Everything You Need to Know About Soft-Field Runways

Have you attempted a soft-field landing or takeoff recently? Whether you’re a seasoned commercial pilot or an aspiring regional first officer, chances are you haven’t experienced taking off or landing on soft-field runways other than the flight reviews or initial check ride.

Now that you’ve decided to advance in your career, a sense of rustiness while attempting infrequent procedures can feel daunting. However, a refresher on safely landing and taking off on unpaved surfaces can be integral to safe and successful operations.

Seasoned instructors at Momentum Flight Training are here to help you navigate diverse situations before you begin your journey as a regional airline pilot. They use AATD flight simulators and in-class discussions to help pilots learn everything they need to know about soft field operations to practice and execute them comfortably and confidently in the skies. Call now for more information!

What are Soft Fields?

Runways known as soft fields range in complexity from unprepared muddy ones to straightforward grass fields. Interestingly, there’s no proper definition of soft fields because the same landing procedures are often used on hard runways when there’s a significant amount of flooding, for instance.

But generally, any landing surface without asphalt or other hard surfaces is considered a soft field. It could be a snow runway or one with sand, gravel, or grass. Some pilots call soft fields rough fields even though they’re not inherently dangerous.

The key is to practice the operating procedure for soft fields confidently and proactively. Knowing all the protocols can help avert the risk of accidents or damage. Instructors at Momentum Flight Training prepare aspiring regional pilots with lessons that include diverse emergency and unique situations, including landing and taking off on soft fields.

Soft fielding landings are challenging because they include soggy or wet fields, which increase the chances of hydroplaning. The aviator can also have a greater tendency to dig into the surface, causing damage to the landing gear. Incidents have been reported where a complete flip or prop strike has caused immense damage.

Pilots must ensure the landing gear is supported by the lift from the wings for as long as possible to mitigate stress on the landing gear while minimizing the chances of drag or hydroplaning.

The process of soft field landing or takeoff begins way before the actual landing or takeoff. Many times, the nature of the soft field can cause unserviceable or poor runway conditions. You must ensure the runway is conducive to a safe takeoff or landing before you initiate the procedure. You can ensure that by following a few tips.

#1- Check NOTAMS

Acronym for Notices to Airmen, NOTAMs must be checked at the destination airport prior to commencing the trip. Check the reports on the runway conditions and whether it’s still serviceable. You can also look for the status of other nearby runways to know what to expect at the destination. If the condition is dangerous, speak to the FBO, airport manager, or another local pilot about the weather trends and inform them about your plan.

#2- Be Cautious of Grass Fields

Dry and well-trimmed grass is ideal for landing on a soft runway. However, improper mowing or bad weather can worsen the takeoff or landing condition. Always remember to ask when the grass was mowed. The combination of smooth glass blades and moisture can create dangerous runway conditions leading to loss of control or skidding.

#3- Monitor the Radio

Monitor the relevant frequency for updates regarding the runway conditions before arriving at the destination. Other pilots using the same runway can provide some useful insights. Some airports also have automated weather stations such as RAWS or ATIS, both of which offer valuable real-time information about runway conditions and visibility.

#4- Be Careful with Braking

Braking on soft fields can cause the nose gear to dig into the surface, imposing a heavy load on it. The rough or soft landing surface can automatically reduce the forward speed of an aviator. So landing on a soft field requires pilots to add power to keep the aviator from being stuck during the taxi or landing roll.

Since soft field takeoffs and landings require much more skill and planning than standard operations, you have to understand the aircraft’s specific characteristics and performance limitations when operating on soft surfaces.

Practicing these procedures before trying them in real life can be the best way to learn safely, without injuries or damage. To learn in an encouraging environment, enroll yourself in 1-day, 3-day, and 5-day aircraft simulator training programs by Momentum Flight Training.

When pilots get the chance to familiarize themselves with the aviator, they’ll be flying as first officers in the regional airlines; they can comprehend mechanisms and navigate diverse flight situations confidently.

Aircraft simulator training at the institute includes in-class lectures and sessions in simulators that replicate the systems in the Canadair Regional Jet 550, 700, and 900 to enable pilots to experience flying regional aircraft in different environments.

Speak to a qualified instructor for tailored programs aimed at helping aspiring pilots move forward into their new careers with a regional airline.

About the Author

Mathew worked as a designated FAA examiner for eight years before becoming an instructor at various flight schools. After retiring as a regional airline captain, he writes about everything concerning the aviation industry