Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Precision Flying


Change your mind-set to improve your flying


There's a reason POHs say the proper approach speed should be 85 mph, or 90 mph, or whatever (it promotes maximum efficiency). There's a reason a pattern altitude is a set number (so we're all working to the same standard). If we were going to be satisfied with an approximate number, we'd say so: "…pattern altitude is 2,400-2,600 feet MSL and approach speed is 80-95 mph." However, since virtually everything in flying is defined by a single number, our goal should be to hold that number as closely as possible.

We could actually look at the pattern, the approach and the landing as if they're all parts of a huge anchor chain in which each of the links represents one of those parameters we're trying to control, and they're all linked together. If, for instance, we find that we're too wide on downwind (the distance parameter is wrong), every link in the chain that's in front of us will also be in the wrong place unless we correct the placement of the downwind immediately. The longer we wait to make that correction, the more pronounced the errors in all the other parameters will become. So, we don't wait.
We could actually look at the pattern, the approach and the landing as if they're all parts of a huge anchor chain in which each of the links represents one of those parameters we're trying to control and they're all linked together.
The rule in making corrections when in the pattern is "knock down whichever parameter jumps up the highest." We're monitoring and controlling a number of basic factors, and we're doing this in what amounts to a boat moving in a three-dimensional sea. Everything is subject to change. So the timing of the corrections is critical: When we see that something isn't right, whether it's altitude, direction, speed, whatever, correct it right at that moment. Don't wait. This is especially obvious on downwind. Don't slowly make a change, planning on having it right by the time we're opposite the end of the runway. There will be plenty of other things wrong at the Initial Point (IP) opposite the threshold on downwind, so don't carry a correction to that point. If you're too wide, maneuver the aircraft immediately to eliminate that problem. Too low, power up and get it back up to altitude right now. Whatever the correction needed, don't wait to make it. Do it as soon as you see it's wrong.

Our goal is to develop a pattern and approach that's as rigid as possible. We want our pattern cast in concrete so we have a datum from which changes can be measured. If we adhere to the FAA-approved "range" concept (100 feet high or low, etc.), there's nothing rigid about our pattern. In fact, downwind could be viewed as a vague, Jell-O-like path. Same thing for the approach. Nothing is well defined, and that makes it more difficult to make quantifiable changes.

One of the criticisms leveled against the concept of a rigid, cast-in-concrete pattern is that it appears to offer no flexibility, when just the opposite is true. The purpose of a consistent, rigid pattern is, as we said, to establish a datum—a benchmark from which all deviations can be accurately measured. If we have a pattern made of Jell-O, deviations or changes can't accurately be measured, and their effects on the rest of the pattern will be difficult to predict. If we always fly the same very precise pattern and we have to make a change to accommodate runway, traffic or weather variations, we'll know exactly what effect that change will have on the rest of the approach. We'll know how much further out to move base leg, or how much to delay the power change on downwind, etc. We need a definite, precise position/path to facilitate making accurate changes.

Flying a pattern and the subsequent approach involves a lot of variables, but not so many that they can't be reduced to a checklist of major items to be scanned and controlled.



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