It’s no wonder that student pilots become frustrated with controlling an aircraft when there seems to be inconsistency between flight control inputs and aircraft response, contributing to the thought, “I’m never going to get this.”
Learning to fly might be less onerous if students understood that flight controls have a unique purpose in each phase of flight. Applying the same inputs to ailerons, rudder, and elevator, no matter which “phase” an aircraft is in, is where things become frustrating. To help promote understanding of the changing roles flight controls play, let’s analyze the aviating process during taxi, takeoff, cruise, and landing.
Takeoff: During initial ground roll, the rudder continues to be the primary means of directional control with the ailerons positioned to prevent unwanted premature lifting of the upwind wing. At liftoff, the roles immediately switch, as the ailerons assume directional control and the rudder assumes its role of controlling yaw. This important change is where students usually correct for left turning tendency with right bank, which results in an uncoordinated climb.
Cruise: When maneuvering in cruise, flight controls assume their primary functions with aileron inputs for turns, rudder deflected in the same direction to eliminate yaw, and elevator to control pitch.
Landing: In the traffic pattern, flight control inputs are standard as in cruise— until final approach. In a calm wind, nothing changes. However, with a crosswind, to maintain proper ground track, rudder and aileron applications change. The ailerons are banked to maintain a straight ground track, while the rudder reverts from eliminating adverse yaw to creating yaw (producing a sideslip) to maintain parallel alignment to the centerline at touchdown.