Question: I have heard you can tell if your commercial pilot was in the Air Force or the Navy depending on the smoothness of their landings. The Air Force pilot landings are smoother because they have always landed on land while the Navy pilot has rougher landings because of the amount of times they land on ships. Anything to this?
— John, Ohio
Answer: There is no truth to this urban legend. I have seen some very smooth landings made by former Navy fighter pilots and some very “firm” ones made by former Air Force special mission pilots.
We all have some good days for smooth landings and some other days when they are firmer.
Q: Why do some pilots land hard while others touch down smoothly? I have been awakened by a landing that was so hard that I thought we had crashed.
— Kenneth, Tenn.
A: There are many, many reasons why some landings are firm while others are softer. Wind, temperature of the runway, turbulence and pilot judgment all play a part in the firmness of the landing.
There are conditions where a firm touchdown is necessary; these include high crosswinds and when the runway is contaminated.
Pilot skill and judgment certainly are factors, too. Just a slight change in the flare altitude or rate can dramatically change the touchdown.
Pilots try to make landings smooth, it is easier some days than others.
Q: I experienced a hard landing with one airline and a soft one with another, both on Boeing planes. Why is there a difference, because of landing procedure and or training?
— Koo, SFO flight attendant
A: No two landings are alike. There is no correlation between the airline and the firmness of the landing.
Q: Why does it seem that Airbus aircraft land smoother/softer than Boeing aircraft?
— Rich DiGirolamo, Fla.
A: Having flown both professionally, I have not noticed a difference in smoothness between the manufacturers. Each have models where the struts are a bit stiffer and some where they are softer.
John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating…