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Training Tip: That sinking feelingTraining Tip That sinking feeling

The trainer is stumbling through the air as you practice a straight-and-level slow flight exercise, your right rudder pedal firmly depressed to keep the nose of the Cessna 172 pinned to your visual reference as you continually adjust back-elevator pressure and throttle inputs to maintain airspeed and altitude.
Practicing slow-flight drills can help you prepare for go-arounds.

Quite a physical workout, second only to pushing the airplane from the tiedowns to the gas pumps as is sometimes necessary before the day’s first flight. 

You are doing a good job, although your instructor’s habit of extending and retracting flaps at random intervals—requiring you to adjust all your excellent inputs—has been unhelpful to bringing out the truer artistry of your performance.

Most challenging to your assigned task of maintaining heading and altitude is when she sets the flaps at full extension and then retracts them all at once. Even if you have not seen her reach for the flap switch, the way the aircraft feels in response is unmistakable—like the bottom dropping out when you drive your car too fast over a hump in the road.

When the airplane starts to “mush” like that you must still maintain altitude without causing a full stall—but if you lower the pitch attitude too aggressively you may sink and bust the assigned altitude, even while adding power. It’s a delicate, demanding dance.

The next time you experience that weird sinking sensation, the scenario is very different, and it’s no drill.

You have crossed the runway threshold configured for a 40-degrees-flaps landing when, just as you round out and start to flare, an airplane rolls onto the runway at Taxiway Juliet, a few hundred feet ahead.

Maybe it has been a while since you practiced go-arounds, or maybe the surprise factor has caught you off guard, but as you add go-around power, instead of retracting the flaps to 20 degrees as the checklist provides, the electric switch finds its way to the flaps-up position. With precious little altitude available for lowering the pitch attitude and maintaining control in this sinking, “mushing” condition, your response is greatly aided by having practiced your CFI’s fickle-flaps exercise so extensively.

The next time you practice go-arounds, remember the impact of the surprise factor. It can induce errors—even during execution of a much-practiced maneuver—leaving you with only the instinctive responses gleaned from all that practice to help you fly away from trouble. 

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilot Training and Certification, Student, Flight Training

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