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Five Mile Final | A Flight Instructor's Sandbox

Airplane Flying Handbook


Student pilots must learn attitude awareness. This requires understanding the motions of flight.

An airplane rotates in bank, pitch, and yaw while also moving horizontally, vertically, and laterally. The four fundamentals are the principal maneuvers that control the airplane through the six motions of flight.

The four fundamental are: straight-and-level flight, turns, climbs, and descents. To be a competent pilot first requires that the pilot is skilled in the basics of fundamental airmanship. As the beginning pilot progresses to more complex flight maneuvers, any deficiencies in the mastery of the four fundamentals are likely to become barriers to effective and efficient learning.

Basic flight controls and instrument panel.


Effect and Use of the Flight Controls

It is pressure the pilot exerts on the aileron and elevator controls and rudder pedals that causes the airplane to move about the roll (longitudinal), pitch (lateral), and yaw (vertical) axes.

While in flight, the flight controls have a resistance to a pilot's movement due to the airflow over the airplane's control surfaces. This resistance increases as airspeed increases and decreases as airspeed decreases. When a control surface is moved out of its streamlined position (even slightly), the air flowing across the surface exerts a force against that surface and it tries to return it to its streamlined position.

The yoke (or stick) should be held lightly with the fingers and not grabbed or squeezed by the hand. Pressure should only be exerted with the fingers. A common error with beginning pilots is that they grab the aileron and elevator controls with a closed palm with such force that the sensitive feeling is lost.

The pilot is always considered the referenced center of effect as the flight controls are used.

The pilot is always considered the referenced center of effect as the flight controls are used.The pilot is always considered the referenced center of effect as the flight controls are used.

When using the rudder pedals, pressure should be applied smoothly and evenly by pressing with the ball of one foot. The heels should support the weight of the feet on the cockpit floor with the ball of each foot touching the individual rudder pedal.

Pilots can develop a sensory "feel" for the airplane. This would involve sounds of the airflow across the airframe, vibrations felt through the controls, engine and propeller sounds and vibrations at various flight attitudes, and the sensations felt by the pilot through physical accelerations.

Kinesthesis is the ability to sense movement through the body. Kinesthesis can provide the pilot with critical information about changes in the airplane's direction and speed of motion. However, when relied upon solely without visual information, a loss of aircraft control can result.

Proprioception is the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation. Developing a feel for the airplane requires time and exposure, normally in a particular airplane. Dedicated practice will train a pilot's senses, so that the pilot responds to the sounds, vibrations, and forces produced by the airplane.

What a pilot actually feels is the result of acceleration — how fast velocity is changing. Acceleration describes the rate of change in both the magnitude and the direction of velocity.

A flight instructor should direct the beginner pilot to be aware of these senses and teach an awareness of their meaning and their relationship to the various conditions of flight. The flight instructor must fully understand the difference between perceiving and reacting to sound, vibrations, and forces versus merely noticing them.


Attitude Flying

An airplane's attitude is determined by the angular difference between a specific airplane's axis and the natural horizon. Pitch attitude is the angle formed between the airplane's longitudinal axis (from the nose to the tail of the airplane) and the natural horizon. Bank attitude is the angle formed by the airplane's lateral axis (wingtip to wingtip) and the natural horizon.

Pitch attitude is the angle formed between the airplane's longitudinal axis. Bank attitude is the angle formed by the airplane's lateral axis.

Angular difference about the airplane's vertical axis (yaw) is an attitude relative to the airplane's direction of flight. It is not relative to the natural horizon.

In Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC), a pilot uses his/her eyes to visually reference the airplane's wings and cowling, establishing the airplane's attitude to the natural, visible horizon.

Airplane attitude control is composed of four components:

Yaw control is used to cancel out the effects of yaw induced changes, such as adverse yaw and effects of the propeller.


Integrated Flight Instruction

When introducing basic flight maneuvers to a beginning pilot, it is recommended that the Integrated or Composite method of flight instruction be used. Both outside references and flight instruments are used to establish and maintain desired flight attitudes and airplane performance. The beginning pilot must make a determined effort to master the technique.

Airplane attitude by reference to the natural horizon is immediate in its indications, accurate, and presented many times larger than any instrument could be.

At least 90 percent of the pilot's attention should be devoted to outside visual references and scanning for airborne traffic. Visually evaluating pitch and bank attitude is a nearly imperceptible, continuous stream of information. Corrections to attitude should be precise, smooth, and accurate. Continuous visual checks minimize deviations from the desired heading, altitude, and flightpath.

Airplane attitude is validated by referring to flight instruments. Required corrections must be determined and then applied with reference to the natural horizon. Attitude and performance are re-checked by referring to flight instruments.

The pilot should monitor the airplane's performance by making mental snap-shots of the flight instruments. No more than 10 percent of the pilot's attention should be inside the cockpit. The pilot must develop the skill to quickly focus on the appropriate flight instruments and then immediately return to the visual outside references to control the airplane's attitude.

The most common error made by the beginner pilot is to make pitch or bank corrections while still looking inside the cockpit.

It is also common for beginner pilots to fixate on the flight instruments. They will need to make a conscious effort to return to outside visual references.

Flight instructors may choose to use flight instrument covers to develop a beginning pilot's skill or to correct a pilot's poor habit of fixating on instruments by forcing them to use outside visual references for aircraft control.


Straight-and-Level Flight

Straight-and-level flight is flight in which heading and altitude are constantly maintained. Precise mastery of straight- and-level flight is the result of repetition and effective practice.

External visual references and mental snap-shots from the flight instruments create a continuous loop of information gathering. From this, a skilled pilot will make effective, timely, and proportional corrections for deviations in the airplane's direction and altitude.

Straight-and-level flight is a matter of consciously fixing the relationship of a reference point on the airplane in relation to the natural horizon. The objective of straight flight is to detect small deviations as soon as they occur, thereby necessitating only minor flight control corrections.

Maintaining a constant direction or heading is accomplished by visually checking the lateral level relationship of the airplane's wingtips to the natural horizon. Both wingtips should be level and equally above or below the natural horizon. The pilot should understand that the airplane turns when the the wings are banked.

With beginner pilots, a flight instructor can use a dry erase marker or removable tape to make reference lines on the windshield or cowling to help the beginner pilot establish visual reference points.

Bank attitude information can also be obtained from a quick scan of the instruments. The attitude indicator shows the position of the airplane's wings relative to the horizon. The heading indicator indicates that the airplane is straight flight, or that the airplane is banked (turning).

Straight-and-level flight requires almost no application of flight control pressures if the airplane is properly trimmed and the air is smooth.

It is important that the pilot not fixate in any one direction and continually scan outside the airplane. Continually observing both wingtip maintains overall situational awareness.

The principles of attitude flying require that the reference point to the natural horizon position should be cross-checked against the flight instruments to determine if the pitch attitude is correct.

A common error of a beginner pilot is attempting to hold the wings level by only observing the airplane's nose. Deviations from level flight are easily recognizable when the pilot references the wingtips, which should be the pilot's primary reference for maintaining level bank attitude. A pilot with a bad habit of dragging one wing low and compensating with opposite rudder pressure will have difficulty mastering other flight maneuvers.


Trim Control

Nearly all light airplanes are equipped with at least a cockpit adjustable elevator trim. Not all light airplanes have a complete set of trim controls (elevator, rudder, and aileron) that are adjustable from inside the cockpit.

Trim control surfaces are required to offset any constant flight control pressure inputs provided by the pilot. This relieves the pilot from holding a constant pressure on the flight controls to maintain a particular pitch attitude and provides an opportunity for the pilot to divert attention to other tasks.

The airplane attitude must be established first and held with the appropriate flight control pressures, and then the flight control pressures trimmed out so that the airplane maintains the desired attitude without the pilot exerting flight control pressure.

Attempting to fly the airplane with the trim is a common fault in basic flying technique, even among experienced pilots. A properly trimmed airplane is an indication of good piloting skills.


Level Turns

A turn is initiated by banking the wings in the desired direction of the turn. At many bank angles, the airplane will continue to turn with ailerons neutralized. Use the opposite aileron to return airplane to level flight.

In a turn, lift is divided into both vertical and horizontal lift components as a result of the bank. The horizontal component of lift moves the airplane toward the banked direction.

To maintain the current altitude, slightly increase pitch or slightly increase power. This will increase wing lift enough to replace the wing lift being diverted into turning force.

Note that vertical stabilizer does not produce lift. It is a stabilizing surface that keeps the aft end of the airplane behind the front end.

Adding throttle will increase airspeed and tighten the turn.

The rudder does not turn the airplane. The rudder is used to maintain coordinated flight, countering adverse yaw. In a turn, adverse yaw is caused by the difference in lift/drag between the inside and outside wing.

A shallow turn has a bank angle of 20° or less. The inherent lateral stability of the airplane slowly will level the wings unless aileron pressure in the direction of bank is maintained.

A medium turn has a bank angle of 20° to 45°. In a medium turn, the airplane's inherent lateral stability will not return the wings to level flight. Instead, the airplane tends to remain at a constant bank angle. Neutral aileron pressure will maintain the bank.

A steep turn has a bank angle of 45° or more. In a steep turn, the airplane will continue to steepen the bank unless opposite aileron is applied. The increase in bank angle in a steep turn is the result of overbanking tendency.

In constant altitude, constant airspeed turns, total lift is divided into vertical and horizontal components of lift. In a turn, angle of attack (AOA) should be increased to meet the vertical component of lift that is required to maintain level flight, since some of the total lift that was present during level flight has been diverted to the horizontal component. It also is necessary to add power, which will counter the loss of speed due to increased drag.

When the airplane is banked into a turn, total lift is the resultant of two components: vertical and horizontal.

When the pilot deflects the ailerons to bank the airplane, both lift and drag are increased on the rising wing and, simultaneously, lift and drag are decreased on the lowering wing. This increased drag on the rising wing and decreased drag on the lowering wing results in adverse yaw, which is the airplane yawing to the outside of the turn. The purpose of the rudder in a turn is to counter adverse yaw, and thus coordinate the turn.

During uncoordinated flight, the pilot may feel that they are being pushed sideways toward the outside or inside of the turn. The pilot may sense a skid when they are being pressed toward the outside of the turn, which indicates that the airplane is yawing to the inside of the turn. A slip may be felt when the pilot is being pressed to the inside of the turn, which indicates that the airplane is yawing to the outside of the turn.

The inclinometer, also called "the ball", is located under the miniature airplane on the turn coordinator. When the ball is to the outside of the turn, the airplane is in a skid. When the ball is to the inside of the turn, the airplane is in a slip.

It's helpful to think of the ball as the contents of the airplane, such as the pilot and passengers, and not the airplane itself. The ball indicates where the contents of the airplane are being deflected. For example, if the ball is to the outside of the turn, the pilot will feel thrown to the outside of the turn. This means the airplane's nose is yawed inside the arc of the turn. The airplane is in a skid. The same effect happens when a car's driver pulled to the outside of a high-speed turn — the car is being oversteered or is skidding.

Indications of a slip and skid.

The rate of turn at a given airspeed increases as the angle of bank is increased.

However, a higher airspeed makes the radius of turn larger because the airplane turns at a slower rate. When a turn at a given bank angle is made at a higher airspeed, the inertia is greater. The horizontal lift component required for the turn is greater, causing the turning rate to become slower.

Angle of bank and airspeed regulate rate and radius of turn.

As the radius of the turn becomes smaller, a significant difference develops between the airspeed of the inside wing and the airspeed of the outside wing. The wing on the outside of the turn travels a longer path than the inside wing, yet both complete their respective paths in the same unit of time.

Since the outside wing travels at a faster airspeed than the inside wing and, it develops more lift. This creates an overbanking tendency that must be controlled by the use of opposite aileron when the desired bank angle is reached.

Because the outboard wing is developing more lift, it also produces more drag. The drag causes a slight slip during steep turns, which is referred to as adverse yaw. This is corrected with rudder input in the direction of the turn, so that the turn is coordinated — the nose of the airplane is aligned with the direction of the turn.

The rudder opposes adverse yaw to help coordinate the turn.
Overbanking tendency.

To establish the turn, the pilot can use the top surface of the engine cowling compared to the natural horizon for a reasonable indication of initial bank angle. The attitude indicator can then be cross-checked to verify the bank angle. The attitude indicator shows the angle of the wing in relation to the horizon.

The pilot sits slightly off to one side, typically the left, of the longitudinal axis. Due to parallax error, this makes the nose of the airplane appear to rise when making a left turn (due to pilot lowering in relation to the longitudinal axis) and the nose of the airplane appear to descend when making right turns (due to pilot elevating in relation to the longitudinal axis).

If the airplane's nose starts to move before the bank starts, the rudder is being applied too soon. If the bank starts before the nose starts turning or the nose moves in the opposite direction, the rudder is being applied too late. If the nose moves up or down when entering a bank, excessive or insufficient elevator back pressure is being applied.

In a turn, a reduction in airspeed is the result of increased drag. However, it is generally not significant for shallow bank angles. In steeper turns, additional power may be required to maintain airspeed. Pitch attitude should remain constant in relation to the natural horizon and cross-checked with the flight instruments to verify performance.

In a steep turn, the pilot might allow the nose to get excessively low, resulting in a rapid, significant loss in altitude. To recover, the pilot should first reduce the angle of bank, and then increase the pitch attitude by increasing elevator back pressure. If recovery from an excessively nose-low, steep bank condition is attempted by use of the elevator only, it will create a steeper bank and unnecessary stress on the airplane.

Rollout from the turn must be started before reaching the desired heading. A rule of thumb is to lead by one-half the angle of bank. For example, if the bank is 30°, lead the rollout by 15° of heading.

Common errors in the turn include:


Climbs and Climbing Turns

When an airplane enters a climb, excess lift must be developed to overcome the airplane's own weight, which is created by gravity.

More lift creates more induced drag. This results in decreased airspeed and/or an increased power setting to maintain a minimum airspeed in the climb.

An airplane can only sustain a climb when there is sufficient thrust to offset increased drag; therefore, climb rate is limited by the excess thrust available.

Normal climb, sometimes referred to as cruise climb, uses a higher airspeed than the airplane's best rate of climb (Vy). The additional airspeed provides for better engine cooling, greater control authority, and better visibility over the nose of the airplane.

Best rate of climb (Vy) produces the most altitude gained over a given amount of time. This airspeed is typically used when initially departing a runway without obstructions until it is safe to transition to a normal or cruise climb configuration.

Best angle of climb (Vx) is performed at an airspeed that produces the most altitude gain over a given horizontal distance. The best angle of climb results in a steeper climb, although the airplane takes more time to reach the same altitude than it would at best rate of climb airspeed. The best angle of climb is used to clear obstacles, such as a strand of trees, after takeoff.

As altitude increases, the airspeed for best angle of climb (Vx) increases and the airspeed for best rate of climb (Vy) decreases. Performance charts in the AFM/POH should be consulted for specific departure conditions.

The absolute ceiling is the altitude where the airplane is incapable of climbing any higher. This is where the best angle of climb (Vx) airspeed and the best rate of climb (Vy) airspeed intersect.

Best angle of climb verses best rate of climb.

Engines that are normally aspirated (as opposed to turbocharged or supercharged) experience a reduction of power as altitude is gained. As altitude increases, air density decreases, which results in a reduction of power. The indications show a reduction in revolutions per minute (rpm). If the airplane has a constant-speed propeller, there will be a decrease in manifold pressure.

When operating at high power settings, propeller forces (torque and P-factor) cause the airplane to roll and yaw to the left. Right rudder and aileron flight control pressures must be used to counter this.

To return to straight-and-level flight from a climb, it is necessary to begin the level off prior to reaching the desired altitude. Level-off should begin at approximately 10 percent of the rate of climb. For example, if the airplane is climbing at 500 feet per minute (fpm), leveling off should begin 50 feet prior to reaching the desired altitude.

After the airplane is established in level flight at a constant altitude, climb power should be retained temporarily so that the airplane accelerates to the cruise airspeed. When the airspeed reaches the desired cruise airspeed, the throttle should be set to the cruise power setting and the airplane re-trimmed. This is often referred to as "Pitch, power, trim", which should be done in the correct sequence.

Climbing turns

All the factors that affect the airplane during level constant altitude turns affect the airplane during climbing turns — overbanking tendency, adverse yaw, propeller forces, reduction of vertical component of lift, and increased induced drag.

In a climbing turn, an increase in lift is required. This means that the same pitch attitude and airspeed in a bank cannot be maintained in a climb, unless power is increased.

The degree of bank in a climbing turn should not be too steep, which would reduce the rate of climb significantly.

Common errors in climbs and climbing turns include.


Descents and Descending Turns

In a descent, weight no longer acts solely perpendicular to the flightpath. Induced drag is decreased as lift is reduced. A power reduction is required if airspeed is to be maintained. Otherwise, excess thrust will create higher airspeeds.

A partial power descent — also known as "cruise descent" or "en route descent" — is the normal method of losing altitude. The target descent rate should be 500 fpm. Airspeed, pitch attitude, and power should remain constant.

To level off from a partial power descent using a 1,000 feet per minute descent rate, use 10 percent (100 feet) as the lead point to begin raising the nose to stop descent and increasing power to maintain airspeed.

A minimum safe airspeed descent is a nose-high, power-assisted descent condition principally used for clearing obstacles during a landing approach to a short runway. This airspeed (established in the AFM/POH) typically is no greater than 1.3 Vs0 (130% of stalling speed in a landing configuration). Excess power may be required to produce acceleration at a low airspeed.

An emergency descent is a specific procedure for rapidly losing altitude (established in the AFM/POH). A common configuration would be power to idle, flaps retracted, and a bank established. Complex airplanes will also include propeller(s) forward and landing gear extended.


Glides

A glide is a controlled descent with little or no engine power. Forward motion is maintained by gravity pulling the airplane along an inclined path. The descent rate is controlled by the pilot balancing the forces of gravity and lift.

Glides may be used during normal landing approaches and forced landings after engine failure. Because of this, formation of proper technique and habits are of special importance, especially for accuracy.

The glide ratio of an airplane is the distance the airplane travels in relation to the altitude it loses. For example, if an airplane travels 10,000 feet forward while descending 1,000 feet, its glide ratio is 10 to 1.

The best glide airspeed is used to maximize the distance flown, such as in an emergency. It is the airspeed at which the airplane travels the greatest forward distance for a given loss of altitude (in still air).

This best glide airspeed occurs at the highest lift-to-drag ratio (L/D). When gliding at airspeed above or below the best glide airspeed, drag increases and the glide ratio is lessened.

L/D Max.
Best glide speed provides the greatest forward distance for a given loss of altitude.

A a heavier airplane must fly at a higher airspeed to obtain the same glide ratio. If two airplanes having the same L/D ratio but different weights start a glide from the same altitude, the heavier airplane gliding at a higher airspeed arrives at the same touchdown point in a shorter time. Both airplanes cover the same distance.

To maximize the distance traveled during a glide, all drag producing components must be eliminated if possible, or for as long as possible. This includes flaps, landing gear, and cowl flaps.

With a tailwind, the airplane glides farther because of the higher groundspeed. With a headwind, the airplane does not glide as far because of the slower groundspeed. This is an important consideration when dealing with engine-related emergencies and any subsequent forced landing.

In a glide, slight left rudder pressure may be required to maintain coordinated flight. This is due to the absence of propeller effects, and the presence of compensation for these effects, such as ground-adjustable rudder trim.

In a glide, flight controls may require greater inputs due to the relatively slow airflow over the control surfaces.

Minimum sink speed is used to maximize the time that the airplane remains in flight. This results in the airplane losing altitude at the lowest rate.

Minimum sink speed occurs at an airspeed less than the best glide speed. Flight at the minimum sink speed results in less distance traveled, compared to best glide speed. It is useful when time in flight is more important than distance flown.

Minimum sink speed is not often published in the AFM/POH. Generally, it is a few knots less than best glide speed.

The pilot must never attempt to "stretch" a glide by applying back-elevator pressure and reducing the airspeed below the airplane's recommended best glide speed. This can lead the airplane landing short. Loss of control is possible if the airplane stalls.

To enter a normal glide, the pilot should close the throttle, maintain altitude until the airspeed decreases to the recommended best glide speed, and then the pitch attitude should be set to maintain that airspeed. As the propeller slipstream decreases over the horizontal stabilizer, the tail-down force decreases. This can cause the airplanes nose to lower immediately, requiring elevator back pressure.

In a glide, an increase in sound levels denotes increasing speed, while a decrease in sound levels indicates decreasing speed. When a sound level change is perceived, a beginning pilot should cross-check visual and pressure references.

An abnormal glide is any glide conducted at a speed other than the best glide speed. Possible adverse effects include not being able to make the intended landing spot, flat approaches, hard touchdowns, floating, overruns, stalls, and accidents.

Gliding Turns

Forces in gliding turns tend to force the nose down and increase glide speed. This is caused by a decrease in lift due to the direction of the lifting force, excessive rudder inputs as a result of reduced flight control pressures, and the normal stability and inherent characteristics of the airplane to pitch nose-down with the power off.

More back pressure on the elevator is required in a gliding turn, as compared to a straight glide or a level turn. Because the rudder forces are reduced, the pilot may apply excessive rudder pedal pressures, causing slips and skids.

In the event of a complete power failure, best glide speed should be held until necessary to reconfigure for the landing. The approach should be steeper than a normal partial-power landing.

The level-off from a glide must be started before reaching the desired altitude because of the airplane’s downward inertia. Level-off should be done with at 10% of the descent rate. For example, if the descent rate is 1,000 feet per minute, the level off should be 100 feet above the target altitude or field elevation. For a fast descent or power-failure training, power should be reintroduced using the 10% rule.

Common errors in the performance of descents and descending turns include:


Commercial Pilot & Flight Instructor Test Questions

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Robert Wederquist   CP-ASEL - AGI - IGI
Commercial Pilot • Instrument Pilot
Advanced Ground Instructor • Instrument Ground Instructor