Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pilots Versus Aviators

Do you pressure the controls or move them?

However, in the process of us making our constant visual sweep across the windshield checking the nose attitude and back through the panel confirming the attitude with the IAS, we see that our speed is 90 mph. Our nose attitude is too low. However, we shouldn't even think about using an increment to correct the airspeed because it's impossible for us to know exactly how much the nose needs to come up to get rid of that unwanted five mph.

Yes, if we've been paying attention to our nose attitude all along and are "attitude flyers" rather than someone who keeps our head in the cockpit, we should be able to approximate the correct attitude without the aid of the airspeed. It won't, however, be exact.

Monitoring the airspeed helps us fine-tune our nose attitude, so speed and attitude are both exactly right. In this case, we increase the back pressure on the stick/yoke, changing the nose attitude only slightly. Then we let everything stabilize for a second or two and recheck the airspeed. We know we've started a slow-down trend, but, until it stabilizes, we don't know if we need more pressure or not. We repeat this process until the airspeed is exactly what we want it to be, then visually freeze the nose attitude where it is and continue the approach.

As we break the glide and begin to flair, the concept of pressure, not increment, comes into play again, only this time the problems with the increment concept become more apparent. If, as the airplane is pulled level to flair, the yoke/stick is simply pulled back an increment, there's no way of knowing whether that increment will cause us to balloon or let the nose wheel dig a furrow in the runway. This is where being conscious of pressure really pays off.
...with actually moving the controls, versus pressurizing them,'re rotating the control yoke a given amount.
During flare, our eyes are looking over and around the nose judging our progress against two factors, both of them visual, and the panel is no longer part of the equation. We know we want to be slightly nose high and we know we want to slowly progress down toward the runway. At the same time, we know there's a complex relationship between a) airspeed, b) being able to pull the nose up to set up a good touchdown attitude and c) letting the airplane settle slowly onto the main gear (or all three in a taildragger). Pull a little too hard (an increment) before the airspeed has bled off, and we're suddenly moving away from the runway. Don't pull hard enough (too small of an increment), and we're fighting to keep from wheel barrowing the nose gear on.

There's a delicate ballet going on right at the intersection of the speed, the runway and the nose attitude and the pressure felt by the pilot's hand is the conductor/choreographer of that particular dance. If he's conscious of pressure, he and his dance partner, the airplane, will put on a sterling performance. If he's not, some toes will be stepped on.

Can you fly safely without buying into this whole pressure thing? Of course, you can. And thousands of pilots do. The question is, however, do you really want to be just a pilot? Or do you aspire to have the gentle touch of an aviator? Silly question, right?

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