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Training your feet

The essence of flight control

A pet peeve of mine that is particularly grating occurs occasionally when I administer flight reviews in single-engine airplanes.

Barry Schiff A pet peeve of mine that is particularly grating occurs occasionally when I administer flight reviews in single-engine airplanes. During the initial climb after takeoff, some pilots maintain heading and compensate for the airplane’s left-turning tendency (from P-factor, et cetera) by banking slightly right instead of holding the wings level and pressuring right rudder. Such pilots also seem to lack aileron-rudder coordination during turn entry and recovery. Such slipping though the sky seems more prevalent these days possibly because not enough emphasis is placed during training on the proper and often subtle use of rudder.

It seems that more emphasis was placed on the basic elements of flight during the 1950s when flying the airplane was all that there was to learn. There was no time spent with glass cockpits and computerized systems. Emphasis was placed on teaching pilots the essence of flight control. Period.

I recall exercises that were used during those simpler times that seldom are used today. One such exercise, for example, involved slowly transitioning from cruise flight to a maximum-performance climb (and return) with the pilot’s feet resting on the floor. As the nose came up and power was increased, we were instructed to keep the wings level using the ailerons and told to observe the airplane entering and maintaining a skidding left yaw. We actually made 90-degree turns that way. This, we were taught, however, was no way to fly an airplane. Finally the instructor would say, “OK. Now slowly apply right rudder to arrest the yaw.” The pilot was then instructed to vary power and attitude while modulating rudder application to maintain a constant, wings-level heading (using a landmark on the horizon). After a while, it became natural to vary rudder with changes in attitude, power, and airspeed. The pilot’s feet became trained to keep the slip-skid ball centered without having to look at it. He became conditioned to using the rudder without thinking about it.

Not as much time is spent on such exercises today, perhaps because modern training aircraft are designed such that the need to apply rudder is perceived to be almost insignificant. But when such a pilot moves up to more powerful single-engine airplanes, the necessity for well-trained feet becomes more apparent.

There obviously are other instructors aware of pilots who have not developed proper rudder skills. One is Michael J. Banner, a 5,000-hour, part-time instructor for University Air Center in Gainseville, Florida. (He also is a faculty member at the University of Florida specializing in respiratory physiology.) Recognizing that improper rudder usage is an ongoing problem, he developed an interesting rudder-training exercise for student (and other) pilots that goes well beyond using the rudder to simply prevent slipping and skidding. It is intended to make pilots more skillful with rudder usage and make them more appreciative of what a rudder can do, an awareness that could come in handy during unusual or emergency situations.

The exercise begins by applying mild rudder pressure (no aileron) to enter a shallow skidding turn. Once in the turn the rudder pedals are neutralized to maintain the turn. The desired bank angle is maintained by applying right or left rudder as necessary.

Once the turn is stabilized, the pilot applies additional rudder in the direction of the turn (bottom rudder) to increase turn rate. The nose eventually begins to slide down, and the airplane begins to descend with increasing airspeed. Continuing this obviously would result in a spiral dive. So after losing only a few hundred feet, the pilot is instructed to apply opposite (top) rudder to level the wings and recover from the turn. The nose returns to a normal attitude, lost altitude is restored, and airspeed recovers to about where it was before the maneuver had begun.

Using the rudder to raise a lowered wing, of course, is typically recommended to control bank angle when an airplane is about to stall (or has stalled). Practicing and becoming familiar with Banner’s rudder exercise makes it more likely that a pilot will instinctively use rudder during stall recovery instead of trying to roll the wings level with ailerons, something that can worsen a stall and lead to a spin.

Unfortunately, many regard the rudder as a necessary evil. They think of it as something stuck on the tail as a design afterthought. The more one learns to use it properly, though, the more he begins to appreciate how important it is.

Speaking of pet peeves and flight reviews, another of my pet peeves is FAA changing the terminology from “biennial flight review” to “flight review” even though said reviews are conducted biennially. I mean, was there really a reason to change it from a BFR to an FR?


Barry Schiff has flown 342different types of aircraft (and is looking for more).

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