I’ve been on the bench for the last two weeks and I’m feeling pretty rusty. The fact the surface winds are gusting to 30 miles per hour isn’t helping and despite my best efforts we are bouncing all over the place as I join the final approach course. It’s a clear blue sky day, which only means I can more clearly see the airport rising and falling through glass of the windshield in front of me. I realize we are still high and fast and tell the FO to drop the gear.
There is a momentary pause and then a solid clunking noise as the landing drops out of the belly of the plane. I can feel a slightly slewing motion as the gear doors momentarily deflect the airflow as they transition outwards and then upwards up against the bottom of the wing. It always amazes me that such a small surface can move such a large mass, but one only has to look at the small movements of an aileron on a wing to see this happen.
With the gear hanging out below the aircraft we quickly slow and the runway ahead of us slows it’s up and down pitching motion. Tower advises us that a flight of three military helicopters will be landing on a taxiway to the south of the runway and that they have us in sight. A quick scan spots three black dots, rapidly approaching from the south. I visualize our flight path (a straight line) and theirs (a leftward down sloping curve) and realize we will be ahead of their arrival so even if they overshoot where they are going and encroach on the runway, we will be well out of the way.
At 1000 feet we are still rocking side to side and the controls feel sluggish. I remind myself that this is how the plane feels and go back to my scan that is so ingrained into my mind that a simple two week break hasn’t put a dent in it. The airspeed is staying stable despite the gusty wind. I break sterile cockpit rules to comment to the FO that it is always windy and bumpy on this approach. He simply nods and calls of 500 feet to go. Obviously, I’m not the professional here.
At 200 feet I start to visualize my flare. The 70 seater (well, actually 67 seater now that there is a first class on board) requires a slightly earlier flare than the 50 seater due to its longer fuselage and longer landing gear. It also runs out of power much quicker so you have to leave the power in longer or you will find yourself falling the last 15 feet out of the sky. At 100 feet I start to increase the pitch and use the rudder to center up the nose on the runway centerline. At 50 feet I bring about half the power out and keep pulling back on the yoke to keep the nose up. The plane settles quickly in the swirling air currents and I realize I pulled too much power but there is nothing I can do about it now.
The plane quickly counts off 40, 30 20 and 10 feet. I pull the last of the power out and there is a gentle (ok, slightly more than gentle) bump and we are on the ground. The reversers quickly deploy and then stow as we slow through 90 knots. A gently brake application slows us to taxi speed and we turn off the runway towards the gate just as the first of the three Army Apaches touches down behind us.