How I Learned to Fly: Keeping the Ball Centered

Sometimes the lessons with the highest degree of "P-Factor" are the ones best remembered!


TrainingThe flight instructors handbook says that the more intense is theexperience, the better it is remembered. During one of my early lessons, my CFI allowed me to experience an intense moment which senta jolt of terror through my nervous system which has ingrained in mean important concept that I will never forget.

During my preflight briefing, my CFI stressed the importance ofusing right rudder in the Cessna 152 during takeoffs, slow flight andanytime when operating during slow flight with high power settings. Iwas being introduced to power on or departure stalls and the properuse of rudder to compensate for “P factor”.

We had departed the Santa Barbara airport on my third flightlesson. It was a beautiful day to be out on an adventure. When departing SBA off of runway 15 Right or Left, practically no soonerdid we clear the runway than we were crossing the shoreline andclimbing out over the ocean with its view of the channel islandsahead and the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbarawith its large lagoon on the right.

Today there were Seals swimming underwater near some surfers atCollege Point and some kayaks paddling in the lagoon. “Watch yourheading and pitch attitude” my instructor commands. Looking back inside at my instruments I notice my heading moving towards 30degrees to the right of my assigned departure heading and my airspeedincreasing 10 knots past the speed I was to try and maintain untilreaching 1000 feet. Soon we were given our own navigation andappropriate VFR altitude and were on course to the west practice areaclimbing to what my CFI considered a “safe altitude”.

During my first power on stall, my CFI coached me to slowly bringup the nose and to keep the ball centered with the application ofright rudder. “Nose coming up. Right rudder coming in. Keep the ballcentered. That’s it. Feel the buffet.” he said. In my mind I wastrying to do just as he said. I remembered the buffet from theprevious flight when we were doing power off or approach to landingstalls. I remembered that the stall was really a non event. Just lower the nose, add full power, retract the flaps and pitch for a positive rate of climb. The power on stall should be even easer.

The power was already on and the flaps were already retracted. AllI had to do was raise the nose through the buffet and into the stallthen just lower the nose back to or slightly below the horizon. I waspaying attention to doing the maneuver just like I was shown. Whenthe stall occurred the nose dropped with hardly any encouragementfrom me. We yawed a bit to the right and I was able to keep the wingslevel with some left aileron. I was reminded not to use aileronduring a stall recovery and to Keep the ball centered.

The second power on stall went very much like the first. My CFIbeing very insistent on the proper use of the rudder in keeping theship in coordinated flight. During power on stall number 3, my CFIstayed quite for the most part except to remind me to watch myheading better. I took this to mean I was doing a good job which didnot require any further coaching. Easing back on the yoke I noticed the ship turning to the left. So I applied some right aileron to holdmy heading. Everything was going just like the first two. That washowever, until the stall.

Was I surprised? Shocked is more like it. Before I knew what hadhappened, the left wing dropped. I had applied right aileron to keepthe wing up but this time their was no effect. At least not theeffect I was expecting. The left wing had rolled past vertical andthe nose of the ship was pitching down. The ship was going to roll over on its back! I did not know what to do. A jolt of nervous electricity flashed through my spine. I yelled “oh $#!+” as Ireleased the yoke and grabbed by CFI’s shoulder.

Calmly I heard him say “my airplane” and he recovered us to levelflight. He then asked me if I was ready to resume control and I saidyes. My CFI explained I had experienced a cross controlled stall anda spin entry. Releasing the controls as I did prevented the spin fromdeveloping but placed us in a steep spiral decent for which therecovery is to level the wings then level the nose with thehorizon.

We did several more power on stalls that lesson. All of themending without the spin entry that had frightened me. I had gone froma believer that the ball should be kept centered to a knower. I hadbeen touched by reality in a way that I have not forgotten to thisday. Proper use of the rudder is a lesson that my own students learnas I calmly say “my airplane” as I set things right for anothertry.