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Training Tip: The seat of learning

Here’s a flight lesson on coordination exercises, a ground-reference maneuver, plus crosswind landings in two flavors—and the good news is that you won’t have to cancel if you can’t go flying.

Downscaled teaching aids help hone piloting skills regardless of weather or health limitations. Photo by Elizabeth Linares.

Anyone with access to pencil and paper, a swiveling chair, and a toy airplane—that is, a downscaled teaching aid—can work on these and other pilot skills in the comfort of home as we wait out the current health-related limitations on our flying.

Chair flying, as the various forms of aviation mime are collectively known, is a flight training tradition. See it on proud display each time a flight instructor waves a handheld aircraft aloft to make a point to a ground school class; watch as an airshow pilot uses body language to rehearse a routine before takeoff. Visit an airport café on a beautiful flying day and observe pilots embellishing a flying tale with animated gestures.

Yes—sometimes chair flying requires the use of a chair. To illustrate a student pilot’s uncoordinated left turn, I deflected an imaginary yoke to the left while swiveling the chair slightly to the right, which simulated how aileron drag (adverse yaw) required more left rudder to correct. Believe me, it feels as awkward as it looks, just like the real thing. To correct, depress an imaginary left rudder pedal an amount appropriate for the aileron deflection, but this time don’t swivel the chair away from the turn. What you get is a nice, smooth coordinated turn—the kind that won’t wake up a snoozing passenger or irritate a testy flight instructor.

My attempts at napkin-sketched aviation art have yet to win me any awards, but even a crude depiction of a runway finds multiple uses in a ground lesson when used in conjunction with that learning aid that resembles a toy airplane. Fly the scale-model aircraft around that runway’s traffic pattern, correcting your heading for assigned winds. Fly it faster or slower on each pattern leg in recognition of changing groundspeed. Align it on final approach in a crosswind as necessary for a sideslipped or crabbed approach.

For a wing-low crosswind landing, use the model aircraft to demonstrate how a pilot touches down on the upwind main wheel in a pitch attitude reasonable for the windy conditions. You can even show how a bad landing—as if touching down while drifting—imposes nasty side loads on the landing gear.

Vocalizing the bangs, squeaks, chirps, and other sounds aircraft make at the hands of the student pilots who fly them is at your discretion.

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: Student, Takeoffs and Landings
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