Jet for me

A magnificent aircraft, beautiful handling, stable yet responsive, it could fly very fast or very slow and it went through turbulence like a hot knife through butter

One of Boeing’s very best
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 02:06
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It was impressive as a kid to enter and exit through the rear ramp, also remember a high speed low pass possibly at Schofield Airshow in the 80’s
Regards RW
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 03:13
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Max Landing weight was 72,574kg at flap 30 and 64,636kg at flap 40
Why would flap setting dictate max landing weight? I'm thinking overshoot capability. Learn something new every day.

Besides Len Morgan the other author I wish had a compendium available is Sheldon "Torch" Lewis who used to take up the last page in the monthly Business & Commercial Aviation magazine with safety related stories. Torch flew Corsairs during the war and had a career in flying business aviation after. He does have a couple of books available on Amazon.
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 05:26
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The flap setting in relation to maximum landing weight differences was due to a Landing Climb Requirement. '3.2 gross gradient. U/C down, landing flap, all engines at max thrust and speed greater than 1.3vs with overshoot capability from the threshold'. That quote came directly from my old course notes. I do not think it was restricted to just the LR as we operated straight 200's as well. The LR was 89358 TOW compared to the straight 200 at 86409. Both had the same thrust from JT8D-15 engines. So naturally, close to the ground at high weights on a hot day, the LR was not very spectacular. Once it got away from mother earth it went like a rocket.
I have also learnt something new, with some operators landing with flap 25. I can not work out why you would do that? Save fuel and less noise maybe? Flap 25 at Hamilton Island would guarantee a swim back to the terminal.
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 06:25
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I have learnt something new too, nose wheel brakes. Had no idea such a thing existed.
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 07:39
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As long as there was no drift or side loading you could do that, a thumper and keep the masks up.
Are we singing from the same hymn book George?
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 08:18
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It is the aircraft which put the fear of flying on me when young because the wing moved so much up and down and then remove it after few flights leading the way to end up here in PPRuNe.
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 08:23
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A beautiful description. Nice
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 20:29
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By George: Did you ever get to fly with the slightly nutty Victor S K? He decided that he would demonstrate to me how the "roll on" technique worked in a Friendship. It was one of those God-awful heavy landings that you could see coming from the top of descent...
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Old 17th Aug 2020, 21:33
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What a lovely narrative. I subscribed to Flying magazine when I was a teenager in the 70’s, and always enjoyed Len Morgan’s articles. I never would have believed that twenty odd years later would find me checking out as a First Officer on the 727, having never flown anything larger than a Jetstream. To this day, the firmest landing I’ve ever made was on the 727-200. Clear calm night to a 16000 foot runway, and I planted it so hard as to open quite a few overhead bins. Yes, landing a 727 was always a mystery to me.

BTW, I learned that a daughter of Len Morgan is married to a very senior pilot at the airline from which I just retired.

Thanks for posting the article. I wish I had saved all my old copies of Len Morgan’s column.

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