Flight Simulator Co-Pilot

by Charles Gulick

Standard Climbs and Descents

Eagle Field Training Base (Local)

North: 17405. East: 7433. Altitude: 2000. Pitch: 0. Bank: 0.
Heading: 45. Airspeed: Cessna 114. Airspeed: Piper 122.
Throttle: Cessna 20479. Throttle: Piper 21463.
Rudder: 32767. Ailerons: 32767. Flaps: 0.
Elevators: Cessna 32767. Elevators: Piper 36863.
Time: 10:00. Season: 2. Clouds: 0.
Surface Wind: 4 kn., 270 deg.

The parameters specified above are the same parameters used in the previous flight, “Straight and Level.” If you're already flying, just press Recall to start over again.

If you're flying Cessna, increase your throttle setting two notches; if you're flying Piper, increase it three notches. Your tach will indicate 2105 RPM in Cessna, 2250 RPM in Piper.

When your VSI settles down, you'll show a steady climb at 500 FPM.

Continue the climb until your altimeter indicates 2700 feet, then press the Pause key and study your instrument panel.

Your airspeed is not perceptibly different from when you were flying straight and level. Pitching up, as a result of increasing your power setting, has not slowed the airplane down. If anything, your airspeed has increased a knot or two, and keeping airspeed virtually constant is highly desirable.

The artificial horizon confirms that you're pitched up approximately 2 1/2 degrees from straight and level. The little abstract aircraft depicted on the face of the instrument is a half mark above the horizon. Thus the attitude indicated on the artificial horizon confirms what the rate of climb is reading: You're in a 500-FPM climb.

Press the Pause key again to resume flying. Now the altimeter confirms what the artificial horizon and the VSI indicate: You're climbing.

Take a view out the right side. In relation to your wing, the horizon has an apparent downward slant in the direction you're flying—indeed, to about the degree you would expect, hmm? That's something worth remembering: If, taking a look off the wing, the earth's horizon slants downward in the direction you're flying, you are climbing. If it slants upward, you're descending. It's so logical, but someday when you're in trouble, you'll learn how easy it is to think illogically.

If you were flying in an overcast, with no outside references at all, you would still know that you were in a standard 500-FPM climb, wouldn't you? Everything on your instrument panel confirms the fact. Remember that.

And remember this: the 500-FPM climb is the most important climb you can have in your repertoire. It's the standard climb for instrument work and for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight, too.

Press your Recall key, returning to the straight-and-level configuration, and again set up a 500-FPM climb—i.e. add two notches to your present power setting for Cessna, three notches for Piper.

Your target altitude is, say, 2300 feet. When the hundreds needle of your altimeter shows you are one edge-mark (20 feet) below that altitude, take off the power you used for the climb—subtract two notches of throttle if flying Cessna, three notches if flying Piper.

Now watch your instruments. The airspeed varies slightly if at all. Your attitude as depicted on the artificial horizon resumes straight and level. The altimeter shows a residue of climb above the 2300 mark, but only briefly. Your VSI oscillates some (in Piper somewhat more than some), but then settles at its zero position. Your RPM is standard for straight and level in this altitude range, as before. And when everything settles down, look where your altimeter is—right where you targeted it when you made your power reduction: 2300 feet. That's precision flying.

So now whenever you're cruising straight and level, and want to climb to a higher altitude and then level off, you know exactly how to do it: In Cessna, increase your power setting two notches; in Piper, increase it three notches. Twenty feet below your desired altitude, decrease your throttle setting the same amount.

Now, press Recall, and return to the original straight and level configuration. This time Piper pilots get to see more of Eagle Field.

In Cessna, reduce your throttle setting two notches. In Piper, reduce it four notches. In both aircraft, this operational opposite of the 500-FPM climb procedure produces its counterpart: a 500-FPM descent. This is a standard-rate descent and the most important descent in your bag of tricks. Again, all the instruments and all your outside views confirm the fact that you're descending. Again, airspeed remains virtually constant, attitude is reflected in the artificial-horizon presentation (hopefully, in the case of Piper), the altimeter counterclocks the descent, the VSI confirms the rate, and everything is where it ought to be. (Note that in Piper the horizon off to your right is now flat, the 500-FPM descent offsetting the nose-up pitch you had while flying straight and level. Also note that the RPM indication in Piper is no longer an exact guide, as it normally is in Cessna, to power setting. The RPM varies in descents, though eventually the tachometer will read your actual RPM. However, the vagaries of the tach should not matter to you once you have the techniques we're working on fixed firmly in your mind.)

If you are currently below 1500 feet, press Recall, and repeat the throttle reduction described above, then read on. Otherwise, just read on.

When your altimeter indicates 1500 feet, add back the power you took off for your 500-FPM descent. The aircraft will gradually level itself, then begin a shallow climb.

Now why is it climbing? Our power and trim are at the same settings we used for straight-and-level flight. What's happening?

Well, the airplane is slowly climbing partly because—to put it as the British might—the airscrew has something more substantial to bite into. This altitude, or to put it more precisely, the density altitude in our immediate environment, finds the airplane in thicker air than at 2000 feet. This means a smidgin more thrust and lift, though the airspeed doesn't change. Changes in altitude, temperature, and moisture in the air, for example, change the density altitude, which affects the performance of the aircraft and often requires small control changes by us.

In the actual aircraft, we could correct for the present shallow climb with a smidgin less power or a smidgin of forward (down) trim on the elevators. But in the simulator, we have only an approximation of really fine control. Thus there's no way to make your Cessna or Piper fly straight and level for very long at just any random altitude without exercising some control. It will, however, fly straight and level for long stretches at certain specific altitudes, which it will choose for itself based on your power/elevator setting and the density altitude the simulator concocts from your weather and season parameters.

As you may have guessed, intermediate power setting—one instead of two ups or downs in Cessna, and one or two instead of three or four in Piper—will yield shallower rates of climb and descent. Use them when you want to gain or lose a little altitude and aren't in a hurry. But remember to return to your previous settings when you reach your target altitude.

So what about trim? If we leave our power setting where it is for straight and level, and trim the elevator to pitch up, won't we climb?

Let's see. Press Recall, and when things settle down we're back to straight and level at 2000, headed over good old Eagle Field. If you're flying Cessna, give two quick elevator notches up. If you're flying Piper, give one elevator notch up.

Sure enough, the nose pitches up. Then the VSI reads up, and then down, temporarily hitting about 1000 FPM, then 0 FPM, until it finally settles on a 500-FPM climb.

Meanwhile, what happened to our airspeed? There's nothing constant about it this time; all we did was trade airspeed for altitude.

What about up elevator plus a higher power setting? Let's see.

Press Recall, then when things settle down, add one notch of power and one notch of up elevator. This yields a climb of about 300 FPM in Cessna and, after considerable oscillation, 500 FPM in Piper.

So we can climb (and descend) with various combinations of power and elevator trim. But after exhaustive experimentation I can assure you that the most efficient and precise control of climbs, descents, and altitude itself is that resulting from specific power settings, with elevator trim only where it will hold a given altitude better than will power alone.

(It is certainly true that, in the actual aircraft, we could and would exert a little back pressure when we added power to climb. But such pressure would be less than is simulated by one notch of elevator in the plane you're flying and far less than is simulated by one notch of trim in Reality mode, which is one reason I find unReality in the simulator more real than Reality.)

And anyway, why use two operations to get a result we can get, smoothly and consistently every time, with one operation? Any aircraft, including your present Cessna or Piper, should be flown in the manner best suited to its design characteristics, rather than according to a generalized theory or the way some other airplane flies.

And it is a fact that, even in the actual aircraft, adding power while cruising straight and level will cause the plane to pitch up and climb, at a rate natural to its airfoil and the power applied. Similarly, a reduction of power will result in a pitch downward and a descent, under the smooth control of the engine all the time. For a simple aerodynamic reason: Pitch follows power.

Understanding how to fly power settings will help you immensely when we fly on instruments alone, as, for example, controlling altitude in an overcast or on an ILS (Instrument Landing System) approach. So, if you hang in there and pay careful attention, you'll wind up flying VFR, IFR, and ILS and everything else—except DOA—with precision.

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