Mastering Airplane Maneuvers for Pilot

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All airplanes have the same basic characteristics. They all pitch, roll, and yaw. The same basic forces apply, only the magnitudes of those forces seem to change. The fact that one airplane is 500 times heavier than another is of little significance when thinking in terms of why they fly.

The size of a 747, for example, is large by any standards. But does it take a person of superhuman abilities to fly one? Of course not. The pilots flying this large airplane operate under the same principles that make the simplest trainer take wing. These fundamental principles of flight are so basic, and so pervasive, that they must be completely understood by every pilot—no matter what equipment they fly.

Straight-and-level flight, climbs, descents, and turns are the foundations upon which all normal flight is built. Every single maneuver has its origin in one or more of these fundamentals. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Straight and level is one of the first maneuvers a student pilot learns. It is the ability to hold a constant heading, altitude, and airspeed. A good definition for straight and level would be slight corrections from any climb, turn, or dive—correcting any deviation from a straight, level, line of flight. It is the most fundamental of all the fundamentals. At the same time, it may also be one of the most challenging. Since conditions around the airplane are rarely constant, the task of maintaining constant flight parameters in turbulent air, for example, may require intense concentration.

There are several ways to get the feel of straight-and-level flight through the use of outside visual references in combination with instrument interpretation, a technique known as integrated flight. First, set up straight-and-level flight using mostly instruments.

Then, look out over the nose and get a good picture of what you see. Try to take a picture with your mind of what you want to see every time you are straight and level. In other words, you want to see how much ground and horizon are visible and where the horizon line crosses the windshield. You might also note where the cowling of your aircraft is situated with respect to all the other points. If anything changes, then so do the flight parameters. This careful positioning of the aircraft with respect to the horizon is known as flight attitude. Generally speaking, once correct flight parameters are achieved, maintaining the flight attitude constant at that point will preserve those parameters until the attitude is changed.

In the level flight example, if the nose of the airplane has appeared to rise, even slightly, you are probably climbing. Conversely, if the nose appears a little low on the horizon, you are probably diving. It’s that simple. Pilots must become highly sensitized to their aircraft’s flight attitude—that is the key to all flight maneuvers.

Sometimes pilots become so accustomed to a particular “look” out the cockpit windows that a simple seat adjustment can throw off their landings for days. Bring the pilot of the 747 back to a simple Cessna trainer, for example, and there will be comedy afoot. The jumbo pilots will be delightfully out of their element, until they become accustomed to the “view” out of the smaller plane.

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