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Take Care of Those Tires

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
from CFIDarren Newsletter, May 11, 2011
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Just came back from vacation and saw quite a few tires with flat spots.  No, I'm not talking about underinflated and underflown aircraft.  I'm talking about flat spots on tires from excessive braking.  I figure I should write about it and share what I've picked up.

Let's start with the easiest topic, taxiing.  Ever fly with a pilot who rides the brakes all through their taxi around the airport?   I have.  Instructors can easily see the skill of their pilots who use a combination of power and brakes to control the aircraft on the ground -- instead of riding the brakes the whole way. You'll save brake pads AND tires if you use power carefully -- capitalizing on inertia and airflow across the rudder.  Turning is much easier when there is airflow across the rudder rather than riding the brake pedal.  Saving your tires (and brakes) means using power for aircraft control during taxi, and using the brakes to keep the aircraft moving no faster than a brisk walk.

Some folks will fly with their feet on the top half of the pedal.  I never understood it.  In flight, the only time your feet should touch/activate the brakes is to stop the rotation of the tires upon lift off.  This is commonly done before stowing the gear on general aviation aircraft.  Here's what happens when you land with your feet on the brakes...the picture to the right depicts a tire that upon landing, the brakes were locked up so long it burned a hole straight through the tire.  Not a good scenario for aircraft control.

Remember that you never need to slam on the brakes unless there is an emergency.  So on the landing roll, use as much runway as you need.  You paid for 100% of it and there are no refunds for using less runway than you need to stop safely.

Sometimes tires can be damaged by poor landing technique, particularly during cross wind conditions.  Remember your crosswind limitations for your aircraft, and remember good crosswind technique.  Low wing into the wind will help keep you safe in terms of aircraft control, but also help prevent side-loading.  If you are going to touch down on one tire, be sure its your upwind tire (the tire on the side the wind is coming from).  Use your smooth piloting skills to bring the other side of the aircraft down, with the aircraft aligned to the direction of travel (i.e. the centerline). 

And finally, for the instructors out there.  You can demonstrate short field technique for your student, get them to proficiency, and then use verbal call-outs to simulate heavy braking.  This will save the tires and brakes, and the aircraft owner (your boss?) will appreciate your efforts.

Please let me know your best braking technique (I'll post it here for all to see unless you say otherwise).  Thanks for reading.

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