Divide Your Flying Into “Ruts”

John Eckalbar's superb book, Flying the Beech Bonanza, has some timeless advice that applies even if you don't operate an aircraft that rolled out of the Beech factory in Wichita. You'll find my sweaty fingerprints all over pages 108 to 123 -- the section he calls "IFR By the Numbers." Starting with what he labels "The Ruts," he proposes that three elements of the aircraft -- power, attitude and configuration -- are the keys to smooth, safe flying. He goes on to advise establishing baseline combinations of these three elements for each of eight or nine regimes of flight -- or ruts, as he also calls them. As you move from one phase of flight to another, you should have a specified configuration of flaps, gear, cowl flaps, etc., to go with a planned power setting and attitude. Eckalbar defines the ruts as: 1. takeoff and full-power climb; 2. cruise climb; 3. en route; 4. en route letdown; 5. maneuvering around the final approach fix; 6. descent to minimums; 7. level off at minimum descent altitude (non-precision approaches only); 8. proceed to runway and land; or, 9. missed approach. Of course, on an ILS, you'd skip number 7 and go direct to 8 -- or 9. Eckalbar wrote: "Now imagine how much simpler your flying would be, if, instead of having throttle, prop, mixture, trim, gear, flaps and cowl flaps, you simply had nine buttons to choose from -- one for each regime." He goes on to describe the combinations of power, attitude and configuration that he has found to work well in Bonanzas. But he also encourages pilots to experiment with their own aircraft to fine-tune the technique. If you fly a Bonanza and haven't read this book, I think you should. (It's available through the American Bonanza Society, bonanza.org.) Part of my "day-before" checklist for an IFR flight is to reread at least those 15 pages. If you fly something else, you can still take the basic advice and fill in combinations that will work best for your airplane.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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