A Set Of Pet Peeves

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A cranky old pilot’s favorite do’s and don’ts as observed through the years.

Not everyone interprets events with the same dispassionate emotions as a seasoned pilot, so keep your passengers well briefed.

I’ve been flying for more than a few years and during that time I have observed some piloting that could use some correction. So, here in brief are a few of the activities that I would like to change… if I were king.

Straighten Up And Fly Right

Many pilots don’t sit right for IFR flight. Everything is a compromise and ergonomics wasn’t high on the list for manufacturers when most of the GA fleet was built. The seat should be far enough back as to be comfortable, but close enough to the controls to allow full movements (even in an unusual attitude) always. Fully stretched out arms may be good for a race car driver, but not so for pilots. Slightly bent arms give more precise controls as does resting the elbows on the armrests, if so equipped.

It’s usual to see pilots sitting too low. This can be comfortable and, since the instrument panel is the primary concern for most of a flight in IMC, this makes sense. However, this may be a problem when performing an approach to low minimums.

That bulbous nose of the average single-engine may block the sight of the first few vital approach lights on breaking out a low overcast. In larger aircraft this is considered so important that there is a gauge on the windshield pilots use to adjust seat height and fore/ aft position for optimal eye position. The seat in your airplane may not have that many adjustments, but a pillow will serve the same purpose. So, Mom was right after all when she told you to “Sit up straight!”

Keep A Visual Scan

I hazard to guess that about 80-percent or more of the average IFR flight is spent in clear, bright VMC. Sometimes way too bright… Sunglasses help but you may want to blank out the direct sunlight—just don’t overdo it. I’ve seen pilots stuffing half the windshield with sectionals, newspapers and whatever else is handy to block those golden rays. This is clearly dangerous.

If you’re not in the clouds, you are responsible for maintaining a good lookout for other traffic. Just because you’re talking to ATC and you’re on a clearance doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there. Airplanes equipped for VFR-only may not have had their transponder and encoder checked for years. The controller’s job is primarily to separate IFR/IFR traffic. And some planes of course aren’t even required to have a transponder depending on type or what the kind of airspace.

Block out just the minimum area around the direct sun (there you’re blind anyway). If the built-in sunshades aren’t adequate for this, use a post-it note or something else handy. Automotive parts stores may have something useful for the purpose. Best of all are translucent screens with a gray or brown coating. They can be applied within seconds in the windshield and without any restriction to your view of the heavens.

Monitor The Autopilot

Just as the airlines now refer to the “pilot not flying” as the “pilot monitoring,” you must constantly oversee the autopilot. This is not just to verify that it’s doing its task, but that you maintain situational awareness. When you take over the piloting duties, the transition must be seamless and without any time for your mental process to come up-to-speed.

You can also learn a few techniques from the AP. Observe the control yoke and how (little) it moves. A bump comes along, after some fraction of the second the system reacts with an input and keeps it in for a short period to correct the disturbance. It then returns to neutral and the cycle starts again.

Many pilots tend to over-control— they are too quick to apply input that is often too much for the situation. This means that the aircraft willcorrect back beyond the level point causing the pilot to apply controls the opposite way. A series of wallowing motions occur, wearing out pilot and passengers alike.

Aircraft are often deemed to be “stable”—though technically none are. They do however, have some stable attributes. In the roll axis all aircraft have a degree of lateral damping. In pitch and yaw they are statically stable. You can take (assuming you’re in trim) your hands off for some period of time without anything going radically astray.

Also, turbulence tends (by its random nature) to average itself out. If the left wing gets pushed down, a few seconds later the right will probably come down, equaling things out. Ditto in pitch.

Afflicted pilots tend to especially exhibit this on landing. Many a time I’ve watched my companion stir the control wheel into a blurry frenzy— often with no better result than a very mediocre arrival—or worse. So, take a deep breath, fly with your fingertips, and largely let your wonderful flying machine do its own thing.

Constant Speed Prop

Improper initial training is often responsible for poor technique in the proper use of the prop control. There is more to this knob than push-pull.

Having a constant speed propeller brings noticeable advantages—such as more power and the promise of lower fuel consumption. It also adds the potential for mishandling.

On approach it’s common practice to push the prop control full forward to high rpm—as part of the GUMP check—to make sure maximum power is available for a go-around. Often this is done too abruptly, causing a see-sawing grating noise heard for miles around the airport while the propeller governor recovers from that sudden kick.

Yes, this is a busy time in flight, still gradually moving the blue lever forward over a period of few seconds should not be a too exacting task. Best of all (unless of course something in the official checklist or POH says otherwise), wait until power is brought back to (or near) idle. In that case the prop will already be in its finest setting anyway and the prop control doesn’t affect anything as it’s moved forward.

Speaking of which, no shoving, slamming, throwing or any rapid and careless movement of any control, lever or switch should ever happen in the cockpit. Save perhaps an imminent disaster of some sort, all actions should be slow, deliberate and calculated. Your airplane will thank you for it.

Don’t Land Short

Many pilots see it as a badge of honor to land “on the numbers.” Yes, there is a time and place for that procedure but most likely not when you’re landing out of an instrument approach.

Don’t forget that the approach path to the runway will be littered with light poles sticking up from the ground like quills on a porcupine. A sudden downdraft, wake turbulence from preceding traffic or a second of inattention, and that’s where you’ll end up. Why risk it?

Trim, Trim, Trim

All aircraft have trim of some form. These vary from fancy three axes electric, down to the simplest of fixed trim tabs on the control surfaces adjustable on the ground only. And they’re needed.

Various speeds and power calls for pitch trim adjustments. P-factor necessitates different yaw trim depending on engine output to keep the “ball” (inclinometer), satisfyingly in the middle. Fuel burn from alternating wing tanks must be compensated by aileron trim. And of course, through use and abuse, most aircraft will eventually fly a little crooked to start with.

Always work on staying perfectly in trim so that you can easily take your hands off for a few seconds if needed, vital in IMC. Anything else is an abomination to the great aviation deity of the heavens.

Landing To The East In The AM

The rising sun will blind you as it comes up. If you’re in fog, you’ll feel like you’re landing in milk and you won’t see the lights no matter the official RVR.

Request a different runway if possible. As there is usually little wind in this circumstance, that is rarely a problem.

Well, there’s a few observations, which I hope you found instructive.


Bo Henriksson is a captain with a regional carrier and has more than 15,000 flight hours.


This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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Comments (1)

Great post, Bo!

Either your tips are just good airmanship, or I'm as cranky as you. Maybe both!

> It's usual to see pilots sitting too low.

Glad to see this in writing.

Even in a Cessna 172, you should sit high enough to see the rivets on the cowling and feel like a fighter pilot. Every chance I get, I tell students this, since I had to discover it on my own.

> Many pilots see it as a badge of honor to land "on the numbers."

There's a famous quote that "landing on the numbers is for amateurs." The reason for that is airline captains (pros) fly instrument approaches, and the glide slope intersects the runway at the 1000' mark. Thus pros never land on the numbers!

Posted by: James Briggs | December 7, 2018 3:09 PM    Report this comment

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