Training Tip: Assertive on the controls

August 2, 2013

Passing the (theoretical) 50-foot obstacle that appears in the short-field landing performance table for your trainer, you idle power, maintain the recommended airspeed, touch down on the main wheels (of your tricycle-gear aircraft), lower the nose, and apply heavy braking.

Nice job! You got stopped on the center line, aligned properly, without drift, and within 200 feet of the specified point, all as required to perform the maneuver to standards on a private pilot practical test.

Especially good was your braking: firm and effective but without sliding the tires or compromising directional control, your instructor notes.

A short-field landing’s combination of precision and assertive handling is a good example of maneuvers that require smoothness and excellent timing, while the pilot also ensures that the control inputs get the job done.

It takes practice—and confidence derived from it—to wring maximum performance from your aircraft consistently. And if you have been simulating your short-field work on a long, wide runway with obstruction-free approaches, be sure to get some dual practice at airports where a short-field approach is the normal, everyday way of doing things.

Other maneuvers come with a different set of aerodynamic considerations while still requiring that you don’t sacrifice smoothness and precision for the assertiveness needed to extract needed performance from your aircraft.

Taking off from a soft or rough field, goal one is to become airborne at the lowest possible airspeed. That calls for aggressive pitch management (and lots of right rudder to control direction). Once airborne, lower pitch aggressively to keep the aircraft flying in ground effect until it can accelerate to a safe climb airspeed.

Maneuvering during slow flight is another scenario requiring assertive but restrained inputs to maintain control at a high angle of attack.

When performing a crosswind landing, sideslipping demands sufficient bank to offset drift, and rudder as needed to keep the nose (the longitudinal axis) pointed down the extended center line.

A forward slip to lose altitude—another application of intentionally crossed controls—will only work if the pilot avoids an increase in airspeed, a commonly observed error.

Perhaps the best example of a controlled combination of aggressive flying and a fine touch on the controls is the maneuver of choice when a landing isn’t working out: the go-around. Make practicing them the rule, not the exception, on training flights!