Making All the Moves
The forces of flight come alive when a pilot or flight student puts one hand on the control, the other hand on the engine throttle control, and presses her feet to the rudder pedals. Once the airplane is in flight, at a safe altitude for some practice flying and in an area mostly free of other airplanes, she can experiment with lift, weight, thrust, and drag.
Almost every model of airplane is equipped with dual controls, meaning that each of the front seats has a set of rudder pedals and a control column within easy reach. This allows a flight instructor to fly along and easily reach the controls to demonstrate a maneuver. Airplane pilots generally sit in the left seat, which is the seat an airline captain sits in, and the right seat is either for flight instructors, co-pilots in large airplanes, or passengers in small planes. The presence of dual controls means nonpilots will sometimes have the flight controls within easy reach, but anyone who is not a pilot or student pilot should never touch the controls without the pilot’s permission.
I often use the word "gently" when I refer to making a control movement. That’s because pilots are rarely gentle enough in making control movements, or as I prefer to think of them, control pressures. Flying is an exercise in grace and subtlety. Abrupt or excessively large control movements make for rough, uncomfortable flights. And besides, they lack beauty. Gentle control movements hold part of the secret to beautiful flying.
One of the things a student pilot learns during a first flight is the function of the control column. The control column moves forward and backward as well as left and right. The control column is directly related to lift. Remember, when lift exceeds weight, the airplane climbs, and when lift is less than weight, the plane descends.
There are two ways for the pilot to increase lift: by pulling the control column gently backward or adding engine power by pushing the throttle control forward. In practice, a pilot would probably do a little of both, but we’ll see what each does separately.
When the pilot pulls the control column backward, the elevator controls tilt slightly upward on the horizontal stabilizer. The relative wind strikes the up-tilted surface and produces a Newtonian reaction downward. When the tail is forced down, the nose is tilted upward. The wings also tilt up, increasing the angle of attack and creating lift.
Another way to add lift is to increase the thrust. When the pilot adds engine power by pushing the throttle forward, the airplane begins to accelerate.
When the relative wind speeds up, the pressure of the air flowing over the wings drops further, and Bernoulli’s lift takes over. The airplane climbs.
By the Book
The word that pilots use to refer to other airplanes flying nearby is traffic. Before any maneuver, in fact at all fames during flight, pilots should be scanning for traffic. Airplanes in the sky are often hard to see, particularly on bright, hazy days. So it’s important to beware of air traffic during flight maneuvers, as well as at all other times.
If you think flying is a very physical activity, think again. Most airplanes are designed to save the pilot from having to do much work. A “trim* control relieves any pressure the pilot might have to hold onto the control column for any length of time, and at most the pilot might move the controls a few inches in any direction. The most physical exercise during a long flight comes in reaching back for the sandwich in your flight bag.
Experienced pilots know that if they carefully coordinate the change in both pitch and power, the airplane flies more smoothly. If a pilot pitches the airplane up, for example, without adding power, it will take just a few seconds for the plane to slow down and begin to descend again. It would be like starting up a hill in your car without continually pressing the accelerator, pretty soon you wouldn’t go any higher, and the steeper the hill, the faster you would lose speed.