Airplane Straight-and-Level Flight

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Look out each side of the aircraft and see where the wings are in relation to the horizon. If one wing is up, the airplane is in a banked attitude and will be turning. Straight flight can also be maintained quite readily by monitoring the view out the front windshield. Simply watch the horizon. If the airplane is wings-level with respect to the horizon, it will fly straight.

Sometimes a pilot subconsciously allows the weight of a hand to pull the yoke down to one side, causing the aircraft to bank in that direction. Holding the yoke lightly alleviates this problem.

The pilot must also hold his or her head upright to see everything in proper perspective. If the aircraft is in a 5-degree bank to the left and you subconsciously tilt your head 5 degrees to the right, the horizon will appear to be in its proper alignment, when in reality, things are not as they should be. The sooner you learn to ride with your aircraft and not to lean against the turn, the sooner you will master attitude flight control.

Use trim. Set up the desired attitude and adjust the trim tab to lighten any pressure you feel on the controls. When you no longer feel any pressure on the yoke, let go of everything and the aircraft should remain in that attitude. If it doesn’t, put the aircraft back where you want it and trim it a little more. The most important thing to remember when using the trim tab is that it is not designed for use as a primary flight control, so you must first establish the desired attitude, maintain the control pressures, and then adjust trim delicately until the controls seem to maintain themselves.

Have an idea of where the horizon will be in relation to the nose in the level flight attitude. For most aircraft, the nose will be below the line of the horizon during level flight. After you gain experience with a plane, you can normally lower the nose to just about the right position in relation to the horizon just from experience. Once you have the nose at the right position, you should check the altimeter and vertical speed indicator to determine if you are climbing, descending, or maintaining the correct altitude. The vertical speed indicator can be very useful in figuring out if there are small corrections that need to be made.

If you are transitioning to straight and level from a climb, you will probably need to pull back the engine power from its climb setting to the cruise setting you want to use. As you reduce power it is likely the nose of the plane will want to drop slightly, and you may need to readjust the control yoke’s position to maintain the correct altitude. Power settings can have a tremendous effect on how the airplane will fly. For instance, if you are flying straight and level and you increase the power without changing any control inputs, in most cases the plane picks up more airspeed. This greater airspeed results in more lift, and the airplane has a tendency to climb. To maintain the same altitude after a power increase, you will need to push forward on the control yoke, which keeps the airplane from climbing. The amount you will push forward depends on how much power was added and the characteristics of the plane you are flying. You should also retrim the elevator, setting it to reduce the pressure you are holding on the control yoke to neutral.

Once you have the airplane trimmed for level flight you can begin to verify that you are holding straight and level. At this point you have scanned outside the plane to make sure your attitude is correct, and verified that with the artificial horizon. At the same time you should verify that the wings are level. If the plane is banked left or right, the horizon will appear banked as you look outside of the airplane. The artificial horizon will also show that you are banked. You can then use the compass and directional gyro to confirm your heading.

As you fly along in straight-and-level flight, the plane will be occasionally influenced by the air you are flying through. Wind gusts, turbulence, updrafts, and downdrafts all affect the airplane as it flies. You will find that you need to continuously make minor inputs to correct for these outside disturbances to straight-and-level flight. If the wings are rocked to the left or right, you can use aileron to get them back to level. The same holds true for nose up or down. You can be flying along and encounter an updraft, which wants to push the airplane upward. To counteract the effects of the updraft you will need to push the nose down. As you fly out of the updraft you will need to release the forward pressure to avoid losing altitude.

Once you gain experience in holding a plane at straight and level, you will find it is not nearly so mechanical as the previous description might indicate. Flying the airplane is a fluid activity, with you making constant, small inputs to hold the plane’s wings level and the nose at the correct attitude. You should also continuously scan both the instruments inside and outside the plane.

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