Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Be A Great Pilot!

Top tips for all aspects of flight

Taxi & Run-Up
There’s nothing magical about the taxi process, but some pilots misunderstand the reason for taxiing slowly. In addition to the increased difficulty of controlling a tricycle-gear machine at high speed, such a practice also can result in excessive nose wheel wear and higher brake loads.

When you enter the run-up area, avoid stopping behind any other aircraft that are running up; this will prevent rock dings from their prop blasts. Similarly, be aware of what’s directly behind you. Remember to allow the nose wheel to trail for a second to avoid side loads. This is especially important in twins where most pilots do the run-up with asymmetric power.

Checklists should be every pilot’s constant companion, not simply the province of airline crews. I probably have 2,000 hours in Mooneys of various kinds, and I still pull out the checklist for every flight, just as I would for a corporate jet or twin turboprop. I’m just not smart enough to remember everything I need to do in the cockpit, and a checklist serves as an instant reminder.

Takeoff & Climb

One instructor always used to tell me to apply right rudder for takeoff before introducing full power. This puts you ahead of the torque problem. Better not to swerve in the first place than to have to correct after the fact.

Once the airplane begins to accelerate, and speed passes about 10 to 15 knots, there’s usually little reason to leave the nose gear on the ground, so smart pilots put in back pressure to minimize the rolling friction of the third wheel. One of the worst actions is to press forward, a common mistake some students make in crosswind situations on the premise that holding the nose down improves directional control.

Another common sentiment offered by instructors and experienced pilots was that you should use full power for at least the first 2,000 to 3,000 feet, even if a METO reduction is recommended. The usual METO limitation is five minutes, and that should be enough to provide 2,000 to 3,000 feet of height AGL.

Climb speed is a subject of some debate. The consensus seemed to be that once you’ve cleared all terrain and exceeded 2,000 feet AGL, you’re usually better off climbing at a slight cruise speed rather than Vy. A common suggestion was to try about 10% to 15% above Vy. In many instances, you’ll see almost no loss of climb performance in exchange for better forward speed and slightly reduced total fuel burn.

At the top of climb, remember to close the cowl flaps before you level for cruise, not after. The idea is to keep engine temperatures fairly consistent. If you move cowl flaps to the end of the checklist, the engine will cool during the level-off and acceleration, and then heat back up when the cooling doors close.

Accelerating to cruise is something of an art. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no such thing as a “step” (some airplanes, such as Mooneys, seem to realize a temporary benefit from a slight dive back down to cruise height, but the higher speed will eventually bleed back to the same cruise), but you can maximize cruise and efficiency by leaving the power at max or METO until the plane is totally configured and airspeed has peaked.

Excluding winter, when a high cruise altitude may invite icing, higher nearly always will work better. If terrain isn’t a consideration, you probably should fly as high as you can, consistent with oxygen requirements. Whatever your take on the lean-of-peak argument about EGT, remember that you’re leaning to the cylinder that peaks first, not to the one that peaks hottest. If you adjust the mixture to the hottest cylinder, you may be bypassing another jug that’s long past peak and so far on the lean side that it’s on the edge of detonation.

I had the privilege of flying with General Chuck Yeager twice, both times as copilot, and I learned something on both occasions. Yeager was religious in searching for traffic. Perhaps because of his years as a fighter pilot and his excellent eyesight, he could spot traffic long before I could, and I’m 15 years younger. He was trained as a military pilot, so he understood that the smart way to scan was in 30- to 45-degree segments rather than sweeping his eyes across the sky. Yes, he did spot airplanes I never saw.


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