Safety Publications/Articles

Trimming Out Frustrations

Relaxing The Death Grip

When you are climbing out on the first flight with a new student pilot, one of the things that you're almost guaranteed to see is a fledgling aviator with a death grip on the control wheel. There are two reasons for this. First, somewhere in our biological evolution, we learned that if we hold on tight, nothing bad will happen. New students believe that by strangling the control wheel, they can ensure that the airplane will remain airborne. The second reason is that the airplane is probably out of trim, and the student is trying to overcome considerable control pressure. The primal death grip leads to student frustration and has to be dealt with over time. You must constantly remind the student that a light touch on the wheel will make flying easier and result in a much smoother, more precise flight. The student should learn that an out-of-trim condition is one reason for the need to garrote the wheel.

Before the student even gets into the airplane, make sure that he or she understands that the trim wheel is a friend. It can help overcome altitude excursion problems and make takeoffs and landings much easier. It makes controlling the airplane simpler and lets the student concentrate on other aspects of flying. The student will be a much smoother pilot when he only has to use two fingers on the wheel.

One effective exercise that I use is to climb to altitude and have the student fly without touching the control wheel. The only controls available are the trim, throttle, and rudder. Have the student trim the airplane so that it is flying straight and level. If the airplane begins to bank, either you or the student can level the wings with the rudder. After flying like that for a few minutes, ask the student to descend at 500 feet per minute by reducing power and trimming the airplane to that rate of descent. Then ask the student to level off at a given altitude, all of this without touching the control wheel. After the airplane is stabilized straight and level, have the student climb at a given airspeed, again using only trim and throttle. If necessary, the wings can be leveled with the rudder. Have the student level off again and go back to cruise flight, all without the control wheel.

It's a great way to teach a student the value of trim. If a student doesn't become proficient in trimming the airplane, there will be trouble ahead when he or she transitions to heavier iron. It is surprising how quickly the student will become comfortable with trimming the airplane using this exercise. Good trim technique is a skill that will make your student a less frustrated and more proficient pilot.

Richard Hiner is vice president of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation

By Richard Hiner

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