Fly Hands off and Avoid Over-control

Flying a stable approach to landing is good airmanship. On final approach and especially short final, pilots fly a stable glide path: maintain airspeed, control vertical speed and hold runway alignment. A good pilot adheres to Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion which teach pilots that when they do stuff, other stuff happens. Do not wiggle or over use the flight controls because that will cause an approach to be unstable. Not a difficult concept or is it? Watch airplanes land at your local airport and you see too many rockin’ and rollin’. That is not because of a pesky crosswind.
Flying a stable approach to landing is good airmanship. On final approach and especially short final, pilots fly a stable glide path: maintain airspeed, control vertical speed and hold runway alignment. A good pilot adheres to Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion which teach pilots that when they do stuff, other stuff happens. Do not wiggle or over use the flight controls because that will cause an approach to be unstable. Not a difficult concept or is it? Watch airplanes land at your local airport and you see too many rockin’ and rollin’. That is not because of a pesky crosswind.
Whether a pilot develops good stick and rudder skills during basic pilot training or seeks to correct deteriorated skills, good habits based upon fundamentals always apply. In this series titled How to Become a Great Stick, I present ten great habits that promote good stick and rudder skill. In this Hangar Talk and in no particular order, #4 on my list is: Fly hands off to avoid over-control and pilot induced oscillation.

Consider the following situation: You are established on the downwind leg of an approach to landing. You are a great stick, you know how to fly. You have set the power to hold altitude and trimmed for airspeed. As the airplane continues on downwind you notice you have gained 75 feet. What action do you take to re-establish altitude?
1. Push the nose down.
2. Reduce power.
3. Push nose down and reduce power.
4. None of the above

You are a great pilot, you know how to fly and you just set power and trim. There is no problem with power and trim settings. The gain of altitude is not an airplane malfunction; power and trim controls are not broken. The correct action is number 4 above.

In this typical example of everyday flying, the pilot was inadvertently holding elevator back-pressure. The correct action would be to release the stick (yoke) and allow the inherent stability of the airplane to re-establish angle of attack and the corresponding altitude and airspeed. To do otherwise would begin that frustrating mistake of pilot induced oscillation during which the pilot is chasing airspeed and or altitude with unwarranted control inputs. Newton’s Laws of motion correctly define pilot induced oscillation: when you do stuff, other stuff happens.

Key point: Fly hands off to avoid over-control and pilot induced oscillation.

Pilots should practice flying hands free (off the stick/yoke). I consider hands-off not just a great training exercise, but also a flying style. By using only the rudder peddles to direct a flight, a pilot will learn:
1. Free from unwarranted pilot control input, airplanes are incredibly stable. They will establish and maintain an attitude; and by the way, they will not stall.
2. Ailerons and rudder are linked. What happens on one axis affects the other. Linkage is an amazing thing, and frequently understanding linkage will resolve a thoughtful pilot’s confusion relating to aircraft control. Effective use of rudder to affect roll is an important airmanship skill. (Note: that is opposite of adverse yaw, using aileron to affect yaw.)
3. Stability in flight relates to angle of attack. The airplane knows angle of attack; the pilot does not. Angle of attack affects stalls, controls airspeed and makes an airplane turn. Airplanes are inherently stable and they respond appropriately to changes of angle of attack. Pilot over-control upsets that process.

Break the extremely bad habit of pilot over-control. Practice flying maneuvers hands off; better yet, fly maneuvers hands off in slow flight.
• You will become a great stick because airplanes fly better than pilots.
• Learn how an airplane maneuvers and try to emulate that when you are on the controls.
• Learn to fly with pressure to avoid the yanks and jerks that cause loss of control and kill pilots.

Click here to see this month’s feature video Pilot Induced Instability.

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