Fanning—A Lost Technique for Teaching the Landing Flare

Excerpted from Rod Machado's How to Fly an Airplane Handbook.

Fanning? While flying? Yes, but it is not something you do after landing hot.

Fanning is a technique used to help student pilots learn to land. It involves pulling the yoke or joystick aft in small increments during the roundout and landing flare, giving the elevator surface the appearance of moving up and down just like a fan. Let’s take a closer look at the history behind the technique and why you might want to consider adding it to your instructor’s toolbox.

Fanning is a technique that was once very popular among old-time flight instructors. When I say old-time, I mean old-time. I first read about the technique in a 1928 book titled Practical Flight Training, written by a Navy flight instructor named Barrett Studley. The technique was popular among flight instructors trained during WWll, but seemed to completely disappear by the early 1970s. That’s unfortunate, because I’ve used the technique with great success over the years. Here’s how fanning works.

As the student approaches the height at which the roundout occurs, he begins moving the yoke or joystick aft in a series of quick, short movements. Barrett Studley expresses the idea this way in regard to landing a taildragger, but the same principle applies to tricycle-geared airplanes:

The plane is leveled off...by a series of quick backward movements of the stick. These movements are continued in order to raise the nose until the airplane stalls. After each one [aft stick movement] the stick must be allowed to go forward again, ...if it is held back even momentarily the plane is likely to climb.

Yes, it’s true that during a student’s first few landing lessons, the nose will appear to be moving upward in small increments. No, it’s not oscillating up and down as might be surmised from the small aft (and release) stick movements. Instead, the nose is being raised in small but distinctly visible increments, somewhat like using a hand-cranked jack to raise a car and change a tire. These increments should not be jarring or particularly jerky if the technique is performed properly.

Studley goes on to say:

Control is maintained by a slight excess in the magnitude of backward movements of the stick, which causes the nose to rise in a series of small steps following each other in rapid succession.

The value of fanning lies in the student having an opportunity to make, recognize and correct for the mistakes he or she is likely to make with the elevator during the first few hours of training. Fanning is ultimately a mistake-making technique. It gives the student a chance to see a lot of tiny mistakes (i.e., raising the nose in small increments), and then correct those mistakes by releasing a slight amount of elevator back pressure. Seeing a lot of little mistakes all at once accelerates learning. Here’s how Studley states it:

[you want the student to] ...keep the stick in more or less constant and regular forward and backward motion. The net result of this will be a marked decrease of the fluctuations in the plane’s height. This tendency is normal at this time, as the student can progress only by making, recognizing and correcting mistakes. Free use of the elevators is one of the first things that must be learned.

Fanning might appear to be more complex than just teaching someone to make a continuous aft pull on the yoke for landing. In reality, the technique is much easier on the beginner than attempting to use a continuous, precise aft pull on the elevator for rounding out and flaring at this early stage of training. Studley says:

While learning to land, it is simpler to keep approximate control of motion already initiated than to commence movement of the elevators at the proper instant and control its magnitude precisely.

Keep in mind that fanning is not the ultimate goal in terms of landing skill. It’s simply a step toward acquiring the desired skill of making a smooth continuous pull on the elevator for landing. Speaking early in the last century, Barrett Studley’s words on this matter still ring true. Studley says:

Fanning is suggested, not as a method of landing, but solely as a step in instruction.... If fanning is used it should be commenced during the third or early in the fourth hour. By the end of the fifth hour the student should be able to land consistently by its use. The excess motion of the elevators must then be steadily decreased until it is practically eliminated. Otherwise precision will be seriously interfered with. Prior to the first solo consistently good landings should be made without frequently repeated forward movements of the stick.

So become a fan of fanning and add it to your bag of flight instructor techniques. You might find it useful.

PS: CFIs! Prefer not to spend time on the ground teaching cross country flight planning? Then, for the cost of about 1/2 hour of flight instruction time, your student can take my "Basic Cross Country Flight Planning Course for Beginners" and be ready for his/her first cross country in no time. If you're a member of my CFI Affiliate Program you'll receive a 25% commission on every one of my products your students purchase. Check it out.

By Rod Machado | | CFI Resource Center, Learning to Fly | 0 comments
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