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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

PLANES FLY LIKE... PLANES

 Black Foot Albatross Taken by Tom at Midway Island. 

I realized something incredibly basic 20 years ago when I was attending Air Force Test Pilot School (TPS). It was kind of a gigantic epiphany for me. When I look back, I think I should’ve known this before. I figured out: planes really fly just like each other. Once to you get past minor differences, planes take-off, cruise, and land mostly like each other regardless of the type. Aircraft pretty much fly the same.

Some of you are probably thinking I’m absolutely cracked to say this; regardless of the aircraft, whether Cessna or B-1, they all act the same. How I can say such a drastic thing? Well, from a certain perspective the following is always true: stick forward, houses bigger; stick backwards, houses smaller. It’s as simple as that.

In my experience, the basic action of flying is always the same. For take-off, you push up the throttles. At some point, you rotate the stick back with a certain “feel.” If that’s not enough, you pull a little more until the aircraft lifts off the ground. After you escape ground effect, you take care of the after take-off checks. While the particulars are a bit different for each type, the general process is consistent for all fixed winged aircraft: you rotate at a certain point, you pull the aircraft to a certain rotation picture, then you hold things until you’re safely away from the ground.

After you’ve flown about 10 different types of aircraft you realize the mechanics are not very different from one aircraft to the next. The desired “feelings” aren’t too different. The physical motions are relatively common. It’s consistent among all the different types of aircraft. You might wonder, “How can this be?”

Aircraft are designed with a relatively common characteristic: they are based on their predecessors. If you look at the design of aircraft over the years, improvements were mostly incremental. What you can see are evolutionary changes from one version to the next. When a design team finds relative goodness in a design philosophy, they tend to stay with what works. Revolutionary advances are not the norm in aviation. As a result, aircraft tend to act very similarly to each other.

That’s why between the C-12 and T-38, control movement during take-off is about the same. Even though one is a supersonic trainer that lifts off at 160 KIAS, and the other is a mini cargo plane taking off at 120 KIAS, they’re interestingly similar. There’s only so much movement a body can do in a cockpit. Within these limitations, designers only have so much to work with.
It’s a common technique to teach flying the T-38 with the pilot’s feet on the floor in the landing phase. The issue is the T-38’s rudder with the gear down is extremely effective. If you used a wing-low landing technique, it’s entirely possible to roll the aircraft upside down with minimal rudder use--i.e., bad common student mistake. As a result, the approved landing technique is to land in a full crab with no cross controls. Since rudder isn’t needed to land, instructors teach their students to leave their feet on the floor to avoid the risk of them accidentally applying rudder at an inopportune time. But, you don’t have to. The T-38 lands wonderfully with a little cross control in a crosswind. With a little judicious use of rudder and aileron, you can avoid the crab landing issues by simply flying the aircraft. The key word is “judicious.” Once you get that perspective--you’re flying the aircraft versus just doing “procedure”--you can safely do a wing-low landing technique in the T-38, just like a Cessna. The mechanics are essentially the same; rudder to point the nose down the runway, aileron to stop the drift--easy-peasy.

Why is this important? When teaching with this knowledge you can avoid having students memorize power settings and aircraft parameters. Instead of getting wrapped up in the nuanced differences of an aircraft’s physical uniqueness, and the cockpit environment where blind procedure seems to prevail, use a teaching philosophy that improves a pilot’s cross-check. Simply use the controls at hand to make the aircraft perform the way it’s supposed to. Sure, there are nuances to learn when mastering the characteristics of a new aircraft. That goes without saying. But, I think you can get there faster if you bring forth basic piloting skills to make the new aircraft perform as it needs without having to inundate your brain with tons of memorized numbers and techniques. After all: planes really fly just like each other.
Cheers
Tom
www.tom-hill.biz

12 comments:

  1. Tom, I like that you pointed out the evolution of one aircraft to the next and getting the general feel during take off and landing. Yes it's good to stick to basics and not inundate the brain with more than necessary. It's best not to make situations harder than what they really are. Simplicity is such an awesome word. Thank you for such a great post!

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    1. Simplicity is the key! Thank you for your comment!

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  2. Sometimes the answer is simple, even with planes it seems. :)

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    1. I think we need to remember that in the other parts of our lives too. Thank you for your comment.

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  3. I think Tom (of T.H.ursday) has got it nailed in this enjoyable post. The only thing missing is an Air Force theory, probably from the late 40s or early 50s suggesting that with a large enough engine (thrust), controlled flight of a ROCK is possible. I look forward to more T.H.ursdays. -C.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Craig. Power is everything. Even I can make a rock fly. Not far... and it may be small. But doable. ")
      I too like Thursdays!

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  4. Thank you for the awesome insight Tom!!

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  5. Tom, I especially love this. After all the years in the simulator I have witnessed so many instructors sharing the "numbers" for power settings. Okay... what happened to just flying the plane?

    I learned a long time ago that a plane is a plane. Make it do what you want. I learned to fly the airspeed with thrust. Too slow, give it more power. I never listened to the power setting gouge... I just flew the plane. That philosophy has carried me far.

    Thank you for a GREAT post!

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  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    I mostly wrote this article to share some of my discoveries from flying many different types of aircraft. When you're first learning to fly and learning your first airplane, the second aircraft looks pretty intimidating. After flying a few, 10, 20 different types of aircraft you begin to see most of them aren't all the mysterious. They might all look different but they all mostly fly like each other. Then, one might think the big airplanes aren't all that much different than the small airplanes.

    One interesting thing is this. By far, the easiest aircraft to land I've flown was the F-15 Eagle. It was almost too simplistic to land that aircraft so smoothly it would be hard to tell you're actually on the ground. The F-15 was just so easy to fly, like most of today's high tech aircraft. But, that's not saying it was easy to employ--i.e. do it's mission. It was just easy to fly from point A to point B and do takeoffs and landings which some of you might be really surprised to hear.

    As for thrust and flying bricks, I once took a few test pilot school students for a flight in the F-4. These guys were top of the line air force fighter pilots with F-15 and F-16 backgrounds. The F4 was from a previous age and really required a little bit more from its pilots to fly well. After the first flight, their incredulous comment was "guys went to war with that aircraft". Yes, the F-4 flew differently than most aircraft. But, with a little experience most could easily learn the F-4's personality traits and start flying it just like any of the other aircraft.

    The amazing thing here is even though these aircraft might be a little different, the human brain has an amazing capacity to adjust to the situation making them all fly like each other.

    Cheers

    Tom

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  7. "Fly the Wing"

    Tim 8DME W ORD

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    1. Excellent Book! How are you doing? A bit cold in your neighborhood...

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