Power plus Pitch = Performance; What Does That Mean?

This is how short final looks from a Pitts aerobatic airplane. There is much misinformation about the Pitts, not the least of which is that a Pitts is difficult to fly and especially challenging during landing. Many pilots think the Pitts is one of the easiest airplanes to fly, because a Pitts will do exactly what you ask of it; so be really careful what you ask for.
This is how short final looks from a Pitts aerobatic airplane. There is much misinformation about the Pitts, not the least of which is that a Pitts is difficult to fly and especially challenging during landing. Many pilots think the Pitts is one of the easiest airplanes to fly, because a Pitts will do exactly what you ask of it; so be really careful what you ask for.
Most pilots understand that a stable approach results in a good landing; a corollary is that an unstable approach can result in a poor landing (problematic when landing a tail dragger). To preserve my airplane and to achieve success teaching tailwheel skills, I became a student of and advocate for a proper pattern and a stable approach to landing. Flying an airplane through a maneuver (I consider a traffic pattern a maneuver) is an example of airmanship. Associated with the skills of airmanship is:
• the ability to see, interpret and respond to the sight picture
• fundamental understanding and adherence to the proposition that: Power plus Pitch equals Performance (P + P = P)

Understanding power is not difficult, and all pilots should know that at some precise power (throttle) setting:
• Their airplane will maintain its altitude.
• Increasing throttle (power) makes the airplane climb (go up);
• Reduce power (throttle), and the airplane descends (comes down).

Pitch is more difficult to understand. The elevator controls pitch, what the pilot sees; however, what the elevator actually controls is angle of attack – what the airplane “sees”. Pilots should understand how the elevator controls angle of attack, but to keep it simple a pilot needs to remember that at some precise power (throttle) setting:
• Their airplane will maintain some airspeed.
• Increasing the pitch (angle of attack) makes the airplane slow down.
• Reduce the angle of attack, and the airplane will speed up.

Do you apply power and pitch effectively when you fly? I hope you do, but the majority of pilots I fly with have difficulty when challenged with airplane performance (power plus pitch) in the traffic pattern. In my tailwheel endorsement course, I require pilots to fly the traffic pattern to specific criteria – not because my way is best, but to provide opportunity for them to demonstrate they can control airplane performance. That is called airmanship.

After take-off and during the climb out when flying a closed traffic pattern at my uncontrolled airport, constant airspeed of Vy and a constant rate of climb is the desired performance. On crosswind, with full power and proper trim, that performance should continue with hands off controls and rudder pressure to control P-factor yaw. For most pilots, the challenge becomes daunting when they enter the downwind.

Downwind begins with a “coordinated” climbing turn. Nose will drop slightly to maintain airspeed at Vy through the turn. The downwind target altitude of 1000 ft. agl could occur before, during or after the turn. To prevent “busting” altitude, the pilot must aggressively reduce power to stop the climb and hold target altitude. For every airplane, there is a specific power setting that will hold altitude at an airspeed of Vy. Do you know that setting for your airplane?

When reducing power to stop climb and maintain altitude at your trimmed airspeed, do not allow the nose to fall. When climbing the airplane is trimmed “nose high” at Vy – hold that nose high pitch and re-trim for the reduced power setting and subsequent nose high “slow flight” pitch at airspeed of Vy. This is where most pilots make the approach unstable – airspeed increases because they do not maintain nose high Vy pitch, and altitude can be anything because they did not manage the power setting.

When established on downwind, constant airspeed of Vy at 1000 ft. agl is desired performance (P+P=P). Performance should continue with hands off controls, and without change to power and trim (pitch) until reaching the point of descent.

The complete traffic pattern is a maneuver in my airmanship classes. Most pilots struggle achieving the criteria of flying the pattern by the numbers. It is difficult, and as often as not, the struggle develops because the pilot did not completely understand and apply the proposition that: Power plus Pitch equals Performance (P + P = P)

Key Point: Pilots struggle to apply power and pitch in a timely manner when they have not developed the very good habit of using the sight picture to monitor pitch attitude. Instead, many pilots develop the habit of chasing the instruments.

Click here to watch this month’s featured video, Flying a Stable Approach – A Difference of Opinion.