Plane & Pilot
Monday, October 1, 2007

Myth Bustin'


Exploring 20 aviation myths


Right up front I should post a very clear caveat: Myths within any technological field almost always have a grain of, if not truth, at least enough fact that they have some ardent supporters who swear by them. (They “know” it’s true and can prove it because a friend of an uncle knew someone who had it happen to a cousin.)" />

Myth 18 Power-off landings are unnecessarily difficult.
Busted! Yes, power-off landings require that the pilot develop both the judgment to know where his or her airplane is going to power off, plus the skills to control the glideslope without power. If the engine ever quits, however, these might be handy skills to have, don’t you think?

Myth 19 Only licensed mechanics can do mechanical work on an airplane.
Busted. 14 CFR Part 43, Appendix A, Section (c)(1-32) “Preventive Maintenance” offers a comprehensive list of maintenance items that can be performed by the holder of a private-pilot license on an airplane he or she owns. The key is that the work done can’t require the disassembly of any major structural or operating component. The list includes everything from changing oil and tires to doing brakes, as well as a myriad of other mechanical tasks that many assume can only be done by a licensed mechanic.

Myth 20 Once you fall off the “step,” you must increase power or lose altitude to regain it.
Although you’ll get a lot of folks to say otherwise, this is busted! The so-called “step”—where an airplane falls out of the proper attitude like a speedboat falling off the step when the speed decreases—doesn’t exist. It’s a true aerodynamic myth. Don’t, however, get it confused with either the “drag bucket,” which some airfoils exhibit, or being on the “backside of the power curve”—these are different phenomena and actually do exist.

What’s very true about the “step” is that some very subtle pilot-technique issues can make it appear to exist. If an airplane is given enough time, and the angle of attack isn’t played with, it will always accelerate to the speed of which it is capable for a given amount of power. In aircraft with lower power-to-weight ratios, however, or aircraft in approach configuration (slow and dirty), it’s easy to put just the tiniest amount of backpressure on it and cause the airplane to gradually slow down, while gaining what appears to be zero altitude. The trick then is to gradually release that backpressure at the rate the airplane accelerates without losing altitude at the same time. Losing altitude to get the speed back is cheating, but for some airplanes, much easier.

Considering that aviation is really nothing more than a mechanical activity that’s governed by the laws of physics, you’d think there would be no myths or points of disagreement. Get any two pilots in a room, however, and they’ll find something to disagree about.

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