Fly with Your Fingertips

Using a light grip makes for smoother, more enjoyable flying.



When I first started flying, I flew using what some people call “the death grip,” a morbid term for hanging onto the yoke for dear life. I held so hard that my forearm would be sore the next day and I had a permanent tiny bruise on my thumb from pressing the push-to-talk button. After gaining some experience, I realized that most airplanes I fly don’t require that much muscle strength to be maneuvered. All I need is my fingertips.

A prerequisite for successful fingertip flying is a properly trimmed airplane. You may need to make small trim corrections frequently in order to fingertip-fly. Just release the pressure on the yoke and see what the airplane wants to do. Is it beginning a slight climb or descent? Correct the motion with the yoke and re-trim. You may only need to move the trim by a hair, but it will enable light control pressure.

With a lighter grip, it’s much easier to make small, smooth corrections. Instead of using your arms to make control inputs, just apply some pressure with the fingers and hand muscles. Tiny, timely corrections are particularly important when flying instrument approaches. I can’t imagine being able to stay centered on the final approach path using the ham-handed method.

Even if you’re flying an airplane that requires heavier control inputs, such as a Cessna 206, you don’t need to hang on for dear life. Again, use the trim to your advantage. The takeoff and landing phases and maneuvers may require more than fingertip pressure, but you can still hold a light grip – no white-knuckles!

It’s been a long time since I got sore arms or bruises from flying. If you find that you’re gripping the yoke too hard, just take a deep breath, relax and let go a little. You’ll enjoy your flight a lot more if you do.