Pilots Can Learn From Their Airplane

Your landing pattern speaks to your style of flying. If you fly a Pitts you probably drop a brick and follow it down; pilots of more complex aircraft typically fly a low final with partial power. Regardless of style, an approach needs to be stable. The skill to fly a stable approach is another aspect of airmanship.
Your landing pattern speaks to your style of flying. If you fly a Pitts you probably drop a brick and follow it down; pilots of more complex aircraft typically fly a low final with partial power. Regardless of style, an approach needs to be stable. The skill to fly a stable approach is another aspect of airmanship.
Student pilots, low time pilots and professional pilots understand the importance of practicing maneuvers. Practice makes perfect, so we practice flying maneuvers to sharpen our skills; however, if we practice with poor technique, we will become very good at being bad. Pilots ascribe criteria to maneuvers and judge their performance of a maneuver with reference to respective criteria. That is the basis for the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) and the Airman Certification Standards (ACS). A problem develops when judging the quality of a maneuver because we tend to focus on the pilot’s performance, and too often our judgement is subjective. Pilot training should include an objective evaluation of performance. A mentor is typically missing from a pilot’s quest to become a good stick, a great flyer, a pilot with stick and rudder skills. The science of aerodynamics can provide that mentorship.

Many pilots believe an airplane will go out of control and kill them if they do not maintain a steady hand on the controls. Actually, the relationship between pilot and airplane is just the opposite. Airplanes want to fly because they are aerodynamically stable.
• Airplanes do not stall, pilots cause airplanes to stall.
• With the possible exception of the late and great Bob Hoover, airplanes fly better than pilots.

Airplanes fly maneuvers; pilots direct or conduct the maneuver using flight control inputs consistent with Newton’s Laws. (Pilots frequently over-control, they wiggle the stick and generally cause the airplane to become unstable. Newton says when you do stuff, other stuff happens.)

Pilots should use aerodynamics to their advantage. Airplanes know angle of attack and will maintain trimmed airspeed. They will remain stable. They will not stall. The best way to understand aerodynamics is to experience how an airplane flies when the pilot takes his hands off the controls.
• Let go of the yoke and learn how the airplane moves and behaves when directed by its natural aerodynamic stability as opposed to
• How the airplane moves when directed by a pilot’s less than optimal use of the flight controls.

Fly hands off to experience airplane stability and learn from the airplane.
Select a power setting and trim for some airspeed. Spend a lot of time flying only with your feet – hands off the yoke. You will learn;
• The natural stability of the airplane maintains airspeed and continues to hold altitude, climb or descend depending on power setting.
• Roll and yaw axis are aerodynamically linked; therefore, you can bank and turn your airplane using only the rudder.
• Many if not most pilots maintain airspeed and altitude better without their hands on the yoke. Practice flying a ground reference rectangle and even a traffic pattern without using the yoke.

Let go and have some fun. A stable certified airplane demonstrates the fundamentals on which airmanship is based – aerodynamics. Pilots can use aerodynamic stability to develop a flying style whereby the airplane guides them towards better stick and rudder skills. Take a break from the ACS and enjoy a few minutes to have some fun.
• Practice flying using only the rudder. Learn how the airplane flies.
• Release the yoke prior, during and after a maneuver. If nose moves, you where over-controlling.

Click here to see this month’s feature video Flying a Stable Approach.

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