That can be easier said than done for pilots who were never properly taught the art of stick-and-rudder flying. And it’s a larger number than you might guess, as the training focus in recent years seems to have shifted from an emphasis on learning how to hand-fly to gaining proficiency with increasingly complex cockpit technology.
“It drives me nuts when a student pilot on a check ride doesn’t understand how to use the rudder,” says Jason Blair, executive director of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) and an FAA-designated examiner. “I once had a pilot on a check ride tell me that his instructor said he wouldn’t need to know about the rudder until he was going for his commercial ticket. I ended the check ride and told him I’d like to talk to that instructor when we landed.”
Yikes. That’s scary, since the misuse of rudder at the wrong time can and too often does lead to catastrophe — especially in the case of the dreaded power-on departure stall or the power-off, base-to-final approach stall, both of which are avoidable if you know how to apply the rudder properly, and both of which can be greatly exacerbated if you don’t.
The most important point to keep in mind in either of these scenarios is that if the airplane is in coordinated flight with the ball centered, the wing can stall, but the airplane usually won’t spin. If you’re yawing and skidding during these types of stalls, not only is a spin possible, but it’s also pretty darn likely, Johnstone cautions.
“In the case of a departure stall with climb power and the ball slung out to the right due to P-Factor, if you inadvertently stall, the left wing is likely to drop,” he says. “Your first instinct might be to quickly pick it back up with right aileron.” It might also be your last, since at the stalling angle of attack, with a left wing drop caused by left yaw and P-Factor, right stick will decrease angle of attack on the right wing and increase it on the left wing, and — wham! — you can experience a rapid spin entry to the left.
Just as dangerous is the approach-to-landing stall/spin, which often happens with a crosswind drifting the airplane closer to the runway. The base leg is shorter than normal because the wind is blowing from behind, and so the pilot overshoots the runway as he starts the turn to final. He steepens the turn, which looks pretty scary, so he rolls back out of the bank a touch, but he’s still overshooting. He adds left rudder to get back on the centerline, and the ball now slings out to the right as the airplane enters a skidding turn. If he stalls in this configuration, he’ll probably enter a spin — and the chance for recovery at this height is zero.
|To really sharpen your stick-and-rudder skills, consider training with a specialist. Here is a lesson on upset recovery in a Super Decathlon
at Florida’s Dylan Aviation.
What about slips? These are uncoordinated maneuvers, so does that mean we should avoid them too? The sideslip is a correction for crosswind on landing, and the ever-useful forward slip allows us to lose extra altitude on approach without gaining airspeed. Aerodynamically, they’re the same thing. Lots of pilots are fearful of slips because they worry about being uncoordinated on final and the risk of entering a stall/spin. But during a slip, the airplane can stall, but it probably won’t spin. It’s banked in one direction but is yawing in the opposite direction, with opposing forces that make a spin far less likely.
For pilots who are struggling in a high-tech world, it’s critically important to learn as much as possible about your avionics, NAFI’s Blair says. That means reading the manuals, participating in training and practicing with the avionics every time you fly. Just as important, don’t let a minor distraction snowball into a dangerous situation, Blair cautions.
If you’re serious about honing your hand-flying skills, I recommend picking up Wolfgang Langewiesche’s 1944 book, Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying, and reading it cover to cover. If you’ve already read it once, read it again. Although the language is a bit outdated (Langewiesche calls the elevator “flippers,” for instance) there’s simply no better reference for understanding the basics of why an airplane behaves the way it does.
Back to Basics
Once you’ve done your homework, that’s when the fun starts. Find an instructor who has a reputation for focusing on improving a student’s stick-and-rudder skills. If you can fly in a tailwheel airplane, all the better. Best of all is getting some stick time in a glider, where improper use of the controls just isn’t an option.
In the airplane, start with the basics of coordinated turns, power-on and -off stalls, steep turns and slow flight, Blair recommends, and then move on to more advanced maneuvers.
We’ve included descriptions of some of the maneuvers you can try, each of which will give you practice at improving your stick-and-rudder skills. Actually, we should probably call it your “stick-and-rudder-and-throttle” skills since power management is important too. We’ve included descriptions of chandelles, lazy eights and banking on a heading (what many pilots call “Dutch rolls,” even though technically that’s not right). Read through them, but bring along a flight instructor the first time you try the maneuvers to ensure that your understanding of the basic concepts is correct and that you’re performing each one properly.