Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Your Best Friend Or Worst Enemy

How well do you know your autopilot?

Do get knowledgeable instruction, review your manuals, observe all limitations and practice operations in safe conditions. Practicing each function will provide a solid understanding of how to properly arm altitudes and how your system behaves on an approach.

You should understand the preflight tests and carefully monitor the system while it's being tested. Do you know how many times the test light blinks and how many audible beeps your autopilot emits when the preflight tests are successfully completed? Checking the trim switches and the disconnect button on each yoke is also important. Finally, every autopilot system has operating limitations that you should know and observe. These limitations generally apply to minimum operating altitudes and aircraft configurations allowed during different phases of flight. Make sure you know what they are.

Finally, and this is a big one, do use a standard procedure that you've practiced for operating your autopilot on a missed approach. Going missed at minimums means you are suddenly flying by hand, while changing the aircraft configuration and the last thing you want to do is to fixate on figuring out how to program and fly the procedure while you are zero-zero near the ground.

It can be stressful and there have been way too many pilots who lose control during a missed approach while trying to get their navigator reconfigured and the autopilot re-engaged. Simulator training is an excellent way to train for missed approach procedures under a variety of circumstances. Having a solid, well-practiced procedure makes it easy.

Taking the time to understand your autopilot, to develop standard operat-ing procedures and to practice can help prevent task saturation and improve safety margins. When things get stressful, your autopilot just might be your best friend.

John Hayes is typed in the Citation Mustang and is an ATP, CFI, MEI and CFII with more than 4,300 hours in numerous airplanes. A founder and past president of TBMOPA and the Citation Jet Pilots, he also enjoys flying aerobatics in an Extra 300L.


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