Pilot Skills – Understanding the Words Pilots Use

In this photo of a sight picture, the nose appears above the horizon. Most pilots when viewing this photo will consider it an example of pitch. Actually, the photo is an example of yaw. Interpretation of sight picture is a pre-requisite for stick and rudder skills. A pilot cannot properly control attitude if he does not recognize pitch, bank and yaw.
In this photo of a sight picture, the nose appears above the horizon. Most pilots when viewing this photo will consider it an example of pitch. Actually, the photo is an example of yaw. Interpretation of sight picture is a pre-requisite for stick and rudder skills. A pilot cannot properly control attitude if he does not recognize pitch, bank and yaw.
The way pilots practice skills and develop their flying habits is based upon an understanding of Them Words, the words we use when speaking and writing about flying.

We use words to convey thought, meaning and concept. Aviation trainers, trainees and pilots alike routinely repeat words and phrases that constitute aviation terminology, pilot jargon. Think of jargon as a type of political correctness or group think. Aviators repeat popular words and phrases and assume the listener, a member of the group, understands the full meaning. But maybe not. Over time the fundamental concepts and meanings behind some pilot jargon has been lost for too many pilots.

When discussing pilot skills and aviation science, CFIs should use context along with a complete and clear definition of words; for example, let’s consider one of aviation’s most fundamental words – “pitch”.

Pitch is defined as an airplane’s rotation on its lateral axis. When used in a context, we can say the following about pitch:
• Pitch is what the pilot sees as the nose of the airplane moves up or down relative to the horizon.
• Pitch controls airspeed as in power + pitch = performance.
• Pitch is not the same as angle of attack. Airplanes can stall at any pitch attitude and any airspeed.

To help define the distinction between pitch and angle of attack, I think it is helpful to say pitch is what the pilot sees and angle of attack is what the airplane sees. We can explore this relationship in the context of a stall. Query a pilot, a student pilot, and even a CFI about stalls. They will correctly define a stall as exceeding the critical angle of attack. Push them harder and ask, “What does a pilot do to make the airplane stall? A common response is “pitch up”, a response that equates pitch with angle of attack.

You can demonstrate that pitch does not equate to angle of attack with a power on stall. With full power, establish a climbing flight path and trim for Vy (best rate of climb). Reduce power enough to result in declining airspeed. Continue the climb with constant pitch. Hold the angle of pitch using reference to attitude indicator if you cannot hold a constant sight picture. As airspeed slows, you will need to increase elevator back pressure, but not enough to increase pitch.

During this maneuver the pitch is not changing, but angle of attach is increasing. When the airplane arrives at the critical angle of attack it will buffet to announce the unset of a stalled condition. At that moment simply release elevator pressure allowing the nose to fall and the airplane’s natural stability to recover the stall (no need to add power or push stick forward).

A pilot’s understanding of Them Words, the words we use when speaking and writing about flying, greatly affects our pilot skills and habits. Think about the words you use:
• Pilots and especially flight instructors, should include context and meaning when using aviation jargon.
• Do not assume that pilots understand a terminology or an implied context.
• Avoid stand-alone tired axioms and rote memory when discussing skills.

This month’s featured video is about Using the Sight Picture to recognize attitude. click to watch

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