From the CFI #4: Some Advice on Movin' On Up!

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

If you're thinking about moving up to a faster, more complex airplane (or if you're wondering how piston-pounding pilots are going to transition to those very light jets), AVweb's Linda D. Pendleton has some advice: Brush up on the basics.

Because of the nature of my job, I receive a lot of emails and phone calls from pilots wondering how best to prepare themselves for advanced training. This applies to any advanced training (beyond the instrument rating) from checkouts in high-performance aircraft to turbojet type-ratings. Now, there's one disclaimer I need to make here and just so you don't miss it, I'm going to put it in a box to emphasize it:

The opinions and suggestions I make in this article are geared toward helping the pilot achieve success in advanced training. There is nothing contained herein that is geared towards getting the lowest insurance rate -- or any insurance rate, for that matter. That's between you and your insurance agent. Training is my bag.

The Past

I've given a lot of advanced training in the past -- I was a FlightSafety Citation instructor -- and I've made some observations about students transitioning into their first jet. Prior to the advent of the Very Light Jets, the Citation was the entry-level jet and so I've watched students from all areas of aviation step up to high-altitude and (relatively) high-speed flight. (By the way, I've never run into the "doctor/lawyer in a Bonanza" stereotypical person. I'm sure there's one out there somewhere, but I've not run across him and I've worked with many owner/operators.) Almost every time a student had trouble in the transition, it had nothing at all to do with the jet and everything to do with basic airmanship and instrument skills. The only way to make a good jet pilot is to start out with a good pilot.

Giving remedial instrument dual in a jet simulator is horribly inefficient and very frustrating for the student trying to survive it. A pilot using all available resources just to keep the shiny side up and the pointy end forward has nothing left for the formation of new skills. And, realistically, it's not even the formation of new skills, just the refinement of those (assumed to be) already in place. That being said, what's a pilot to do?

Where Do We Start?

The very first place to start on your road to advanced ratings is your basic airmanship skills. You should be absolutely comfortable with takeoffs and landings in varying crosswinds up to the demonstrated crosswind component of the aircraft you normally fly. Make sure you use the exact airspeeds called for both for rotation and climb. Calculate your approach speed as 1.3 times Vso and hold those speeds plus or minus one knot. Put the nosewheel on the centerline no matter what the wind is.

You should be able to do short- and soft-field takeoffs and landings according to the recommendations in the Pilot's Operating Handbook for your aircraft. Practice these techniques until you have them down cold. Don't let yourself wander off headings and airspeeds. Be the master of the airplane and put it where you want it to be. If you need a little help on these maneuvers you may not have done since your last certificate or rating, enlist your local CFI -- the money you spend here will save you money in the long run.

Work on your VFR skills until you are able to fly your airplane with zero deviations in altitude, heading and airspeed. Vary your speed and aircraft configuration and still keep the heading, altitude and speed steady. Do this until you are able to maintain these parameters without conscious thought. These skills must be second nature so that you can devote all of your attention to the accurate formation of advanced skills.

Flying On The Gauges

Flying complex aircraft in general -- and jets in particular -- is an instrument operation. You can't accurately fly a jet with reference to the visible horizon. First of all, one-half degree of pitch change is a lot in a jet. That -- combined with the fact that the apparent horizon position at altitude is misleading -- makes flying on the gauges necessary. There's no way around it. The more comfortable you are flying solely with reference to instruments, the more comfortable you're going to be in the jet.

The maneuvers and procedures listed above were to get you ready for the meat of the preparation you should do. Get out your hood and get a friend to act as safety pilot. If you're really rusty on instrument procedures or need an instrument proficiency check, give the local CFII a call. Again the money you spend here will save you in the end.

Begin with the same process we've outlined above for the VFR skills, but of course, this time you'll be under the hood. Be merciless with yourself. Get your en route skills sharpened up first. This should be a little easier than you anticipate because of the good foundation you put down with the VFR work. Shoot for zero tolerance. Remember, practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent.

Once your straight-and-level flying actually is straight and level, begin adding some turns to the mix. Standard-rate turns left and right at cruise speed and power should be the first you tackle. Roll from a left or right turn directly to the other without pausing. Remember, as you roll through wings level, there will be a tendency to gain altitude. Don't let it happen.

Turns going pretty well? OK, start on some climbs and descents. Begin with constant airspeed climbs and descents. Reduce your airspeed about 10-15 knots below cruise speed in level flight. Before you begin a climb or descent, make sure the aircraft is stabilized on speed and trimmed. Pay close attention to trim. Don't forget to trim. (Do I seem to be nagging a bit here? Keeping the airplane in trim is one of the most often ignored skills in aviation. There is only one flight parameter the airplane is capable of maintaining on its own and that is speed. It will try to return to the speed it's trimmed for. Use that for your good, not your downfall. Be absolutely fanatical about trim. It will pay off in the long run.)

That "Magic" 100 Feet

Have you ever noticed a pilot -- perhaps it's been you -- who, when assigned an altitude, flies exactly, and without error, 100 feet above that altitude? Frustrating, isn't it? Did you ever wonder why that happens? I believe it's a result of believing that you are not off altitude unless you are more than 100 feet off. Your mind is a marvelous thing, but it can only do a finite number of things before it runs out of processing power, so it prioritizes. You've set 100 feet as the maximum error allowed -- after all, that's what the FAA says is allowable. Your mind will not register an error unless it's more than 100 feet off assigned altitude. After all, your scan really just notes things that are wrong, not things that are right. When you exceed the 100 feet, you will correct and the correction will be just enough to get you back within that 100-foot buffer. Try setting a zero tolerance attitude in your flying and see if that doesn't just eliminate that 100-foot error.

Oh, and I suppose you've noticed that the same pilot will rarely, if ever, be 100 feet low in altitude. That's because it's been beat into our brains from day one that being low is very, very bad. We'll keep from going below assigned altitude, but we'll take the whole allowable error on the high side because we've told ourselves it's OK. Re-educate yourself to zero error and it will become as easy to maintain an exact altitude as it was to maintain the altitude plus the 100 foot error.

Pattern A And Pattern B

Is all that going pretty well now? Good. The FAA publishes a couple of great training patterns in the Instrument Flying Handbook. (At least in the copy I have -- I haven't invested in the update yet.) In the FAA's description of the patterns they say, "The purpose of both Pattern 'A' and Pattern 'B' is to further develop the pilot's ability to control the aircraft without deliberate thought." It has to be second nature, folks, and that's what we're trying to develop. When you get to the point where you can control the airplane "without deliberate thought," you're far on your way to advanced ratings!

FAA Manuevers Pattern A
(Click here for printable version in Adobe PDF format.)
Pattern A is done at a constant altitude. Don't accept the standard plus or minus 100 feet here. Make a concerted effort to keep an exact altitude. This is tedious, but you have to practice this until it becomes second nature. You have other things to concentrate on such as heading changes and speed changes. Start this maneuver when the second hand of your clock is on 12 o'clock or 15-second intervals after that to make the timing easier for you. You can also ease your workload by practicing this pattern initially starting at a cardinal heading. As you gain proficiency you should be able to initiate this maneuver on any heading. The timing for this pattern is consecutive: You should begin the timing as you apply control pressures to initiate or stop the turn.

Practice this pattern on a full panel until you're feeling comfortable. The less conscious thought you have to devote to maneuvering the airplane the more time you'll have to devote to other tasks -- such as learning a new airplane. Once you're confident on a full panel, do a couple of patterns with a partial panel. You don't need to spend as much time partial panel as you do with the full panel, but you should keep at it until you are feeling fairly comfortable.

15 Kb
FAA Manuevers Pattern B
(Click here for printable version in Adobe PDF format.)

Pattern B adds climbs and descents to the maneuvers you've already accomplished in Pattern A. This pattern emulates a typical approach scenario. This time the turns are done to specific headings and not to specific times. When you plan your entry altitude for this pattern, take the descents into account so that you do not end up uncomfortably (or illegally!) close to the ground at the go-around point. Use the aircraft configurations you would use when flying an approach with vectors to the final approach course.

Becoming proficient on these two patterns will take some time. Just think how frustrating -- and expensive -- that would be if you had to develop these skills while trying to learn the intricacies of a new aircraft. The time and money you spend now will be a wise investment for the future. (If I seem to be harping on this point, it's because so many pilots don't seem to get it and then end up behind the eight ball. As I've stated above, I've given far more remedial instrument training in a Level C or D simulator and in jet aircraft -- at over $1200 per hour -- than I ever wanted to give.)

Another Exercise

Once you've mastered the FAA's Patterns A and B there is another exercise that I have found is very good for building scan skills. Start in the cruise configuration and roll into a standard rate turn in either direction. Maintain altitude and airspeed exactly. Every 90 degrees of heading change, announce your exact altitude, airspeed and the heading you are turning through. Once this becomes boring, shorten the interval to every 30 degrees of turn. Got that all handled? Reverse the direction of the turn and this time you will continue to announce your heading, altitude and airspeed every 30 degrees, but you will change aircraft configuration every 180 degrees. Extend the gear, then 180 degrees later, retract it. (You will probably have to slow from cruise speed to do this. That's fine. Just maintain the new airspeed exactly!) Next time around extend and retract the flaps.

Pitch + Power = Performance

Now that you're flying the airplane without much conscious effort and your scan is up to snuff, there's one more area you should work on: power settings. Pitch + power = performance and this is even more true in higher performance airplanes. This will not only make flying much easier, but may just save your bacon some day. One night long ago I had to make a zero/zero landing with no pitot/static system in a Cherokee 140. I don't think it would have been possible without knowing the power settings and resultant speeds for the aircraft. (This was partially because of my poor decision to fly in the clouds in an aircraft that didn't have pitot heat or an alternate static source. This was back in 1977 when I was a young instructor. The temperature was at all times above freezing.) When I determined that the pitot/static system had gone south, I declared an emergency and asked for an ILS approach with vectors to the localizer about four miles outside the marker. I knew if I held 2150 RPM on that little O-320, I would get about 90 KIAS straight and level. I also knew that 1700 RPM would give me 90 knots down the glide slope. I flew the glideslope until it flared (at about 50 feet AGL) and then pitched up about three more degrees, reduced the power to idle and held on. We settled nicely onto the runway and the airplane was reusable! Even though I had no reliable altitude, airspeed or vertical speed information, I really knew what my airspeed and vertical speed were.

I had a student that used that same technique on a Citation. He got in a hurry on the preflight and left the pitot covers on. He realized this about halfway down a short runway and decided -- rightly so -- that it was safer to fly it than to try to stop it at that point. (It was good VFR.) He flew the airplane to the closest big airport and landed successfully. You see, he knew that about 65% N1 was going to give him 160 KIAS with a clean wing and 140 KIAS with approach flaps. He also knew that if he intercepted the glide slope in that configuration and extended gear and landing flaps he would arrive over the end of the runway at about the right approach speed (Vref to Vref +3).

Knowing the power settings necessary for common speeds is vital in higher performance airplanes. These machines do not make changes to airspeed quickly, and knowing the target power setting for the speed you want will keep you from hunting around. In a jet, chasing airspeeds with power settings is the quickest way to get 180 degrees out of phase with the airplane. You can practice these techniques in any airplane.

Now, Enjoy!

Get yourself up to speed and you will enjoy advanced training. You'll have brain cells available to enjoy the experience and revel in the new levels of competency you're reaching for. You'll also realize that bigger/faster/more complex airplanes are not harder to fly; they are -- as you've always been told -- easier. The "harder" myth comes from the number of pilots who go into the training without proper preparation.

For more From The CFI, check out the rest of Linda's articles.