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 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 | | All Rod's Posts, CFI Resource Center, Technique | 0 comments
next post → ← previous post


Leave a comment

Stay in Touch

Physical Product Ordering Only (800) 437-7080

If you'd like to order a PHYSICAL product by phone, please call the number above. Digital (downloadable) products can't be ordered by phone.

Latest Posts

  • The Middle-aged Aviator

     By Rod Machado Over the years, I’ve heard many stories about middle-aged pilots (45-65 years) who gave up flying due to a sudden onset of anxiety. Apparently this wasn’t induced by any specific aviation trauma nor inspired by the relatively... read more

  • Cargo Cult Thinking

    By Rod Machado  Early in the 20th Century, pilots visited remote islands by air, dropping off goodies for Tarzan and Jane. On subsequent visits, these pilots noticed that the natives had built flimsy stick-and-twig replicas of their airplanes. Anthropologists named... read more

  • Recent Changes to Part-61 and Why They Are FANTASTIC!

    By Rod Machado Am I happy about the recent changes to FAR Part 61? You bet I’m happy. These changes will be helpful to general aviation in much the same way a corkscrew is to a Frenchman on Bastille Day.... read more


    The FAA has just released several "final new rules" that will have a positive effect on general aviation. The FAA deserves props for these changes and I want to be the first to congratulate them. You can read the rule making... read more

  • ACS Changes? Don't Celebrate Yet

    Flight instructors! Remove those party hats, collect the confetti and deflate those balloons because this is no time to celebrate. Celebrate what? I'm speaking of celebrating the FAA's semi-reinstatement of full-stalls in the June 2018 Commercial Airplane ACS. It turns out that... read more

  • How Is Maneuvering Speed Determined?

    If you've ever wondered how engineers find an airplane's maneuvering speed, here's your chance to understand the concept in non-technical terms. That's right! No math here. Sit back, relax and let Rod Machado help you better understand Va and how... read more

  • Why Maneuvering Speed Changes With Weight

    In the previous video titled, "Understanding Maneuvering Speed," I explained how maneuvering speed helps prevent structural damage to the airplane. In this video, I explain why maneuvering speed changes with a change in the airplane's weight. You must watch the... read more

  • Why Vx & Vy Change With Altitude

    If you've ever wondered why Vx (best angle of climb speed) and Vy (best rate of climb speed) change with altitude, here's a short explanation of the concept by Rod Machado read more

  • The Proper Attitude for Making a High Density Altitude Takeoff

    Not knowing how to select the proper attitude for departure from a high density altitude airport means you might accidentally clip the top of tall pine trees near the end of the runway (or worse). This is no way to... read more

  • Teaching Students How to Think Ahead of the Airplane

    Here is a simple but very effective behavior modification technique I've used with my students over the years to train them to think ahead of the airplane. It's based on the principle of associative conditioning. Use it to train your... read more

  • Rod Machado's Five Step Teaching Process (For Any Teacher/Instructor)

    Here is a 5-Step teaching strategy that I've used for decades—both in and out of an airplane cockpit—with great success. It's useful by any teacher in any training situation because it provides a strategic approach to changing a student's behavior.... read more

  • Leaning the Mixture for a High Density Altitude Takeoff

    Here's a short video showing you several ways to lean your airplane's mixture for a high density altitude takeoff. This piece covers leaning for normally aspirated engines having fixed pitch and constant speed propellers. ( read more