Notes from the right seat


Photo by Rob Wicks on Unsplash

AFTER TODAY’s flying lessons I came away with two thoughts of my own that might be of interest.

The first one is about speed control during the approach to land. I’d like to remind you that it’s an error to haul back or shove forward on the yoke to try to “manoeuvre” the airspeed indicator.

If the airspeed isn’t what you want (on approach I’m always asking for 70 knots precisely, in the Grob) you can’t “pull” the speed down by pulling on the yoke, or “push” the needle up by pushing forward on the yoke. If the airspeed isn’t right it’s because your aircraft attitude (read: position of the horizon in the window) isn’t correct. Choose a new attitude – one that you think will be more correct – move the horizon there – pause a few seconds – and check the speed again. Repeat. But be patient. You can’t arrive at the correct speed in any shorter time than that by making deliberately over-large pitch corrections. All that leads to is a lot of nose-up-nose-down-nose-up oscillations, Be patient, and work on trying to get the attitude correct in the first place.

The second thing I learned today was an illustration of how student misunderstanding (or not understanding) gets in the way of being able to follow instructions, and therefore of learning a correct technique.

There we are, just after touchdown, rolling along on two wheels quite fast with a somewhat flat attitude, and even though we’ve officially touched down I want my student to raise the nose to the correct landing attitude. Essentially we allowed the plane to touch down going a little bit fast, and I want to bleed off that extra speed by continuing to raise the nose, before the landing is “over”. I know we have enough energy in the form of airspeed to keep the nose-wheel in the air for at least another 5 or 10 seconds.

If my student can learn to raise the nose to the correct landing attitude even after the main gear is on the ground he gets a few seconds extra practice, and eventually he’ll be able to do it before the main gear is in contact with the ground, and we’ll end up with the perfect landing. So I find myself repeating again and again “keep raising the nose! keep raising the nose!” – and my student isn’t obeying.

At that time I’m left wondering firstly if he can hear me – I presume he can – and whether he understands my words – I think he does – or whether he’s simply so task-saturated he doesn’t have the attention to interpret the words I’m saying. I don’t think that’s the case either. In our debrief after the flight it turns out that my student hasn’t understood that the “holdoff” phase of landing can continue after the plane has settled onto the runway. From his perspective the landing is already over, and he’s wondering why the confused person in the right seat (that’s me) is repeatedly telling him to do something that seems obviously “wrong” and that if done too enthusiastically will cause the plane to fly again. Not what he wants to happen!

One of the important things for a student to develop is their own judgement about what to do. If there’s a misunderstanding in the student’s head about the technique or desired outcome and an instruction is given that appears to contradict what the student is themselves trying to achieve, I can see that in a high stress situation it’s totally logical to ignore the instruction and continue with doing the ‘wrong’ thing, even if that wrong thing is contributing to the stress in the first place.

Let me give you another example: turning the ailerons into the wind after touchdown, when landing in a crosswind. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have to remind students to turn the ailerons fully to the left when landing with a crosswind from the left. Especially when those students are having difficulty keeping the airplane going along the centreline because of that crosswind. Of course I can take the yoke and input the aileron deflection myself, but it’s really important for students to do it for themselves. So I prompt: “ailerons! ailerons! ailerons!”. And many times … nothing happens! The student ignores my instruction.

I think that overloaded student doesn’t appreciate that turning the yoke to the left will help them keep the nose to the right (because of adverse yaw) and will make the steering easier and not harder. They’re probably wondering why the person in the other seat is giving them ridiculous instructions about steering “left” while they’re trying manage an airplane that they want to go more “right”  – as we bounce sideways along the runway scraping the tires and heading for one of the runway edges. Counterintuitively, turning the yoke to the left is the way to go more “right”!

Another example: lowering the nose to recover airspeed on short final. Many times I have to repeatedly instruct someone to lower the nose of the aircraft to regain airspeed that’s got too low at that time. It’s counterintuitive to do so because it makes the aircraft sink (a little) and, if we’re low, the “obvious” thing is to pull back on the yoke. Except that reduces the airspeed, and makes the sink rate increase, making the problem worse. The correct response is to lower the nose, and add some power if the airplane remains too low. But lowering the nose has to come first. It’s very difficult to get students to do this.

So what can we learn from this? Instructors – if your student isn’t following your instruction, it’s time to investigate if there’s a confusion about the intended outcome. It maybe that you and the student have a different understanding of what you’re trying to achieve or a different understanding of the consequence of following your instruction.

And from my students I’d ask for just a little bit more, uh, bravery, in moving the controls the way I suggest. Even if it appears to be “wrong”. As long as I’m in the airplane I’m not going to allow any harm to come to either of us – you can rely on that. Take a leap of faith and do exactly as I say (after all you’re not responsible for the airplane while I’m there, are you?). I guarantee there’s a good reason for it, and that way you’ll learn a little bit faster, too.




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