It’s important to understand the purpose behind teach and learning certain basic flight maneuvers.
With technology continually changing in the aviation world, flying airplanes has become more automated. With glass panel navigation to autopilot controls, the pilot can at times seem ALMOST not necessary. However, we all know that is not true and technology is well known for malfunctioning, especially at the worst times. With all that said, many of the basic flight maneuvers that are taught in flight school may seem very outdated to pilots. It is important to not only know how to do the maneuvers but why they are still being taught to student pilots.
Any flight student, current or past, will tell you there was never a shortage of training maneuvers. From basically day 1, students begin learning stalls, slow flight, steep turns and of course emergency procedures. Each of these has their own set of skills that safely teaches a new pilot how to handle the airplane in specific configurations. It creates a useful training environment to teach the student how the aircraft handles, what to watch for and how to adjust accordingly depending on what is happening or required.
Basic Flight Maneuvers – Stalls
One of the first maneuvers introduced are stalls. Many times, people do not have a clear understanding of what a stall is. Anyone uneducated in aviation tends to say or think it is an engine stall. In reality, is the loss of lift. Stalls can occur at high airspeeds as well as low. Stalls are taught utilizing flaps up, flaps down, throttle out as well as full throttle. The student will set the stall up in the specific configuration and if they are working for their Private pilot certificate, they have to bring the aircraft to a full stall. The purpose of this training maneuver is to teach a student to recognize a stall before it occurs as well as being able to safely recover with minimal loss of altitude and heading change. When a pilot goes on to the airlines, the airplanes will be bigger and faster, but they can still stall, and it becomes way more dramatic, dangerous and scary for passengers. So, pilots are taught how to deal with stalls and prevent them early on. Stalls are practiced at higher altitudes so a student can make mistakes in order to learn, but it’s important that they understand a stall can occur at any altitude, especially takeoff and landing when they are low to the ground. When they are low to the ground, they do not have the luxury of altitude for recovery and many low-level stalls have taken the lives of many pilots on takeoffs and landings.
Basic Flight Maneuvers – Slow Flight
Another flight maneuver that is introduced is slow flight. The purpose of this maneuver is to put the aircraft in a nose high, slow speed, unstable situation. There are two configurations required, with full flaps and with takeoff flap setting (depending on the aircraft). The student will set the aircraft up to the airspeed and pitch just below the stalling point. The stall warning horn will be going off. They are then required to make two 90-degree turns, one to the left and one to the right. Depending on where in their training they are at, private or commercial, they have specific standards to maintain such as how much bank angle they can exceed or how much altitude they can gain or lose. If the turn is too steep and become uncoordinated, the plane can easily go into a stall and if too uncoordinated could become a spin. A student may think this situation won’t happen on a “normal day, normal flight” but this situation can happen very easily especially coming in for a landing. They begin to sink too quickly and the student will then pull back causing a nose high, low air speed and because landing is a busy stressful time, they may not even realize what is happening. And as previously discussed, stalls at a low altitude are many times, not successfully recovered.
Basic Flight Maneuvers – Steep Turns
Steep turns tend to be considered a more “fun” maneuver. They are steep turns, usually 45 to 50-degrees of bank while at normal cruising speed such as 100 knots in a Cessna-152. The point of this maneuver is to teach the student to do 2 360-degree turns in both directions while maintaining their airspeed and altitude and rolling out on their starting heading after each turn. The purpose of this maneuver is for a pilot to know how to do a high-speed steep turn safely without placing themselves in an unusual and unsafe attitude. As discussed previously, it is easy for a pilot to become overwhelmed, like on landing and be asked to make a sharp left or right turn, and then they panic or get behind the aircraft and then they can lose their bearings, pitch the nose up and place themselves into a high-speed stall, or even a spin. Making student pilots practice steep turns teaches them to have a proper scan of all the instruments as well as the horizon and to pay attention to all cues they are being given.
Basic Flight Maneuvers – Emergency Procedures
The training and practice of emergency procedures is a given with any situation that can result in a crash and possible death. In aviation the procedure that is practiced almost every single flight is engine-out procedures. A flight instructor will pull the throttle to idle when the student is not expecting it, on takeoff, landing, practicing maneuvers or just basic flying. The student has to immediately set the aircraft up for landing. They follow their emergency checklist and begin setting up for full shut down and landing wherever the best field, or location is. They have to remember where the winds are coming from, take account of power lines, fences, homes etc and never stray too far away from the location they choose. Depending on what altitude they are at, it will affect how much time they have and how much altitude they have as a buffer. Unless over an airport, instructors will usually decide if the student would have made their field and tell them to go-around. The unplanned procedure allows for the student to learn to adapt and operate under pressure, as much pressure as a fake emergency can allow.
Just like with anything else, practice makes perfect, and continually practicing emergency procedures allows a student to rely on that in an actual emergency. They will tend to revert back to training, and it becomes almost automatic for them. Instructors will also ask students to recite what they would do in other situations such as loss of communications with air traffic control, or an engine fire, or bird strike. Anything that can occur, flight instructors try to teach students to prepare for. Of course, the reality is that no matter the preparation, you can never be prepared for everything. However, until that point, continual training and practice will lay a foundation for a student to rely on as much as possible.
Even with today’s technology and ever-expanding intelligence of airplanes, pilots are still the ultimate authority and decision maker in the aircraft. If all resources failed, it then falls on the pilot. So even though autopilot is wonderful, it may not be there one day so it is important that a pilot never stop learning, practicing and keeping a lookout for danger when flying. Too many times complacency gets the best of people and that’s when mistakes are made. Pilots should always revert back to their training, and remember why they were taught what they were taught, such as basic flight maneuvers, even if in the moment it seemed tedious and monotonous.