Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Be A Great Pilot!

Top tips for all aspects of flight

There are a number of ways to initiate descent, and little consensus on the best way to do it. In turbine equipment, there’s no choice but to make a major power reduction or accept an airspeed well into the barber pole (near red line). Piston airplanes don’t have the same problem, but some piston pilots feel a power reduction is mandatory for descents.

There’s no question that’s an excellent idea if there’s any possibility of encountering rough air, but many experienced pilots feel the more logical approach is to reduce power slightly and push the nose over to allow airspeed to increase by a tenth of cruise IAS. This allows you to recover a portion of the time lost in climb. Also, if high oil temps were causing you to run with cowl flaps partially open at cruise, remember to close them for descent.

I have speed brakes on my airplane, but their use sometimes seems a little counterintuitive. For most pilots, the whole point of flying is to travel fast, so why would you deploy a device specifically designed to slow you down? One reason is to allow the aircraft to decelerate without a power reduction, a key to minimizing shock cooling. They’re simply another tool in a pilot’s bag of tricks.

In The Pattern

Flying the pattern would seem to be relatively cut and dry, but several of my sources disagree. “Too many pilots fly patterns too fast,” said Gary Meermans, a CFIIM and former chief pilot for United Airlines. “There are reasons to fly fast in the pattern—if you’re trying to stay ahead of an airplane that can’t conveniently slow down, for example—but most often, flying fast patterns is just a bad habit.”

Twenty years ago, during a biennial flight review in my Mooney, an instructor suggested I try applying full flaps early on the downwind to lever the nose down and improve the view straight ahead. It works, but I don’t often use that trick unless I need to. He also felt I should fly slightly wider patterns, which provides more room for correction on base and minimizes the need to turn a tight final.


Fellow contributor Budd Davisson is a CFI who does checkouts and teaches basic piloting skills in his two-place Pitts in the Phoenix area. He’s adamant that the Pitts is not a tough airplane to land and that pilots are their own worst enemies when they overcontrol in the pattern. Okay, so a Skyhawk or an Archer isn’t nearly as sensitive on the controls as a Pitts, but the same rule applies. The airplane will do pretty much what you tell it to. Smoothness and consistency in the pattern is one key to a good landing.

During a checkride to fly away with a new Piper Chieftain from the factory in Vero Beach, Fla., I landed normally, exited the runway and, out of the corner of my eye, caught a shake of the check pilot’s head. When we were back on the ramp, I asked him what he was concerned about. After a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Well, you were braking right into the high-speed turnoff. You should only brake straight ahead until your speed is below about 10 to 15 knots, then turn. You shouldn’t brake and turn simultaneously at anything over 15 knots.” Good idea.

Taxi In & Shutdown

Once you’re on the ground and off the runway, don’t be too quick to pop open the cowl flaps. If you’re flying a turbo twin, such as a Seneca, 340, 414 or Duke, remember that the whole idea is to maintain engine temperature as consistently as possible. When you power back for the actual landing, the engines will try to cool anyway, so there’s not much reason to increase the rate of cooldown by opening the cowl flaps. Speaking of cooldown, normally aspirated engines need to cool gradually, just as do turbocharged mills. Victor Sloan of Victor Aviation in Palo Alto, Calif., once commented that a one-minute cooldown on the ramp is a good idea for any engine.

Being a good pilot means far more than flying by the numbers and attending to all the obvious limitations. It also means using a combination of intelligence and just plain smarts to fly in the safest manner possible.


Add Comment