I have over 6 hours of flight time on the Citabria already! Wow. At 10 minutes a flight, that's a lot of flights. At first, most of the flights were quite wild - had my share of bumps and bruises. However, lately I've been getting in the groove and my flights are more stable and I am getting disoriented less and less. This is a great plane to learn on.
So, now its time to step it up a notch. Its one thing to hand launch the plane, buzz around up high until the engine cuts out and glide into the grass. Its another to fly a clean, consistent pattern - including a controlled landing to a specific location (runway).
The Parkzone Citabria does not have a lot of tolerance for rough surfaces - no trying to land and roll out on grass or gravel. Even a pavement surface needs to be free of not only potholes and major cracks, but even loose gravel or pebbles slightly larger then sand will mess up a nice touch down (the tires are barely 1cm across on a plane weighing 20g).
This past weekend, while camping in Saskatchewan, I spent about an hour (4 batteries worth) practicing my landings. The location was an asphalt parking lot aproximately 25 x 100m (with trees all around - got tangled a couple of times). There was some loose gravel in places that tripped me up, but the clear spots made for nice targets to approach and land on.
With all the repairs to the plane, it probably doesn't fly as well as it could, and so, if you are reading this to learn how to land, follow the spirit and make appropriate adjustments for the condition of your plane. (And also realize, I'm not an instructor, just a self-taught student documenting my progress....)
To date, when I wanted to try a proper landing, I basically lined myself up at an altitude of about 3m about 15-20m from the landing area, cut the throttle and attempted to glide to a landing. The sink rate was usually quite high, and often I would either land short or stall and then land hard.
This time, I tried something different. The throttle has a trim control. Before taking off, I adjusted the trim so that at full down on the lever, the motor was still running. One more 'click' down on the throttle trim and the engine was off. Now, once air borne and ready to try touch-n-go landings, I trimmed the throttle up one 'click'. The result when I pulled all the way down on the throttle was just enough throttle to drag out the approach. The sink rate was way down, and the glide path much more realistic looking.
The new glide path, being much longer, meant I now had to readjust my approach. Now I would need to start my approach at about 50m out and 3-5m altitude, reduce throttle to 'idle' and gently glide in. Much nicer - although I could hear the prop striking the ground and noticed a definite pitch down in the nose on landing. Hmmm. Still to steep of an angle?
Then I remembered what real planes do just before touching down - flare. So, next go 'round, just as the plane was within a few cm of the ground (3-5) I gave a little back stick to bring the nose up and touched down gently, quietly - dare I say perfectly? Rolled a meter or so, back on the throttle and up in the air to go around again! Yeah!
I still have a fair bit of practise to do, as only about 30-40% of my landings went that pretty. The other 60% was spit between not enough flare (nose down, prop strike) or too much flare (touch and bounce, then land) and a few 'landings' in trees, on the grass - even into my hand!
The one other 'gotcha' is that with the throttle trimmed to keep the plane idling, if I ran into trouble (tree, fast landing to avoid a car, land too close to the edge to take off, land in the grass, etc.) then the motor is still running and the only way to shut it down is by trimming out the idle - which is not that hard, but I have to remember to do it. Gas planes would often just stall in some of these situations, and in others, the idle setting is not fast enough to move the plane, unlike the Citabria - where the slowest setting I could get would still cause the plane to taxi.