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Flying the ATR

By David Montoya
November 28, 2001

The ATR 42 and 72 from the pilot’s perspective.

The Franco-Italian ATR (Avions de Transport Régional) aircraft series is among the largest and most successful of the modern turboprop airliners currently flying the world's commuter routes. The ATR, which began in October 1981 as a collaboration between two European aviation giants, Aeritalia (now Alenia) of Italy and Aérospatiale of France, first flew in 1984.

The new aircraft enjoyed a strong reputation and record for safety until 1993, when a fully loaded ATR 72 went down in Roselawn, Illinois, while holding in severe icing conditions, killing all on board. After that accident, the FAA temporarily grounded the entire fleet of United States based ATR aircraft. The airlines that flew the aircraft on colder northern routes were initially required to fly them in the warmer skies of the United States’ South and South-East after the FAA allowed the aircraft back into restricted service. Eventually, the icing characteristics of the aircraft were improved by icing boot extensions to the wing leading edges. Since then, the ATR has had no problems flying in icing conditions.

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Photo © Charles Falk

The ATR 42 and 72 turboprops are currently competing for airline and passenger loyalty with several other turbine commuters in the 40 to 75 seat range, as well as with many new regional jet types, including ; Canada's deHavilland DHC 7 and the newer DHC 8, the somewhat aging British Aerospace ATP (also called Jetstream 61), the Dutch Fokker F-27, F50 and F60, the Spanish/Indonesian IPTN line, Sweden's SAAB 2000, and jets from Bombardier/Canadair, Embraer, British Aerospace and Dornier. In addition, there are several aging and/or commercially unsuccessful Chinese and Russian turboprops in this size range that have not found acceptance among the West's regional airlines.

The designators on the ATR (42 and 72) were originally meant to coincide with the number of passenger seats on each aircraft. However, due to the operating requirements of airlines purchasing the aircraft, more seats have been added to the ATR 42, which accommodates 46 instead of 42 customers, while the ATR 72 carries fewer, 66 instead of 72 passengers.

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The ATR turboprop is currently flying in three main variants; the ATR 42-320 which is the "basic" model, the ATR 42-500, which is the same size as the 42-320 but with a more advanced six blade composite propellers and much more powerful engines, and the stretched ATR 72-210. ATR has abandoned plans to produce stretch versions of the ATR 42 and ATR 72 (which would have been dubbed ATR 52 and ATR 82 respectively, as well as the ATR 42-cargo with a folding rear ramp/door) due to the rapid change over to regional jets at many commuter airlines. Still, even with the new wave of small jets, turboprops will be employed in airline service for the foreseeable future and ATRs are still being procured and put into service around the world.

Pilots who fly the three newer varieties of ATR (and even the few older ATR 42-300 and ATR 72-200 still in service) hold a single type rating with differences training. The cockpit layout of the all ATRs is nearly identical, and pilots who work for airlines that fly different types of ATRs have no trouble moving back and forth between the two ATR 42 types and the larger ATR 72. Most airline's training policy is to provide differences training in the ATR 42-500 and ATR 72-210 after the pilot passes IOE (Initial Operating Experience), flying the line with paying passengers on scheduled routes in the 42-320.

The Aircraft

The ATR 42-320 is powered by Pratt and Whitney Canada PW 121 twin spool, free turbine engines produce a maximum takeoff rating of 2100 SHP (Shaft Horse Power) each with a four bladed propeller. In normal flight, the maximum power of each engine is only 1900 SHP, the other 200 is reserved for emergency engine failure uptrim. The ATR 42-500 and 72-210 are both equipped with PW 127 engines with a maximum certified takeoff rating of 2750 SHP, and a normal power rating of 2475 SHP. The ATR 72 employs a four bladed propeller, while the ATR 42-500 uses a more complex, composite six bladed prop. Both engine types have reduction gearbox assemblies and all ATR aircraft have excellent single engine climb performance and handling characteristics, even at maximum gross weight.
The ATR 42-320 has a maximum takeoff weight of 36,825 lbs., carries 9,920 lbs. of jet fuel in two in-wing tanks, burns just under 1,000 pounds of fuel per hour at cruise power settings, and has a Vmo (maximum operating speed) of Mach .55 (250 KIAS). Although the aircraft is the same size as the ATR 42-320, the ATR 42-500's maximum takeoff weight is 41,005 lbs., and it carries the same fuel load as the ATR 42-300 (with a greater pph fuel burn). The "stretched" ATR 72-210 is much longer than the 42s (89' 2" compared to 74' 5"), has a maximum takeoff weight of 47,465 lbs., and carries 11,020 lbs. of fuel. ATR 42 pilots are warned about taking off an ATR 72 with too excessive a takeoff pitch angle, because the aircraft's tail will hit the runway if it is rotated with as high an angle of attack as an ATR 42. To prevent damage to the rear fuselage, ATR has added a tailskid on ATR 72 aircraft.

All ATR variants employ state of the art EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrument System) technology. Many are also equipped with FMS (Flight Management System) technology that can be programmed to fly each flight segment, enter holds, and manage the aircraft's fuel for the best possible economy. The ATR pilot's workload is greatly decreased with the aid of such exotic equipment as TCS (Touch Control Steering), YD (Yaw Damper), and AHRS (Attitude and Heading Reference Systems), which are all components of the auto pilot and flight director system. In addition, ATRs are flown by two pilot crews, who are highly trained in crew coordination concepts and emergency procedures.

As an ATR pilot trained under FAR (Federal Aviation Regulation) part 121, I was trained in full motion simulators and subjected to every conceivable emergency, system malfunction, and irregularity that could be encountered in actual flight. After a checkride in the simulator and, later, in the actual aircraft, I began flying passengers on scheduled flights (IOE) and finally, after 100 hours in revenue service on type, I had my "high minimums" restrictions lifted. High minimum Captains and First Officers have weather minimum restrictions that prohibit them from flying together and from making approaches to published minimums.

ATR passengers enjoy a large cabin with full overhead bins running the length of each side of the interior. The seating configuration is two side by side seats on both sides of a central aisle. Of course, a full lavatory with running hot and cold water is provided for passengers and a galley is standard equipment. As per FAR part 121, one flight attendant is assigned to ATR 42s, while the larger 72s must have a two flight attendant complement. Folding trays, plenty of legroom and a very quiet cabin make it hard for many passengers to remember they are flying in a commuter airplane. The cabin is wide with plenty of headroom too and ATR passengers never feel cramped, as they might on a smaller turboprop airliner. The aircraft also comes with all of the emergency equipment and medical supplies found on larger jet airliners.

Flying the ATR

Every ATR pilot that I know (including myself) finds the airplane to be first rate in all areas. It is roomy, very easy to fly, has impressive emergency performance capabilities, and has every modern system (with the possible exception of auto throttle) found on the large jets. Equipment redundancies and pilot alerts offer a level of safety that would make any passenger who regularly shuns propeller airplanes comfortable while onboard.

The First Officer usually does the walk around before the first flight of the day, or when receiving the aircraft from another crew. Because of the size of the aircraft, it is impossible to touch the wing or tail surfaces, so a visual inspection of static wicks, turbine blades, flaps and ailerons, prop blades, pitot and static tubes, landing gear, and fluid levels is largely conducted by shining a flashlight at each area. On the right side of the aircraft there is a fuel panel and on the left the passenger entrance is aft and cargo door forward. The right engine can be run in "Hotel" mode to provide power to the cabin, due to the aircraft's lack of an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit). Hotel Mode means the right propellers is held, so that the engine is on and running, but the prop is not spinning. The right engine was chosen because it is on the opposite side of the aircraft away, from the passengers boarding at the left rear entrance.
Once the flightdeck crew is on board, they go through "flows”, challenges, preflight tests, and checklists. Cockpit data recorders must be in working order, landing gear pins must be stowed behind the first officer’s seat, oxygen masks, GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) TCAS (Traffic Alert Collision Avoidance System), and a dozen other systems must be checked, set, and configured before the Captain calls for the "before start checklist".

Many airlines have policies that allow only the captain to start the engines, but a few (including mine) do allow "supervised First Officer engine starts". It has been my experience, however, that a Captain has only allowed me to start the engines after we had flown together a few times. The First Officer must quickly compute the weight and balance for the Captain's signature and all instrument clearances must be copied, altitudes placed into the flight director system, and the landing field elevation pressurization set. After the taxi checklists, the aircraft moves toward the runway and the "pre-takeoff flows and checks" are completed with "Heading, Low Bank, Indicated Airspeed" set into the AFCS (Automatic Flight Control System), which appears on the ADU (Advisory Display Unit). The flaps are set to 15° and the crew brief each other on a normal takeoff and what will occur in the case of any abnormality. The airspeed "Bugs" are set so the pilots know V1, Vr, V2, etc. and the two pilots prepare to act as either PF (Pilot Flying) or PFN (Pilot Not Flying), as each role has different duties and responsibilities.

After the tower clears the airplane for takeoff, the First Officer completes the final flows and instructs the flight attendants to be seated for takeoff. The Captain steers the aircraft onto the center line and the PF advances the power levers forward and calls, "Set Power." The PNF sets power and calls "Power Set" and then the PF moves the hand that was on the power levels to the yoke so that both are holding it. As the plane accelerates through 80 knots, the PFN calls "Eighty Knots" and the PF responds "80 Knots verified." As the airplane reaches V1 (takeoff decision speed), the crew is committed to takeoff and an aborted takeoff is not an option. Seconds after the PFN calls V1 (s)he calls "Rotate" (Vr) and the PF smoothly pulls back on the yoke. The PFN calls "Positive Rate" and the PF responds "Gear up, yaw damp on.” The plane climbs to acceleration altitude (usually 400 to 500 feet AGL) and the PFN calls "Acceleration Altitude." The PF responds "Flaps up, Climb Power, After Takeoff Checklist.” Soon after the PF may call for high bank on the flight director (high bank limits the flight director to 27° banks, while low bank mode has a 15°-bank limit).

After the plane climbs through 5,000' many pilots choose to turn on the autopilot, while others wait until the plane is level at cruise altitude. Still rarer, some pilots fly at cruise altitude without the aid of the autopilot.

During cruise flight, the pilot's workload decreases and monitoring and fine adjustments to the power levers, with power management set to “cruise”, is usually all that is needed. Of course, traffic awareness, ATC communications, and especially, the flightdeck crew must properly handle all navigation obligations. En route, the weight and balance calculations can be started for the next leg of flight, and a quick ginger ale may be enjoyed while briefly discussing last night's episode of “Seinfeld.” However, the demands of the airplane are always very close by, at the forefront of every pilot’s consciousness.

As the airplane gets closer to the destination airport, the crew can listen to the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service), brief the upcoming instrument approach procedure, and prepare the passengers and flight attendants for descent. An "in range" checklist ensures the crew that they have configured the aircraft for the final portion of the flight, and the “sterile cockpit rule” (no non-essential conversation below 10,000’,unless in cruise flight) comes into effect.

The Air Route Traffic Control Center (the center) hands the crew off to the approach controller and the crew are usually vectored for either a visual or instrument approach into the destination airport, with an occasional traffic advisory from the TCAS (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System) prompting the pilots to report the "DC-10 in sight". Again, a whole series of flows, checklist, and reconfigurations are performed as the PF turns the heading bug knob and continues to set lower altitudes into the "box". Here, personal flying style comes in, with many pilots staying on the autopilot, while others click it off to hand fly for the remainder of the flight. As the ATR turns toward the airport, the crew sets bug headings, turns the ignition to Continuos Relight, sets the flaps and condition levers, extends the landing gear (three green lights), and finishes the "Approach" and "Before Landing" checklists to ensure that the aircraft is properly configured for a safe arrival at the destination airport. Each pilot also prepares for the possibility of a missed approach or a go-around (which happened to me on my very first landing, on my very first day as an airline pilot, coming into Philadelphia!). In that eventuality, the aircraft is low, slow, and has everything out and dirty, so the crew must make all the proper calls and actions.

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Photo © Mathias Henig

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Photo © Thierry IZZI

When the airplane is cleared for landing, the final checks are made and the flight attendants are instructed to take their seats. After the airplane touches down the crew pulls power levers into beta (reverse pitch) and the airplane decelerates very rapidly. The Captain takes over steering with the tiller, and the First Officer gets the flaps up, turns off the radar, changes the radio frequency, etc. Yet another flow and checklist assures that the aircraft is configured for its taxi to the ramp. Finally, the crew performs a parking flow and a parking checklist, followed by a terminating checklist to complete the flight as the passengers disembark.

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Photo © George A Wallace

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Photo © Pekka Lehtinen

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Photo © Bulldog

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Photo © E.S

If this is the end of the day it all starts again tomorrow. If it’s only a turn around at an out station, often the crew doesn't even have time to get out of their seats as the weight and balance paperwork is due and the controllers are trying to give you your instrument clearance back home. So goes the day of a typical ATR pilot. With any luck, your hotel has cable TV.

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Photo © Felix Sieder

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Photo © Jochen Thoma

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Photo © Frank Schaefer

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Photo © Thomas Andre Hjelmen

Written by
David Montoya

David Montoya Biography

32 User Comments:
Username: Tguman [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 05:41:11 and read 32768 times.

SImply beautiful. Great detail. I would like to know, however, what airline it is the you, the author, works for.
I cant wait until my senior trip (probably the next time on an ATR).
Thank you for the valuable information.

Username: NiteRider30 [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 06:19:28 and read 32768 times.

Wonderful article! I've always been interested in the ATR-42... ever since I read a book about the crash in Roselawn. Thanks for all of the great info!


Username: Lindy field [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 06:43:30 and read 32768 times.

Thank you for making this contribution to airliners.net. You should be proud of your work.

Username: Hias [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 11:07:19 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for the great article. I can imagine your daily work as I have often been to ATR cockpits, when the aircraft were in maintenance. So you have chosen one of my pictures of the ATR cockpit for your report. Thanks again.



Username: GKirk [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 11:11:38 and read 32768 times.

Thank you for sharing this fabulous article in which you desribe your own work-place. The article is very well writen and is full of information for those interested in aviation. Thanks for sharing :)

Username: Daks [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 12:20:31 and read 32768 times.

Very well written the technical facts were well explained without "blinding us with science" , it gave me a great insight into what I take for granted every week , (I fly ATR 42's to work and back twice a week with Aer Arran in Ireland) Thanks to your fine article , if I do get the elusive jumpseat I'll have a better idea of whats going on.

Username: JetBlue320 [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 12:56:24 and read 32768 times.

VERY GOOD... I have always kind of been scared to fly on PROPS, but the ATR seems like a nice plane, I know ASA operates the ATR-72-210, so if I ever go where it is going, I will hitch a ride

Username: Happy-flier [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 19:59:30 and read 32768 times.

Thank you for the wonderful article on one of my favourite aircraft.

I have a special attachment to the ATR, as I used to fly on it for many years when Canadian Regional had it in their fleet beginning in 1989. In total, I have flown 13 times aboard the ATR 42-320. Beatiful, graceful-flying airplane. Exhiliarating T/O performance and nice, slow landing capabilities.


Username: Trinbagojet [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 21:28:55 and read 32768 times.

I enjoyed the article a lot. I would like to read more like it.


Username: Pshifrin [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 22:07:35 and read 32768 times.

nice article! One correction, the american eagle accident occured on 10/31/1994 not in 1993. The founder of my company was on that aircraft.

Username: EGGD [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-28 23:25:57 and read 32768 times.

Wow, excellent article. Extremely well written, good detail and very interesting!

I have never flown an ATR, maybe if i did it would displace my favoured F50?

who knows!



Username: Ryu2 [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-29 05:09:39 and read 32768 times.

I believe the author works for Piedmont and goes by the name of ATRPilot on the forums.

Username: Boeing4ever [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-29 05:31:45 and read 32768 times.

Great article! The ATRs have gotten a bad rap ever since the American Eagle incident so it's nice to see someone give the facts about the safety of these fine birds. The truth is that they are some of the safest aircraft around! I saw a LOT ATR 72 as it took off in Wroclaw once and have always been fascinated with turboprops. Especially the ATRs.

Username: Super80 [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-29 06:43:13 and read 32768 times.

nice article! I found in the article that it mentioned that atr72 had to have 2 attendants. Well my flight on ASA only had one! oh well :) It was a fun plane to fly on and I would go on it again for other short haul flights.

Username: Markus [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-29 08:06:42 and read 32768 times.

Flown on the ATR-42-320 probably over 40 times in the past 3 years. Really enjoyed the article. Two of my friends are Cpt. on the -42 and really enjoy flying it...except in the summer when it could use just a bit more power. On a side note...Piedmont doesn't fly the ATR so I highly doubt the author works for them. Piedmont flies three variants of the same a/c (DHC8-100/200/300). If the a/c has more than 50 seats than it is required to have 2 flight attendants. It is not a coincidence that the first RJ's in existence both had exactly 50 seats (requiring only one FA...the ERJ and CRJ). Great article.

Username: Luzezito [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-29 09:02:11 and read 32768 times.

Very technical article. i am not a pilot but I get the picture of all the technicalities and checks that have to be performed, something I guess is easily forgotten by passengers.
I have flown the BINTER ATR 72 three times in the Canary Islands two weeks ago and found the plane very roomy and comfortable. However the Fokker 50, though somewhat more cramped, seemed less noisy and vibrating.
Certainly both planes are far better than AIR EUROPA's ATP Jetstreams , which I flew a few months ago with the feeling that I was onboard a DC 3.
As for the ATR, I was impressed by the short take off run and engine power at when take off. A good plane and certainly better than the Beechcraft 1900C I once flew between LPA and TFS, fully loaded with....19 pax!

Username: Kuba74 [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-29 10:39:11 and read 32768 times.

I am really ipressed. I have flown ATR`s (both 42/72) about 10 times on last 2 years. Once I was lucky enough to have a jump seat landing in one of the Eurolot`s ATR. Great experience.

Username: RoyalDutch [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-29 18:36:14 and read 32768 times.

Excellent Article! Its nice to have a feature on turboprops for once. Everyone seems to bypass them in favor of larger aircraft, but I love them! They make flying so much more real. The only turboprop I've ever been on is Fokker 50, and it was impressive enough to make it my favorite plane. I've always wanted to fly an ATR, and your article has just increased that desire. Good work!

Username: CRJ'sRule [User Info]
Posted 2001-11-30 02:40:47 and read 32768 times.

Beautiful Airplanes, so very deserving of an article. I've only flew a prop-job once and that was a Lao-Aviation ATR-72. It was incredibly quiet and quite comfortable for the hour flight from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai. Has Air Canada decided to take up any of Canadian Airlines ATR's? They sure beat those awful Fokker F-28's they use at the moment out of Calgary! Good article none the less

Username: Ts-ior [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-02 10:40:24 and read 32768 times.

TunInter operates three ATRs,and i see'em every
day taxiing,arriving and departing !
They're great aircrafts !

Username: Future777pilot [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-02 23:52:00 and read 32768 times.

hola...very nice article. I read another one of your articles about the incident you had when you were during a vor approach on the twin you were flying. Keep up the good work!

Clear skies all the way,

Username: Latechpilot [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-03 02:18:40 and read 32768 times.

Well written...enjoyed by a fellow ATR pilot. The ATR 42-320s at my company have a MGTOW of 37,258 lbs. I'm trying to figure out why the one you mention has the lower T/O weight of 36,825 lbs. May I add: my only real gripe about the 320s is the poor performance of AC packs, terrible climb performance (sometimes less than 500 fpm), and the stupid fuel quantity indicator MEL procedure. Other than that, it really an easy aircraft with no surprises.

Username: Snn2003 [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-03 02:53:18 and read 32768 times.

Verry good job!!!!!!

Username: Geert [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-03 15:54:26 and read 32768 times.

Thanks for a job well done! I like to see this as an example for more to come on other aircraft! Can't contribute myself (not a pilot) but hopefully others can!
Regards, Geert

Username: Adacyn [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-05 22:09:53 and read 32768 times.

Very nice article. Thank you. Agree with Geert, more articles by other pilots would be very welcome.

Username: EagleFlight [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-06 15:13:08 and read 32768 times.

There is also a -500 version of the ATR72, sometimes refered to as the ATR72-212A, in addition to the -210 and -212. My company has @12 of them. Nice article though. I enjoyed every minute I ever spent at the controls of the Mini Airbus. Maybe someday I'll tell you all about the EMB135/145. Stay tuned.

Username: Rooinc [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-13 23:37:45 and read 32768 times.

Great article--one other correction though: it was Indiana, not Illinois, where the accident occured.


Username: Darius [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-14 18:28:31 and read 32768 times.

Me too, I love Seinfeld :-)
Thanks for sharing your experience on the ATR.
It would be great to read more of such articles on a.net!

Username: Jderden777 [User Info]
Posted 2001-12-17 02:43:22 and read 32768 times.

Great article! Extremely well written...I have flown ASA's ATR-72s a great many times TRI-ATL and back...perhaps too often...I found them very loud and rattly, but still a joy to fly! When i'm flying, i don't really care as to what a/c it is but that i'm up in the sky!
The only other thing i can complain about on the ATR is that cockpit shots are hard to come by...you have to wait til all the baggage is unloaded from the front hold between the cabin and the cockpit! kindof a pain! :-)

by the way, someday i will have all of ASA's ATRs in my photo collection...i have a lot of them already...

jonathan d.

Username: TWAMD-80 [User Info]
Posted 2002-01-02 03:05:35 and read 32768 times.

I really enjoyed reading your article, which gave a great perspective on an ATR pilot's job. I see a number of American Eagle's ATR's flying in and out of Lambert - St. Louis International Airport everyday. Although I have never flown on one, it sounds like a great airplane, and the next time that I fly on a commuter I'll see if I can catch a flight on an ATR.


Username: 777guy [User Info]
Posted 2002-02-02 20:45:18 and read 32768 times.

Enjoyed reading this. I have Just Planes WAR videoes that show these aircraft in operations and this article further enhances the experience derived from viewing them. Thanks.

Username: Musang [User Info]
Posted 2010-03-12 13:15:30 and read 32768 times.

Nice work.

A couple of comments - prior to the Roselawn crash, the 1987 ATI crash on Mt Crezzo was perhaps first of the ATR's ice related problems.

I believe the reason for the term "hotel mode" is that is what ships do when they are in port, especially passenger/cruise liners. They run the engine at low speed to power essential systems, so the ship is like a hotel for the passengers.

One I never discovered in the years I flew them was why the knobs/handles on the power levers are different sizes. No-one at Toulouse could tell me!

I enjoyed flying them. The 42 was much easier to land. The 72 had stiffer main gear, which could gently launch it into the air after touchdown. Not a bounce, it was simply the gear unloading the compression of the landing and happened even with smooth landings. Being at the right speed helped, and I used to land the 72 one side first, whatever the wind. That used to sort it out, as one gear alone did not have the "strength" to rebound it off the runway. The 42 on the other hand was as docile as a Cessna!

Regards - musang

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