Get off that Rudder Pedal

Every year pilots fall victim to stall/spin accidents during maneuvers that involve a turn.  Post-accident reviews typically suggest low airspeed. I argue it is a strong probability that pilot induced yaw is the common, decisive and deadly factor; not airspeed. When a pilot holds in turn rudder pressure, he creates an over-banking, nose low attitude. When faced with this attitude, what would you do?
Every year pilots fall victim to stall/spin accidents during maneuvers that involve a turn. Post-accident reviews typically suggest low airspeed. I argue it is a strong probability that pilot induced yaw is the common, decisive and deadly factor; not airspeed. When a pilot holds in turn rudder pressure, he creates an over-banking, nose low attitude. When faced with this attitude, what would you do?
This essay is the sixth in a series titled The Top Ten Best Stick and Rudder Habits. In no particular order, I present ten great habits that promote good airmanship. 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.

If you practice flying maneuvers to improve your flying skills, you should emphasize good technique when using the flight controls. When you practice using the flight controls with poor technique, you become expert at flying bad maneuvers. Perhaps the most misunderstood and abused flight control during maneuvers is the rudder.

Please take a moment and consider your answers to the following questions:
1. What is the purpose of an airplane’s rudder?
2. When do you use the rudder?
3. How do you determine how much rudder is required?

If you are a typical pilot your answers to these very basic questions might include the word “coordinate”, and you most likely would make reference to that mystical “ball”. Neither reference is definitive, and in practice the instruction to ‘watch the ball and keep coordinated” does not seem to help pilots use the flight controls effectively.

The purpose of an airplane’s rudder is to aid in making a cross wind landing and to control yaw in flight. Yaw is an airplane’s rotation on its vertical axis. Yaw is caused by:
1. using ailerons (adverse yaw),
2. propeller P factor during climbing or descending flight,
3. gyroscopic force typically experienced when rotating an airplane on its pitch axis (push
or pull on the stick),
4. Pilot over-control.

With reference to the question when to use the rudder, a pilot should use the rudder anytime he needs it to control yaw. The challenge for a pilot is to recognize yaw when it is happening. Do you know what yaw looks like? Does adverse yaw look like P-factor yaw? Does yaw vary between different airplanes? Is yaw common to all airplanes, and does it only happen during certain maneuvers? If a pilot is not clear on the answers to these questions, how can she know when to use that pesky flight control, the rudder?

Contemporary pilot schools have not done a good job of teaching rudder skills, so many pilots admit to having “lazy feet”. Generally, those pilots know the rudder is important to flying maneuvers, and they make an effort to use the rudder to the best of their ability. Other pilots just don’t get rudder use, and choose to ignore it as a flight control. I have meet flight instructors who suggest students not be overly concerned with controlling yaw. Overall, in context of the big picture, pilots without good rudder skills do ok. They fly for decades and even build successful careers without using that pesky rudder.

Pundits of good airmanship make a valid point that during unusual attitudes and other emergency situations the lack of good stick and rudder skill could result in loss of control with a tragic result. That is the perspective that drives the popularity of upset recovery training (URT).
Short of committing to a complete course in airmanship, is there a principle or simple technique that can direct a pilot towards good rudder skills? The answer is yes.

Key Point: Get off the rudder peddle.

In general, I have observed the mistake that pilots hold rudder inputs:
• When using rudder to control adverse yaw, rudder input is very brief. If you drive a vehicle with standard transmission, you know how to do this. Don’t ride the clutch (on – off the peddle).
• Rudder use to control P-factor yaw is nuanced. Light pressure is the rule. Do not “stump and hold” rudder peddle; instead, watch sight picture and apply very light pressure as required.
• If you fly a tailwheel airplane or enjoy aerobatic flight you know about very powerful gyroscopic yaw and you control it. If your most dramatic maneuvers are in the traffic pattern, don’t worry about gyroscopic yaw.

Pilot induced yaw derives from pilot over-control; using rudder when not appropriate. I think this is a major cause of loss of control stall/spin incidents. Next time you fly try this (at altitude).
1. With about a 30 degree bank, establish a level turn (your feet will be off the rudder).
Because of impending P-factor, a right turn will prove more dramatic than turning left.
2. Watch the sight picture as you apply in-turn (bottom) rudder pressure.
3. You will see the nose yaw (in will move towards the ground) and you will experience increasing bank angle causing the nose to drop even more. That should concern you.
4. Think about what you do next to control the nose. Do you want to pull back on the stick to hold the nose up? That would be a mistake.

By holding in turn rudder pressure, you have created an over-banking, nose low attitude. (See feature photo) When faced with this attitude, too many pilots will pull back on the stick. That reaction is instinctive. Without prior training, all pilots pull from over-banked and inverted attitudes.

Caution: Airplanes do not stall; pilots cause airplanes to stall with excessive deflection of the elevator – they pull!

Every year pilots fall victim to stall/spin accidents during maneuvers that involve a turn. Post-accident reviews typically suggest low airspeed. I argue it is a strong probability that pilot induced yaw is the common, decisive and deadly factor; not airspeed.

Great stick and rudder habits will make you a great pilot and those great habits just might save your life – Get off that rudder peddle!

Click here to see this month’s feature video: Adverse yaw, A Stick and Rudder Fundamental

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