Smooth Flying in Rough Air

Bumpy air isn't pleasant. For passengers, it can feel even worse, sometimes to the point where it becomes necessary to offload lunch. Airmanship guru Wolfgang Langewiesche addressed the problem in his 1944 classic, Stick and Rudder: "It is in rough air that straight flight becomes an art — and the interesting thing about it is that you can do it all wrong and never know it; you merely think the air is much rougher than it actually is." The author goes on to confess that he was one of those pilots who "do it all wrong" until an Army instructor straightened him out — literally.

The pilot's natural inclination in counteracting turbulence is to use the controls independently. A wing drops; we use opposite aileron to lift it up. The nose skews left; we kick the rudder pedal to straighten it out. But such uncoordinated use of the controls in turbulence yields the same bad result as it does in still air. Aileron without rudder induces adverse yaw. Rudder without aileron tends to raise the wing that accelerates into the relative wind. By not using all the controls simultaneously, the pilot is constantly hunting for stable flight, always a step or two behind the airplane. It's true that light airplanes of Langewiesche's era often had much lighter wing loading than many aircraft flown today. But the net effect of making turbulence worse is still well worth considering. Just ask your passengers.

Langewiesche wrote: "The right thing to do is to use the controls in a coordinated manner all the time — even though at first that might seem tedious and unnecessarily laborious. What it really amounts to is that straight flight consists of a series of S turns, the turns being shallowed out so much that the S finally becomes a straight line."

Maybe that's why he named the book Stick and Rudder.

Call to action: If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, or have any questions about flying technique you'd like answered, send me a note at We'd love to hear from you.

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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