Straight and Level Flight (Part 2) - Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display

Power Control

Power produces thrust which, with the appropriate angle of attack of the wing, overcomes the forces of gravity, drag, and inertia to determine airplane performance.

Power control must be related to its effect on altitude and airspeed, since any change in power setting results in a change in the airspeed or the altitude of the airplane. At any given airspeed, the power setting determines whether the airplane is in level flight, in a climb, or in a descent. If the power is increased in straight-and-level flight and the airspeed held constant, the airplane climbs; if power is decreased while the airspeed is held constant, the airplane descends. On the other hand, if altitude is held constant, the power applied determines the airspeed.

The relationship between altitude and airspeed determines the need for a change in pitch or power. If the airspeed is off the desired value, always check the altimeter before deciding that a power change is necessary. Think of altitude and airspeed as interchangeable; altitude can be traded for airspeed by lowering the nose, or convert airspeed to altitude by raising the nose. If altitude is higher than desired and airspeed is low, or vice versa, a change in pitch alone may return the airplane to the desired altitude and airspeed. [Figure 1] If both airspeed and altitude are high or if both are low, then a change in both pitch and power is necessary in order to return to the desired airspeed and altitude. [Figure 2]

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 1. An aircraft decreasing in airspeed while gaining altitude. In this case, the pilot has decreased pitch

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 2. Figure shows both an increase in speed and altitude where pitch adjustment alone is insufficient. In this situation, a reduction of power is also necessary

For changes in airspeed in straight-and-level flight, pitch, bank, and power must be coordinated in order to maintain constant altitude and heading. When power is changed to vary airspeed in straight-and-level flight, a single-engine, propeller-driven airplane tends to change attitude around all axes of movement. Therefore, to maintain constant altitude and heading, apply various control pressures in proportion to the change in power. When power is added to increase airspeed, the pitch instruments indicate a climb unless forward-elevator control pressure is applied as the airspeed changes. With an increase in power, the airplane tends to yaw and roll to the left unless counteracting aileron and rudder pressures are applied. Keeping ahead of these changes requires increasing cross-check speed, which varies with the type of airplane and its torque characteristics, the extent of power and speed change involved.

Power Settings

Power control and airspeed changes are much easier when approximate power settings necessary to maintain various airspeeds in straight-and-level flight are known in advance. However, to change airspeed by any appreciable amount, the common procedure is to underpower or overpower on initial power changes to accelerate the rate of airspeed change. (For small speed changes, or in airplanes that decelerate or accelerate rapidly, overpowering or underpowering is not necessary.)

Consider the example of an airplane that requires 23 inches of mercury ("Hg) to maintain a normal cruising airspeed of 120 knots, and 18 "Hg to maintain an airspeed of 100 knots. The reduction in airspeed from 120 knots to 100 knots while maintaining straight-and-level flight is discussed below and illustrated in Figures 3, 4, and 5.

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 3. Straight-and-level flight (normal cruising speed)

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 4. Straight-and-level flight (airspeed decreasing)

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 5. Straight-and-level flight (reduced airspeed stabilized)

Instrument indications, prior to the power reduction, are shown in Figure 3. The basic attitude is established and maintained on the attitude indicator. The specific pitch, bank, and power control requirements are detected on these primary instruments:

Altimeter—Primary Pitch
Heading Indicator—Primary Bank
Airspeed Indicator—Primary Power

Supporting pitch and bank instruments are shown in Figure 3. Note that the supporting power instrument is the manifold pressure gauge (or tachometer if the propeller is fixed pitch). However, when a smooth power reduction to approximately 15 "Hg (underpower) is made, the manifold pressure gauge becomes the primary power instrument. [Figure 4] With practice, power setting can be changed with only a brief glance at the power instrument, by sensing the movement of the throttle, the change in sound, and the changes in the feel of control pressures.

As the thrust decreases, increase the speed of the cross-check and be ready to apply left rudder, back-elevator, and aileron control pressure the instant the pitch and bank instruments show a deviation from altitude and heading. As proficiency is obtained, a pilot will learn to cross-check, interpret, and control the changes with no deviation of heading and altitude. Assuming smooth air and ideal control technique, as airspeed decreases, a proportionate increase in airplane pitch attitude is required to maintain altitude. Similarly, effective torque control means counteracting yaw with rudder pressure.

As the power is reduced, the altimeter is primary for pitch, the heading indicator is primary for bank, and the manifold pressure gauge is momentarily primary for power (at 15 "Hg in Figure 4). Control pressures should be trimmed off as the airplane decelerates. As the airspeed approaches the desired airspeed of 100 knots, the manifold pressure is adjusted to approximately 18 "Hg and becomes the supporting power instrument. The ASI again becomes primary for power. [Figure 5]

Airspeed Changes in Straight-and-Level Flight

Practice of airspeed changes in straight-and-level flight provides an excellent means of developing increased proficiency in all three basic instrument skills and brings out some common errors to be expected during training in straight-and-level flight. Having learned to control the airplane in a clean configuration (minimum drag conditions), increase proficiency in cross-check and control by practicing speed changes while extending or retracting the flaps and landing gear. While practicing, be sure to comply with the airspeed limitations specified in the POH/AFM for gear and flap operation.

Sudden and exaggerated attitude changes may be necessary in order to maintain straight-and-level flight as the landing gear is extended and the flaps are lowered in some airplanes. The nose tends to pitch down with gear extension, and when flaps are lowered, lift increases momentarily (at partial flap settings) followed by a marked increase in drag as the flaps near maximum extension.

Control technique varies according to the lift and drag characteristics of each airplane. Accordingly, knowledge of the power settings and trim changes associated with different combinations of airspeed, gear, and flap configurations reduces instrument cross-check and interpretation problems. [Figure 6]

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 6. Cross-check supporting instruments

For example, assume that in straight-and-level flight instruments indicate 120 knots with power at 23 "Hg manifold pressure/2,300 revolutions per minute (rpm), gear and flaps up. After reduction in airspeed, with gear and flaps fully extended, straight-and-level flight at the same altitude requires 25 "Hg manifold pressure/2,500 rpm. Maximum gear extension speed is 115 knots; maximum flap extension speed is 105 knots. Airspeed reduction to 95 knots, gear and flaps down, can be made in the following manner:
  1. Maintain rpm at 2,500, since a high power setting is used in full drag configuration.
  2. Reduce manifold pressure to 10 "Hg. As the airspeed decreases, increase cross-check speed.
  3. Make trim adjustments for an increased angle of attack and decrease in torque.
  4. Lower the gear at 115 knots. The nose may tend to pitch down and the rate of deceleration increases. Increase pitch attitude to maintain constant altitude and trim off some of the back-elevator pressures. If full flaps are lowered at 105 knots, cross-check, interpretation, and control must be very rapid. A simpler technique is to stabilize attitude with gear down before lowering the flaps.
  5. Since 18 "Hg manifold pressure holds level flight at 100 knots with the gear down, increase power smoothly to that setting as the ASI shows approximately 105 knots, and retrim. The attitude indicator now shows approximately two-and-a-half bar width nose-high in straight-and-level flight.
  6. Actuate the flap control and simultaneously increase power to the predetermined setting (25 "Hg) for the desired airspeed, and trim off the pressures necessary to hold constant altitude and heading. The attitude indicator now shows a bar width nose-low in straight-and-level flight at 95 knots.

Trim Technique

Trim control is one of the most important flight habits to cultivate. Trimming refers to relieving any control pressures that need to be applied by the pilot to the control surfaces to maintain a desired flight attitude. The desired result is for the pilot to be able to take his or her hands off the control surfaces and have the aircraft remain in the current attitude. Once the aircraft is trimmed for hands-off flight, the pilot is able to devote more time to monitoring the flight instruments and other aircraft systems.

In order to trim the aircraft, apply pressure to the control surface that needs trimming and roll the trim wheel in the direction pressure is being held. Relax the pressure that is being applied to the control surface and monitor the primary instrument for that attitude. If the desired performance is achieved, fly hands off. If additional trimming is required, redo the trimming steps.

An aircraft is trimmed for a specific airspeed, not pitch attitude or altitude. Any time an aircraft changes airspeed, there is a need to re-trim. For example, an aircraft is flying at 100 knots straight-and-level. An increase of 50 rpm causes the airspeed to increase. As the airspeed increases, additional lift is generated and the aircraft climbs. Once the additional thrust has stabilized at some higher altitude, the airspeed will again stabilize at 100 knots.

This demonstrates how trim is associated with airspeed and not altitude. If the initial altitude is to be maintained, forward pressure would need to be applied to the control wheel while the trim wheel needs to be rolled forward to eliminate any control pressures. Rolling forward on the trim wheel is equal to increasing for a trimmed airspeed. Any time the airspeed is changed, re-trimming is required. Trimming can be accomplished during any transitional period; however, prior to final trimming, the airspeed must be held constant. If the airspeed is allowed to change, the trim is not adjusted properly and the altitude varies until the airspeed for which the aircraft is trimmed is achieved.

Common Errors in Straight-and-Level Flight


Pitch errors usually result from the following errors:

1. Improper adjustment of the yellow chevron (aircraft symbol) on the attitude indicator. Corrective Action: Once the aircraft has leveled off and the airspeed has stabilized, make small corrections to the pitch attitude to achieve the desired performance. Cross-check the supporting instruments for validation.

2. Insufficient cross-check and interpretation of pitch instruments. [Figure 7]

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 7. Insufficient cross-check. The problem is power and not nose-high. In this case, the pilot decreased pitch inappropriately

Example: The airspeed indication is low. The pilot, believing a nose-high pitch attitude exists, applies forward pressure without noting that a low power setting is the cause of the airspeed discrepancy.

Corrective Action: Increase the rate of cross-check of all the supporting flight instruments. Airspeed and altitude should be stabilized before making a control input.

3. Acceptance of deviations.

Example: A pilot has an altitude range of ±100 feet according to the practical test standards for straight-and level-flight. When the pilot notices that the altitude has deviated by 60 feet, no correction is made because the altitude is holding steady and is within the standards.

Corrective Action: The pilot should cross-check the instruments and, when a deviation is noted, prompt corrective actions should be taken in order to bring the aircraft back to the desired altitude. Deviations from altitude should be expected but not accepted.

4. Overcontrolling—excessive pitch changes.

Example: A pilot notices a deviation in altitude. In an attempt to quickly return to altitude, the pilot makes a large pitch change. The large pitch change destabilizes the attitude and compounds the error.

Corrective Action: Small, smooth corrections should be made in order to recover to the desired altitude (0.5° to 2° depending on the severity of the deviation). Instrument flying is comprised of small corrections to maintain the aircraft attitude. When flying in IMC, a pilot should avoid making large attitude changes in order to avoid loss of aircraft control and spatial disorientation.

5. Failure to maintain pitch corrections.

Pitch changes need to be made promptly and held for validation. Many times pilots make corrections and allow the pitch attitude to change due to not trimming the aircraft. It is imperative that any time a pitch change is made; the trim is readjusted in order to eliminate any control pressures that are being held. A rapid cross-check aids in avoiding any deviations from the desired pitch attitude.

Example: A pilot notices a deviation in altitude. A change in the pitch attitude is accomplished but no adjustment to the trim is made. Distractions cause the pilot to slow the cross-check and an inadvertent reduction in the pressure to the control column commences. The pitch attitude then changes, thus complicating recovery to the desired altitude.

Corrective Action: The pilot should initiate a pitch change and then immediately trim the aircraft to relieve any control pressures. A rapid cross-check should be established in order to validate the desired performance is being achieved.

6. Fixation during cross-check.

Devoting an unequal amount of time to one instrument either for interpretation or assigning too much importance to an instrument. Equal amounts of time should be spent during the cross-check to avoid an unnoticed deviation in one of the aircraft attitudes.

Example: A pilot makes a correction to the pitch attitude and then devotes all of the attention to the altimeter to determine if the pitch correction is valid. During this time, no attention is paid to the heading indicator, which shows a turn to the left. [Figure 8]

Straight and Level Flight, Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers Using an Electronic Flight Display
Figure 8. The pilot has fixated on pitch and altitude, leaving bank indications unattended. Note the trend line to the left

Corrective Action: The pilot should monitor all instrumentation during the cross-check. Do not fixate on one instrument waiting for validation. Continue to scan all instruments to avoid allowing the aircraft to begin a deviation in another attitude.


Heading errors usually result from but are not limited to the following errors:
  1. Failure to cross-check the heading indicator, especially during changes in power or pitch attitude.
  2. Misinterpretation of changes in heading, with resulting corrections in the wrong direction.
  3. Failure to note and remember a preselected heading.
  4. Failure to observe the rate of heading change and its relation to bank attitude.
  5. Overcontrolling in response to heading changes, especially during changes in power settings.
  6. Anticipating heading changes with premature application of rudder pressure.
  7. Failure to correct small heading deviations. Unless zero error in heading is the goal, a pilot will tolerate larger and larger deviations. Correction of a 1 degree error takes far less time and concentration than correction of a 20° error.
  8. Correcting with improper bank attitude. If correcting a 10° heading error with a 20° bank correction, the aircraft will roll past the desired heading before the bank is established, requiring another correction in the opposite direction. Do not multiply existing errors with errors in corrective technique.
  9. Failure to note the cause of a previous heading error and thus repeating the same error. For example, the airplane is out of trim with a left wing low tendency. Repeated corrections for a slight left turn are made, yet trim is ignored.


Power errors usually result from but are not limited to the following errors:

1. Failure to become familiar with the aircraft’s specific power settings and pitch attitudes.

2. Abrupt use of throttle.

3. Failure to lead the airspeed when making power changes, climbs, or descents.

Example: When leveling off from a descent, increase the power in order to avoid the airspeed from bleeding off due to the decrease in momentum of the aircraft. If the pilot waits to bring in the power until after the aircraft is established in the level pitch attitude, the aircraft will have already decreased below the speed desired, which will require additional adjustment in the power setting.

4. Fixation on airspeed tape or manifold pressure indications during airspeed changes, resulting in erratic control of airspeed, power, as well as pitch and bank attitudes.


Trim errors usually result from the following faults:
  1. Improper adjustment of seat or rudder pedals for comfortable position of legs and feet. Tension in the ankles makes it difficult to relax rudder pressures.
  2. Confusion about the operation of trim devices, which differ among various airplane types. Some trim wheels are aligned appropriately with the airplane’s axes; others are not. Some rotate in a direction contrary to expectations.
  3. Failure to understand the principles of trim and that the aircraft is being trimmed for airspeed, not a pitch attitude.
  4. Faulty sequence in trim techniques. Trim should be utilized to relieve control pressures, not to change pitch attitudes. The proper trim technique has the pilot holding the control wheel first and then trimming to relieve any control pressures. Continuous trim changes are required as the power setting is changed. Utilize the trim continuously, but in small amounts.

Straight and Level Flight Part 1 (Using an Electronic Flight Display)
Straight Climbs and Descents (Using an Electronic Flight Display)
Turns (Using an Electronic Flight Display)
Instrument Takeoff (Using an Electronic Flight Display)
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