Guard Against Monkey Flying

This month’s featured video questions why a group of monkeys refuse their favorite food, a banana. The monkeys answer that “it has always been that way”. That answer might cause all pilots to consider why they do things. Have you thought about your stick and rudder habits? Why do you use the flight controls the way you use them? Your answers to probing questions might expose habits called Monkey Flying.
This month’s featured video questions why a group of monkeys refuse their favorite food, a banana. The monkeys answer that “it has always been that way”. That answer might cause all pilots to consider why they do things. Have you thought about your stick and rudder habits? Why do you use the flight controls the way you use them? Your answers to probing questions might expose habits called Monkey Flying.

Think about the way we train pilots; for example, to recover a stall many flight schools teach:
1. Pitch down and add power.
2. The CFI says watch me and demonstrates the maneuver
3. Next CFI and student do it together
4. The student does the maneuver alone.
Like a monkey, a pilot can form a habit based on muscle memory associated with a named maneuver. Many pilots never develop skills beyond that effort. They never develop understanding beyond the spoken command and the associated muscle movement of a flight control. Instead of learning to use the flight controls to change and fly attitudes in accordance with visual reference to the sight picture, a pilot is likely to rely on tired axioms and pithy memory aids to form her habits relating to use of the flight controls; for example, steep on the ball to coordinate a turn, apply and hold elevator back pressure during a turn or increase airspeed to avoid a stall.

The problem with Monkey Flying develops when the pilot does not remember which control inputs go with what maneuver. It is easy for a pilot to forget or get confused, especially under duress of an upset or unexpected attitude. In that context, Monkey Flying can result in loss of control with a dire outcome; for example, consider the all too common instruction to “hold the nose up” during a turn.

I think all pilots can recall their flight instructor’s words while learning level turns during basic flight training; “don’t let the nose drop, hold it up, maintain your altitude, pull back on the yoke”. That approach to teaching level turns has resulted in a common example of a Monkey Flying habit. Rarely have I flown with a pilot who does not first apply elevator back pressure when rolling into a turn. As I have written extensively, that action re-enforces the deadly human tendency to pull from an inverted attitude, and is also an aerodynamically incorrect use of the flight controls.

The fundamental source of Monkey Flying is most likely caused by the primary focus of pilot school, traditionally known as The Practical Test Standards. Student pilots are shown a procedure to satisfy a specific Standard. A common student take-away is to memorize the procedure, but not necessarily the Standard; for example, students are not taught to recover a stall, but rather to recover a stall with minimal loss of altitude. Rightfully, a student will commonly associate pitch and power with a stall, and never fully appreciate the significance of angle of attack.

My all-time favorite example of Monkey Flying is a direct result of the Practical Test Standard. This issue is personal for me because my customers have struggled with the consequences during tailwheel endorsement training for over a decade. Because airspeed control and a stable approach is essential to flying a tailwheel airplane, I have always required candidates for tailwheel endorsement to demonstrate basic airmanship by flying a standard traffic pattern “by the numbers”. My airplane does not have flaps, so the airspeed component is easy – 80mph.

I am amazed that most pilots seeking a tailwheel endorsement cannot do that. They cannot maintain a constant airspeed and control altitude through an entire closed landing pattern (fly all four legs of pattern). One major issue encountered in a closed traffic pattern is the transition from climb to level flight on downwind at a constant altitude of 1000 ft. while maintaining 80 mph. The situation is:
1. During the early phase of a pattern, the airplane is climbing at full power and trimmed for 80
mph. (best rate of climb)
2. To avoid busting 1000 foot altitude, pilot must reduce power (2300 rpm required in my
airplane) and re-trim for 80 mph.
3. Think about how you would do that?
4. Most pilots will answer “Pitch-Power-Trim”.
5. Yes, but how do you do that? What are your control inputs? Sitting in your chair, image your
position in the airplane, hands on the controls. What do you do? Pause and think about it.
6. I bet you would do what almost all my customers have done over the years; push nose down, reduce power and set trim. That is Monkey Flying. In pilot school, pilots learn the task to transition from climb to level cruise. Pilots are taught to push the nose down, reduce power, and trim for new airspeed. The procedure is repeated thousands of times and it becomes an entrenched, reflex habit. I have seen the habit so strong that it is impossible for some pilots to break.

In this situation, Pitch-Power-Trim does not work to control airspeed and altitude. Most pilots gain 10 to 15 mph and bust altitude by 100 or 200 feet. (Have some fun and try it next time you fly.)
• If you reduce power then push, your airspeed will be too high.
• If you push and then reduce power, you will gain altitude.
• Most pilots gain 5 to 15 mph and 100 to 200 feet altitude.

Correctly taught, the airmanship skill to transition from climb to level flight, is first pitch for airspeed. In this closed pattern situation, the airplane is already pitched for slow flight (nose high @ 80mph). The correct use of controls is: hold pitch (back stick pressure) – reduce power – trim.

Key Point: Great airmanship skills are frequently inhibited by habits attributed to Monkey Flying. It is very difficult to recognize those habits, because they often result from popular group think and the system in which we learn. Guard Against Monkey Flying. It’s a Top Ten Best Stick and Rudder Habit.

Click here to see this month’s feature video:

    Pilot Habits

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