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A Turn for the Better
During a memorable flight review several years ago, my applicant rotated, established a positive climb rate, retracted the gear, crossed his ankles, then retracted his legs by drawing them back under the seat. As nearly every force on earth appeared to yaw the airplane to the left, this fellow sat there calm and serene, like a pilot Buddha in a meditative posture.
I couldn’t help but say, “Excuse me, Lotus Blossom, where are your feet supposed to be?”
I think he replied with an “Ohhmmm,” then promptly put his feet on the rudder pedals. It quickly became clear, though, that his feet had little or no intention of participating in any effort to fly coordinated. Foot faults are not confined to tennis.
By way of contrast, I recently flew with a fellow in a high performance airplane who had me smiling the entire flight. It turns out that he knew something about the rudder pedals, probably because he once towed banners in a hefty taildragger. During a climbing left crosswind turn, in the presence of the airplane’s strong left turning tendencies this fellow applied constant pressure on the right rudder pedal while using a little right aileron to sustain a perfectly coordinated, medium banked left turn. The nose was continuously aligned with the airplane’s curved path, neither pointing outside of it (a slip) or inside of it (a skid).
Rolling out of the left turn for the crosswind leg, his right leg applied additional pressure on the right rudder pedal and a tiny amount of right aileron for a perfectly coordinated rollout. During these pattern maneuvers, it was easy to tell that all his turn entries and exits were perfectly coordinated, but not for the reason you may suspect. When rolling into or out of any turn, the lateral movement of the airplane’s nose appeared to stop as the airplane rotated about its longitudinal axis. That’s the takeaway point here.
Sure, you can fly coordinated by looking at your inclinometer, or by the seat of your pants (assuming you wear your pants when you fly, which I highly recommend). But you can also coordinate the flight controls by controlling the lateral movement of the airplane’s nose by looking directly over the cowling. To do so, you must understand that your rudder pedals serve one very important purpose: They point the nose in the direction you want it to point.
For instance, in straight and level flight, when you roll into a left turn, adverse yaw wants to pull the nose opposite the direction of turn (to the right). Coordinating the turn requires looking over the cowling and applying sufficient rudder to keep the nose from yawing to the right, but not so much that it yaws to the left. During the roll in, the nose should appear stationary as the airplane rotates about its longitudinal axis. When rolling out of a left turn to the right, adverse yaw wants to pull the airplane’s nose to the left. Coordinating the rollout requires that you look directly ahead and apply sufficient rudder to keep the nose from yawing to the left, but not so much that it yaws to the right. During the rollout, the nose should also appear stationary as the airplane rotates about its longitudinal axis. The key here is that when rolling in or out of any turn, the airplane’s nose won’t show any significant lateral (sideways) motion if the turn is properly coordinated.
How can that be? After all, once the turn is started, doesn’t the nose begin moving with the turn? Yes, it does, but since airplanes have inertia, it just doesn’t move all that fast. That’s why you can make a coordinated roll into the turn at a reasonable rate while the nose initially appears not to move. During a coordinated roll out of a turn at a reasonable rate, the lateral motion of the nose appears to cease as the bank is reduced. That’s why the heading remains nearly constant as the rollout begins. To fly coordinated, you should apply appropriate rudder pressure to stop any initial lateral motion of the nose (i.e., yawing) when rolling into or out of a turn at a reasonable rate. This is the same principle that allows you to practice your rudder and aileron coordination by rolling right and left about a distant reference point while your heading remains nearly constant.
Once you’re established in a bank, rudder pressure is adjusted to keep the nose aligned with the curving path made by the airplane, instead of it pointing inside or outside the turn. Sure, you need some outside reference by which to sense this curved path, but once you have that, you can keep the nose pointed in the general direction of turn. Practically speaking, however, it’s the pressure sense on your derriere that helps you keep the airplane coordinated once you’re established in a turn (unless you fly standing up, and I wouldn’t stand for it).
A graduate of the Maharishi Yogi Flight Center might assume the lotus position after liftoff, but hopefully you don’t fancy that idea. It’s far more fun and far safer to fly coordinated, and this is even easier to do now that you know how to control lateral nose movement with your rudder pedals. The results should produce a turn for the better and not for the worse.
Copyright 2012 by Rod Machado. Originally appeared in AOPA Pilot magazine.