Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Precision Flying

Change your mind-set to improve your flying

Downwind Distance
How far an airplane is flown from the runway on downwind is going to vary from airplane to airplane, but once that distance is determined it should be the same every time. Don't change it for wind or traffic. Accommodate those on the placement of the base leg. If you move downwind in and out, yet another variation is being introduced.

Downwind Altitude
Landing an airplane is an exercise in energy management, and the energy at the Initial Point opposite the threshold on downwind is kinetic energy borne of the aircraft's speed, and potential energy that is the result of its altitude. Ideally, we want the energy footprint of the airplane to be identical every time we begin the approach at the end of downwind: same speed, same altitude, same distance. If we don't do that, we're dealing with an unknown quantity in terms of how far the aircraft will and how much power is going to be needed and when. This unnecessarily makes the approach that much more difficult. If the Initial Point isn't consistent, everything past it is a guess.

Downwind Heading At The IP
If the position (altitude and distance) at the IP is perfect, we can screw it up by not correcting for P-factor. When the power is reduced, if left to its own devices, it will try to turn slightly right. So, we keep the nose right in front of us (the ball in the center) with a little left rudder. Letting it change heading moves us away from the runway, which is the same as losing altitude where our energy is concerned, and we're back to working with unknowns. The same thing is true of crosswind-heading corrections once the power has been reduced: Don't let the wind blow you in or out.

Even though we're in the air, what we're really concerned with is the track we're making across the ground: We want that track to wind up on centerline at the threshold in the most efficient manner. It helps if we imagine a black airplane shadow directly under us, and we're maneuvering that shadow as needed to put it on the end of the runway. So we have to include the ground track in our scan, and correct when needed.

Speed (Nose Attitude)
The speed as controlled by our attitude has a lot to do with how far we'll glide and how the aircraft will behave in flare. The more precise we are at holding the POH recommended speed by holding a stable, correct nose attitude, the more precise and controllable the approach will be.

Glide Slope (Watching The Numbers)
Flaps, slips and power all come into play in controlling the glideslope, which we want pointed right at the numbers or some other clearly defined point on the runway. The touchdown point will appear to be sliding toward us (down the windshield), if we're high, sliding away (up the windshield) if low. We won't land on that point because our flare will carry us 500 feet or so past it.

Keep The Scan Going: "P.A.S.T. Ball" Is Your Mantra
Our eyes should be continually scanning across the windshield (the windshield is the primary instrument) and back through the panel controlling the above parameters. Say "P.A.S.T. Ball" to yourself constantly and check each parameter periodically:
  • Power
  • Altitude
  • Speed (a reference to nose attitude)
  • Track (Where are we going on the ground?)
  • Ball (Feel your butt…are we as coordinated and as efficient as we could be?)
Remember, this isn't a skill. It's a mind-set. It's a way of thinking about flying in general in which we're going to try to do everything as accurately as possible. The whole process could be summed up by an old target-shooter's saying (actually, I made it up): No one shoots for the eight-ring. The eight-ring is the fourth one out from the bull's-eye. There's no challenge in aiming for that. The challenge is hitting the bull's-eye dead center. And if that's not what we're trying to do every time we saddle up, we shouldn't be playing the game.


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