Climbing & Descending

In which I fly with a different Instructor, learn how to preflight and discover that I hate the entire concept of using ‘fingers’ to measure attitude.


Today I learnt about climbing & descending. When I arrived I found out that J was doing theory with someone, so today I was going to fly with M.

First we went through the theory behind a climb. A climb is, unsurprisingly, when the aircraft climbs up to a higher altitude. To do this, the thrust created by the propellor must exceed the drag created by the rest of the plane.

When entering a climb, first the power must be increased to full, the nose must be raised into a climb altitude, the plane moves into a climb speed (around 75kts) and then the plane must be trimmed. Like last week, we used PAST – power, attitude, speed, trim. When moving from a climb into a straight & level cruise, we use ASPT – attitude, speed, power, trim. The attitude should be around ‘3 fingers’ – 3 fingers between the nose of the plane and the horizon – speed should be around 90kts, power to 2900rpm and then trim the plane.

The most commonly used climb is the ‘best rate’ climb, which is where the plane moves at the best speed, which is around 75-80kts. The ‘cruise climb’ is used where the pilot wants to cover a long distance and only gain a small amount of height – the speed for this is about 85kts. The ‘best angle’ climb is used where the pilot wants to gain a large amount of height over a short distance – such as when there are trees at the end of the runway (for example) – the speed for this is about 70kts.

Descending is, unsurprisingly, basically the opposite of climbing – going down! When descending at 70kts (known as the minimum rate of descent), the aircraft loses less altitude per minute. When descending at 80kts, the aircraft travels further but descends more quickly. When descending and then entering a straight & level flight, we use PAST again. Before reducing power, we put the carb heat on so the engine stays warm. The power is put at 1800-2000rpm. The attitude is ‘4 fingers’ – 4 fingers between nose and horizon. The speed is 75kts. When moving into a straight & level cruise, the power is put up to 3000rpm, the speed is 90kts and the attitude is ‘3 fingers’.

We then headed out to the plane and this time I started learning how to physically check the plane before flight. Before flight, you do a walk around to check that all the parts are there and that there are no dings. Important parts to have – wings (2), wheels (3), tail (1), rudder (1), elevator (1), ailerons (2), flaps (2) and a prop. When doing the walk around, you check that all the moving parts are mvoing property and that all the important bolts are there. The fuel and brakes also need to be checked.

Getting in, I got to go through the checklist to start the plane. I managed to find pretty much all the switches and get through it, so I guess I can say I started the plane today!

Take off was the first time I noticed a large difference between M’s teaching style and J’s. M insisted that I keep my hands and feet on the controls at all times, even when he was in control. It was actually good to get an idea about how the controls feel during takeoff, which will make it a lot easier when it comes from me to learn to take off.

During the flight we went through climbing & descending at different speeds. When I fly with J, he does a full demonstration of what to do and then I take control and try. I like that approach because it gives me a full picture of what I’m trying to acheive and what effect it will have on the plane. Today, I didn’t get a demonstration, instead I was given each command separately (‘increase the power to 3000rpm’, ‘raise the nose’) and it was a lot harder to work out what I was trying to do because I didn’t have the overall picture. Also, by having a demonstration beforehand I can get an idea of attitudes, and where the horizon should be on the windscreen before I have to try. Today I didn’t have that idea, so it seemed like I spent a lot of the time guessing about what the attitude of the nose should be.

I seemed to spend a lot more time looking at the instruments today. I don’t know if that is just an element of climbing & descending or a different teaching style, but it felt like I was spending too much time looking at the instruments and not enought time looking outside the plane.

Also, during the flight, M talked a lot more than J which was hard to get used to. He spent a lot of time pointing out landmarks around the airfield, which is good because I need to learn about that, but also annoying because I was trying to concentrate on what I should be doing with the plane.

The main thing that irritated me today was, when I was doing something wrong, instead of telling me how to correct it, he would reach over and move the controls himself. It made it feel less like I was actually flying the plane myself. I mean, it wouldn’t have been that hard for him to say ‘move the stick left to make the wings level’ instead of reaching over and pushing it himself

I also had my hands on the controls during the landing. Like take off, it is handy that I’ve experienced what it feels like before I do it myself.

Overall, I’m a bit disappointed in this lesson. I don’t think I learnt as much as usual, mianly because I didn’t have an idea of what effect what I was doing was going to have. I mean, I knew we were going to climb but knowing that, and having seen it done and seen the effects, is different. I’m not saying M is a bad instructor, and if I’d had him as my instructor from the start I probably wouldn’t notice the difference, but having had J as an instructor as well I can see the differences in their teaching styles and see which one suits me better. I am considering though, depending on how the next few lessons go, asking for another lesson on climbing & descending with J.

I’ve got two lessons next week, with J again. Next lesson is going to be turning which should be fun. I also need to remember to ask whether I need to get some sort of student licence, as the temporary RA-Aus membership I have should have run out by now. Overall, I’d say that today was a good learning experience, if only to give me a better understanding of my own learning style.


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