Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pilots Versus Aviators

Do you pressure the controls or move them?

The secret to a real aviator's frighteningly smooth, seemingly always right-on-the-money flying style is that he never assumes he knows exactly how much control movement will accomplish what he wants the airplane to do. He has eliminated "increment" from his thought patterns and replaced it with "increased or decreased pressure." It's as if he's a wood- worker trying to shape a piece of wood to a pencil line and, rather than simply taking a saw or chisel and removing the extra wood in one or two cuts, he uses sandpaper and on each pass moves a little closer to the line.

Although the woodworker doesn't look at it this way, each pass of the sand paper actually is removing an increment of wood, but each increment is tiny, almost immeasurable. At the beginning, he may make his sanding passes in rapid succession, but the pressure is the same, so the amount removed is the same. As he gets closer to the line, the sanding block moves slower and more deliberately as he creeps up on the line: He's closing in on "perfect" in a flowing series of microscopic cuts. At no time does he resort to a chisel or saw in an effort at cutting away more wood, more quickly. He ignores making a smaller number of bigger cuts in favor of a larger number of smaller, easier-to-control cuts. This process is directly analogous to the way we use pressure in controlling an airplane.

By approaching "perfect" through a series of small, ever-changing pressures, if a mistake is going to be made, you'll see it before it's made and can prevent it. However, if an increment is used, we stand a chance of making an increment too big and going past perfect, which requires another correction. This leads to one of the guiding rules of aviation: We don't want to be continually correcting our corrections. We want to work toward "perfect," not oscillate back and forth through it.

Let's take a super-simple example: We're approaching the airport and are going to make a simple turn onto downwind. We know exactly how far away from the runway we want to be, but we don't know exactly how much bank angle it's going take to put us exactly where we want to be. Rather than making a guess and cranking in some aileron and rolling into a bank in the hopes that we'll roll-out in the right place, we pressure the ailerons and set up a small bank in the right direction. Obviously, it's not enough to make the turn, but as the turn progresses and we get a better feeling of where we should be, we add some more pressure and steepen the bank. Then a little more. Visually, we're fixated on the runway and the line on the ground where we want to put downwind. Our eyes track our progress towards that line and our hands increase pressure, increasing the bank just a little at a time as we creep into position.
The difference is that the aviator is the airplane, and they move as one, while the pilot is simply manipulating the proper controls.
If in performing that same maneuver, we just blindly roll into the bank, seeking some unknown increment and we find it's too much, we have to try to roll out of some of the bank angle to put us on the correct line. We have to correct our correction, and it's a fact that correcting into a bank—adding bank angle, not removing what we added earlier—is light years easier than progressively rolling out of an excessive bank angle when we see we're going to be in the wrong place.

In another example, let's say we're on final and we're trying to nail airspeed on a specific number (not a range, but an actual number). We know that in a given configuration, say power-off, half-flaps and too far out to begin the flair, there's a single-nose attitude that will give us the speed we're looking for. Say 85 mph.

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