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Touch-and-goes are one of the mainstays of every pilot’s education. It is one of the fundamental maneuvers that every pilot learns to perform during their flight training. It is a tool that helps pilots hone their proficiency with takeoffs and landings.
The term “touch-and-go”, in aviation parlance, refers to the act of landing an airplane on a runway at an airport, and then immediately accelerating to take off and become airborne again, without ever coming to a full stop in between. You are literally “touching” the runway and then “going” again.
The touch-and-go is most commonly used as a training maneuver, but it has practical applications as well. Let’s explore what exactly is a touch-and-go, how it is performed, why it is performed, what are its practical applications, and some safety tips and considerations with respect to them.
What exactly is a touch-and-go?
When coming in for a landing, the goal is to typically touch down at a slow enough speed, as close to the approach end of the runway, such that the airplane makes contact with the ground, decelerates, and the pilot is able to steer the plane onto the taxi-way and come to a complete halt.
A touch-and-go landing is one in which the pilot still must plan to touch down as per a normal landing, but rather than decelerating the plane with the intent to exit the runway bring it to a complete stop upon touch-down, the pilot must immediately reconfigure the airplane for takeoff, without ever leaving the runway.
While it is still coasting on the runway under its own momentum, the pilot must immediately pivot and transition to takeoff mode.
They must follow the take-off checklist and work promptly to get the aircraft airborne again as quickly and as safely as possible.
The transition from landing to a touch-and-go can be stressful. It requires the pilot to employ quick reflexes, exercise prompt go-no-go decision-making, maintain focus, and execute flawlessly within adequate safety margins.
Why are touch-and-goes used in flight training?
While touch-and-goes are rarely used in practical everyday flight, they serve a valuable purpose during your flight training. They should also be practiced from time to time by experienced pilots as well.
- Touch-and-goes help pilots build their confidence with how to handle airplanes during the landing phase of flight, as well as during the takeoff.
- Touch-and-goes can help pilots gain experience handling an aircraft that is operating near the surface.
- Touch-and-goes help the pilot to develop their agility. During a normal landing, the expectation is that the plane will glide to the earth, and the pilot must merely keep the plane steady as it flares and touches down. But a touch-and-go trains the pilot to be vigilant. It keeps you on your toes. It helps you counteract the tendency to become complacent during the landing phase, in case you need to abruptly make an unexpected immediate takeoff again.
- One of the most common applications of touch-and-go training is to train pilots how to execute aborted landings, which we will cover later in this resource.
- It is also worth noting that touch-and-goes also save you time and money during your flight training! This is particularly true in the case where your instructor wants you to practice multiple takeoffs and landings during a single training session.
It is much more expedient for you to touch down and then immediately take off and fly around the traffic pattern again, then it would be for you to land, taxi all the way back to the beginning of the runway, and then take off again.
Landing and taxiing back for takeoff burns more fuel.
Not only that, but the clock continues to tick, as the tachometer is erstwhile still running!
You will be billed for those extra tenths of an hour that you spend exiting the runway, taxiing back to the departure end of the runway, and then waiting for your turn to take off again.
Keep doing this enough times, and it will add up on your flight school bill!
Speaking of saving money, here are 20 ways student pilots can save money on their flight training.
How do pilots perform touch-and-goes in airplanes?
While the procedures for performing touch-and-goes can vary from airplane to airplane, the general principles are the same.
Executing a touch-and-go exists in three phases:
Phase 1: Landing
The first phase of a touch-and-go is really no different than executing a normal landing. You perform the same landing checklist. You configure the airplane for landing the same way you normally would.
The only difference is that if you already know ahead of time that you are planning to do a touch-and-go, you might rehearse the steps in your head, or you might plan your touchdown to be as close as possible to the approach end of the runway.
(The more runway you use up during your final approach to landing, the less runway you will have available for your subsequent takeoff roll. The less runway you have available, the riskier it is to gain altitude in time to clear any obstacles in your flight path.)
But the reality is that your flight instructor may not tell you to execute a touch-and-go until the last minute. Or, during the course of a normal landing, you never know if you may end up having to execute a touch-and-go out of necessity. So regardless of whether you are planning to execute a touch-and-go or not, you should plan your landing with the same level of accuracy, precision, and safety.
Never, under any circumstances, should you be lax about your landing. You never want to use up more runway to execute your landing than you need to, even if your intent is to come to a full stop at the airport.
Here, I would like to introduce you to a clever axiom that has made the rounds in aviation:
The three most useless things in aviation are:
– the altitude above you
– the runway behind you
– the air in the fuel tanks
The second part of that axiom constitutes sage words of wisdom that every pilot must ponder over. The runway behind you is “useless” in the sense that you want to avail yourself of as much runway as you can, for the very situation for when a touch-and-go might be necessary.
Phase 2: Transitioning From Landing Roll To Takeoff Configuration
During a normal landing, your focus is on bleeding off airspeed and getting ready to exit the runway.
However, in the case of a touch-and-go, once your wheels have made contact with the ground, you will need to immediately transition to takeoff configuration mode:
- Ensure that the airplane has established a stable landing roll. There should not be any sideloads being imposed upon it due to the wind. You should release the pressure on the ailerons and rudder that you had initially imposed in order to counteract any crosswind effect.
- You should retract all flaps (or retract all flaps to the level necessary for a short-field takeoff, if desired).
- You should center the trim controls for takeoff configuration.
- You should disable carburetor heat, if enabled.
- You should turn the fuel pump on (if it is not already on).
- You should apply full power.
- You should apply right-rudder as needed, to counteract the airplane’s left-turning tendency, due to the force of the propeller (known as P-factor).
- You should announce on the radio that you have initiated a takeoff roll, if at an non-towered airport. At towered airports, this announcement is not necessary if the control tower already knows that you plan to do a touch-and-go. You cannot execute a touch-and-go unless you are already cleared to do so, or unless the tower said you were “cleared for the option”. “Cleared for the option” means that the pilot may either come to a full stop or execute a touch-and-go, at their own discretion.
Phase 3: Transitioning From Landing Roll To Takeoff Configuration
Once your airplane has been transitioned to takeoff mode, proceed with your takeoff as normal.
Always refer to your airplane’s pilot operating handbook (POH) for specific considerations, checklists, limitations, and procedures, as they may pertain to touch-and-goes.
When is it okay to perform a touch-and-go?
A touch-and-go is legally permitted at any time under VFR conditions (Visual Flight Rules).
At non-towered airports, no prior permission or clearance is required, except to self-announce and be aware of other traffic at the airport.
At towered airports, you must be cleared for touch-and-goes by the control tower. In other words, you cannot decide at the last minute, when landing, that you want your landing to be a touch-and-go. You have to get clearance from the tower to do so. This is the case, unless, the controller clears you “for the option”, as mentioned in the previous section.
What are some safety tips for touch-and-goes?
Considerations for traffic, obstacles, weather, runway conditions, and aircraft performance all must be processed by the pilot in the span of a few seconds, to make the go-no-go decision to execute a touch-and-go or to simply bring the airplane to a full stop and park it in the parking area.
This requires the pilot to have complete situational awareness. It goes without saying that pilots must maintain proper situational awareness at all times, but it merits special mentioning here in the context of this discussion.
When is it unsafe to perform a touch-and-go?
Touch-and-goes are unsafe in the following situations:
- You are not confident that you would have enough runway to transition from landing roll to takeoff run, and be able to successfully get airborne and reach altitude while clearing any obstacles at the far end of the runway.
- If there are any trees, construction vehicles, tall buildings, or even hills or mountains at the approach end of the runway that you would not be able to safely climb over, as a result of a touch-and-go, then you should plan to execute a full-stop landing instead.
- Taking off at the beginning of the runway guarantees you the maximum distance for a safe climb out with obstacle clearance. However, during a touch-and-go, the point on the runway at which you actually reach rotation speed and are able to get airborne, could very well end up being further down the runway.
- If you use up too much runway on your landing, don’t execute a touch-and-go. Bring the plane to a stop instead.
- If you delay your transition from landing roll out to takeoff configuration while on a runway, consider bringing the airplane to a full stop instead.
Don’t feel compelled to do a touch-and-go if uncomfortable.
Since touch-and-goes require more instant decision-making and more rapid changes in aircraft configuration, it is important not to be pressured into performing one.
Don’t feel that you have something to “prove” by doing a touch-and-go. During your private pilot training, you will have learned about hazardous attitudes toward flying, one of which is the “macho” attitude or the “get-there-itis” attitude. You should never feel compelled to do a touch-and-go solo, on your own (unless you are doing so under the guidance of an instructor).
If you haven’t developed enough proficiency and comfort with your normal takeoffs and landings, then it is better to ensure that you have mastered these first, before you attempt a solo touch-and-go.
If your normal landings are ones that your flight instructor would be proud of, then you might be ready to conduct touch-and-goes on your own.
Also, don’t feel compelled to do a touch-and-go for the sake of saving money. It is far more expensive to pay hospital bills or the deductible on a crumpled-up airplane than it is for that extra 0.1 hour on the tachometer!
You may have heard the old saying in aviation:
It is better to be on the ground, wishing you were up in the sky, than to be up in the sky, wishing you were on the ground.
Or this one:
Any landing you can walk away from, is a good landing.
Do touch-and-goes count as landings in your logbook?
Any time your aircraft leaves the ground, gains altitude, and then the wheels touch back onto the earth during a landing maneuver, that is counted as a single landing.
It doesn’t matter whether the landing was to a full-stop or if it was a touch-and-go.
A landing is a landing.
However, there are some cases where you will need to differentiate between a touch-and-go and a regular full-stop landing. The most common one is the currency requirement for carrying passengers at night:
In order to be legally allowed to carry passengers with you during a night flight, you must have executed three landings to a full-stop at night, during the previous 90 days. Three touch-and-goes at night will not satisfy the night currency requirement, for carrying passengers.
What is meant by a full-stop landing?
A full-stop landing means that your airplane lands, bleeds off speed so that it can no longer become airborne, and then leaves the runway.
Once the airplane leaves the runway, this is considered a “full-stop” landing.
At this point, the airplane could be parked and the passengers can disembark. Or, the pilot could then immediately taxi back to the departure end of the runway (without shutting down or without any passengers getting out of the airplane), in order to take off again.
In either case, this is considered a “full-stop” landing. The airplane doesn’t literally need to “stop”. It just needs to taxi off of the runway.
Pilots should pilots practice touch-and-goes frequently.
Touch-and-goes help you develop more confidence as a pilot. It helps you build more proficiency and hone your skills with respect to your takeoffs and landings. It helps you develop more situational awareness, and keeps you sharp and on your toes.
What are some practical applications of touch-and-goes?
Are touch-and-goes ever used in “real-life” flying?
The answer is: yes.
If you ever need to abort a landing after you have touched down, then a touch-and-go maneuver would come into play.
Another “close cousin” to the touch-and-go is the go-around maneuver. A go-around is essentially a touch-and-go but without you ever actually touching the ground.
In a go-around, you are on final approach. You may even cross the runway threshold. But at the last second, you aren’t comfortable making the landing for whatever reason. Perhaps you are coming in too fast or too steep. Or perhaps the winds are too gusty. Or worse, you lose visibility with the ground (which leads to a whole separate discussion on instrument flying).
In these cases, you would immediately reconfigure the aircraft for takeoff, while in mid-flight. You would transition from final-approach configuration immediately to takeoff configuration, so that you can immediately gain altitude.
Essentially, a touch-and-go is used as a safety measure, in case you need to abort a landing for whatever reason.