Why Attitude Flying?

Why Attitude Flying?

Good question. You don’t have to look at flying that way. With enough experience, and enough experience on type, you will quite likely arrive at the same habits anyway, without really thinking about it. And if you always fly the same type, maybe you don’t need to think about it.

But if you are an aviation professional or are working at becoming one, the attitude way of thinking is worth a look.

Why? Because you will be able to:

    • stay ahead of your airplane

    • move to larger, heavier, and faster types with ease

    • avoid PIT (Pilot Induced Turbulence)

    • and generally fly more smoothly and accurately

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also:

    • get another licence or rating

    • learn to fly gliders

    • take a pilot confidence course in aerobatics

These are all excellent for developing your pilot proficiency. But they do cost money, time, and effort. So if you don’t have enough time or money, but you are still looking to improve your flying, attitude flying is for you.

What is Attitude Flying?

It’s an attitude. No, really. Instead of thinking how you move the controls to get the airplane to do what you want, you think of how you move the airplane to get it to do what you want.

You take the controls out of the loop. You put yourself and your airplane in a loop, and become what experienced pilots call a closed-loop pilot. In other words, your airplane is giving you an instant and continuous feedback on the effect of your hands and feet.

Then you keep your airplane in equilibrium unless you want to make a change. If a gust bumps the airplane, you immediately put it back in the attitude you know will maintain equilibrium.

Remember the four forces? How if they are balanced the airplane is in equilibrium?

This is one of those well duh! observations that demands further consideration. Sure, it’s simple – but not quite as simple as we first tend to think.

When, for example, is an airplane in equilibrium?

Parked, certainly. Cruise, yes. What about climb and descent? Yes, although that is not as obvious. Approach? Probably. Stabilized approach? Almost certainly.

When, then – besides the takeoff and rolling to a stop after landing – is an airplane not in equilibrium?

Principally, in turns. When the aircraft is changing heading. Why is an airplane not in equilibrium in a turn? Because there is acceleration. You are pulling some G. The pilot is using a force (lift) to bend the flight path. The flight path vector might stay the same length, but it is curved. Where the vector is pointing is changing with time.

The Flight Training Manual

It’s all there, but often overlooked:

  • Exercise 5 – Attitudes and Movements – limits of normal flight:

      • Roll: 30° Bank (unless you are doing a steep turn)

      • Pitch: Cruise Attitude is the reference. Limits are Climb Attitude down to Approach with Flap

      • Inertia: there is a slight lapse of time before the flight path changes

  • Exercise 6 – Straight and Level Flight:

      • Attitude Plus Power Equals Performance

  • Exercise 9 – Turns, second sentence:

      • An accurate level turn may be described as a change of direction, maintaining a desired angle of back, with no slip or skid, while maintaining a desired altitude.

The boldface emphasizes what student pilots often miss. Notice that with the exception of inertia, they all have to do with attitude.

Inertia is the reason attitude flying can help you. Yes, there is a slight lapse of time. If, in Exercise 6, you do the Reducing Airspeed and Increasing Airspeed exercises in a C-172, the speed change will take 15-20 seconds, on average. But in a Bonanza or a Mooney, the same exercises may take a minute. In a large jet aircraft those speed changes may take two minutes or more.

That’s why the pilot has to be aware of whether or not the airplane in in equilibrium. IF a C-172 is not in equilibrium, the change in flight path will show up in a few seconds. But if your faster or larger aircraft is not in the right attitude, you will quickly get behind the aircraft. And even in a C-172, if you exceed 30° of bank and are unaware of it, you can get into trouble quickly.

Why Attitude Flying?

The bottom line: if you fly attitude you will know not just what the instruments say now, but what they will say a minute from now.

Oh – and by the way – you will avoid the other big student pilot error: the continuous roll turn. The student pilot is cautious. He uses just a little bit of aileron to turn. The aircraft rolls slowly and begins to turn. He holds the aileron in, as he would in a car. Then, at some point, he realizes the bank is too steep, so he rolls slowly out of the turn. The problem is that if he is watching the heading indicator, he can roll almost inverted before he notices something is wrong. Moral of the story?

This is not a steering wheel!