Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Precision Flying


Change your mind-set to improve your flying


Precision and approximation: These are contradictory terms that, when applied to flying, have more to do with the pilot's mind-set than they do with skill. They're a way of thinking, and one of the underlying traits that separates those who fly into two totally different categories: aviators and drivers.

Anyone can be a "driver." However, only those who care enough about the art of flying to strive for precision in their skills will find themselves moving over into the coveted "aviator" category. It should be noted that it's the person at the controls who makes the decision as to which category they'll belong. Will they, or won't they, put forth the extra effort to be precise at what they do in the air?

There's a simple fact that applies here: "Approximation" in flying costs those who fly in many tangible ways. They're less efficient and less capable of putting the airplane exactly where it should be. They aren't really in control of the airplane. "Precision," on the other hand, pays dividends every time we're in the airplane. And nowhere is this more obvious than when flying the pattern and making landings.

Precision as applied to the pattern, or flying in general for that matter, is based on the fact that virtually everything we do in an airplane has a parameter, a number, attached to it. Maybe it's an altitude. A heading. A distance from the runway. The ground track we're making in reference to the runway. And many more equally definable factors. Just about everything can be measured, so we know well in advance where the airplane is supposed to be and what it's supposed to be doing.

The concept of flying a precise pattern to a precision landing is based on flying a consistent pattern and approach. This means the downwind will be in the same place, the same altitude, the same power setting. The power changes, and configuration changes will be initiated the same way, in the same place. The airspeed will be the same and will be the number called out in the POH, etc. All of this is being done while flying a precise ground track that's referenced only to the numbers at the end of the runway, not the runway itself. We ignore the runway itself because it's too big to be a precise reference and amounts to approximation.

Just so you know, the whole concept of precision would, on the surface at least, appear to fly in the face of FAA regulations, as spelled out in the PTS, the Practical Test Standards, which are used as the training bible far and wide. In the PTS you'll find such verbiage as "…maintains traffic pattern altitude +/-100 feet" and on approach "… maintains recommended speed…+10-/-5 knots…" What we have here is approximation by regulation. Although, if asked, we're certain the FAA would say that their intent is NOT to recommend approximation in anything, but to present a reasonable range for the student pilot during the checkride. However, by publishing those standards in what amounts to the teaching guide for CFIs, flight instruction can't help but echo what's said in the PTS, so the concept of tighter precision is totally up to the individual CFI to implement. Some do, some don't.



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