Flight Training Tip:
Four Little Words Can Save You Thousands of Dollars
By Scott Krogh, CFI, CFII, MEI
Do you want to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your flight training? Listen to these four simple words: Look out the window.
That is all there is to it. By simply keeping your eyes outside a majority of the time you will fly better, perfect maneuvers and landings in less time, and expedite your training. As someone who has spent over 7000 hours teaching students to fly, I guarantee it.
Let me give you an example.
A while back I flew with a student who had about 70 hours of flight time and a Private Pilot Certificate. It was my first flight with the student, and we were going to be working together as he prepared for the instrument rating. On our first flight together I asked him to perform a VY climb as we transitioned to the practice area.
We were VFR in a Piper Warrior and for a few minutes I watched the airspeed go up to about 83 KIAS, then down to about 72 KIAS. Back and forth it went, never once stopping and remaining on 79 KIAS (the speed recommended for a VY climb by the Pilots Operating Handbook for the Piper Warrior III.) It was clear to me the student was focused on the airspeed indicator as the way to nail down the elusive 79 KIAS.
I pulled out a few Post-It notes, I never fly without them, and covered the airspeed indicator and attitude indicator. The student was now forced to look outside and maintain an attitude by relating the position of the nose to the horizon. We discussed the proper attitude for a VY climb in that airplane, and he maintained this attitude as we climbed. When the post-it note was removed the airplane was in a steady 79 KIAS climb.
The reason this worked is so simple, yet often overlooked. One of the very first maneuvers any pilot will attempt is the simple climb my student was struggling with, so let me use that as a starting point for our conversation.
From the moment climbs are introduced most students are taught to associate the climb with an airspeed. In the student’s mind the two become linked. The student will be told the airplane has a best rate of climb (VY) and best angle of climb (VX), both of which have a specific airspeed associated with them. During his earliest training, my student had been told to advance the throttle to full power and pitch for 79 KIAS to climb at VY.
This may sound controversial to many inexperienced pilots, but the fact of the matter is, a pilot does not pitch for an airspeed to conduct a VY climb. To conduct a VY climb in a Piper Warrior you set full power and pitch for an attitude that yields 79 KIAS. The speed is the result of the attitude and power-setting. The subtle distinction between pitching for an attitude that results in a speed versus pitching for a speed can make the difference between success and failure for many pilots as they begin flight training.
It is the combination of an attitude and a power-setting that determines the performance. Set the throttle to the desired power-setting, set an attitude based on looking outside at the horizon and then trim. Once the airplane is stabilized in the climb, reference the airspeed indicator. If you are slow bring your eyes back outside, lower the nose slightly, trim and check the airspeed a few moments later once things have stabilized. The airspeed indicator will tell you if a change is needed, but the change cannot be made by referencing the instrument. The only way an effective pitch change can be made is by looking outside and adjusting the position of the nose in relation to the horizon.
Student pilots and even some experienced pilots spend entirely too much time staring at the instruments, neglecting the wealth of information provided by looking outside and referencing the aircraft’s attitude in relation to the horizon. The problem is compounded when students are operating an airplane equipped with a glass cockpit. The human eye is drawn to movement, and the airspeed tape on the primary flight display (PFD) can provide plenty of movement. Not only does the line of numbers move up and down, but as they move they also change size. The result is a lot of motion for a change of only a knot or two.
The glass cockpit may be the best thing to happen to aviation since the Wright Brothers, but for new pilots it can complicate their initial training. I have sat next to students on stage checks who have literally spent the entire flight staring at the colorful displays. Besides the obvious safety issue, the students who do this invariably struggle to fly straight and level, and their maneuvers are never up to standards. An eight-inch display cannot replace the wealth of information provided by an expansive horizon stretching across the entire cockpit. If flying by reference to the instruments were easier, pilots would start first with the instrument rating and then proceed to VFR flying.
I see why students are so concerned with the instruments. As instructors, we constantly ask them to fly a certain heading, climb at a certain airspeed or maintain a specific altitude. The Airman Certification Standards (ACS) define specific headings, bank angles, and altitudes for maneuvers. If you are asked to perform a steep turn at 45° of bank angle and maintain an altitude within 100 feet of a starting point, it is only natural to look inside at the attitude indicator and altimeter.
So here is my tip if you are struggling with your maneuvers.
Have your instructor demonstrate the maneuver and note how the nose looks in relation to the horizon. Use this mental image as you practice replicating the attitude without the instruments. It will make you a better pilot, and it will be effortless to do. It is much easier to move the nose of the airplane a few degrees on the horizon than it is to move the little miniature airplane on the attitude indicator a few millimeters.
Cover the instruments or just ignore them, and you will find your maneuvers are much better. You do not need an inclinometer to tell you more rudder is needed during a power-on stall when you can simply look out the window and observe the nose yawing dramatically to the left.
Instrument rated pilots rely solely on the instruments when they are in the clouds, but the best instrument rated pilots are the ones who learned to fly by looking out the window and setting an attitude and power-setting. Once that skill is mastered, it can be applied to the instruments, but not before.
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