Flight Simulator Co-Pilot

by Charles Gulick

Altitude Management

Eagle Field Training Base (Local)

North: 17400. East: 7405. Altitude: 3484. Pitch: 0. Bank: 0.
Heading: 65. Airspeed: Cessna 121. Airspeed: Piper 125.
Throttle: Cessna 22527. Throttle: Piper 22528.
Rudder: 32767. Ailerons: 32767. Flaps: 0.
Elevators: Cessna 32511. Elevators: Piper 36863.
Time: 13:15. Season: 2. Clouds: 0.
Surface Wind: 4 kn., 270 deg.

We learned earlier that these airplanes won't fly for long stretches at a given altitude, unless that altitude happens to suit them. But if we're going to fly like pros, we must fly the airplanes, not the other way around. There are several techniques I want to give you to help you maintain any altitude you select or are assigned.

If you're flying Cessna, one technique should be evident to you from your instrument scan. See if you can pick it out while I talk to Piper.

Piper, there is nothing unusual about what your aircraft is doing right now. You're very standard for the present density altitude. Your elevators are at operational neutral, and you're showing 2050 RPM, which is the optimum power setting for these conditions.

The trick, unfortunately, is holding this altitude, which is tougher for you than for Cessna—considerably tougher. Here's why: Cessna has 160 notches of elevator trim, compared to your 40. But that's not all. Each of Cessna's 160 notches changes the trim by a value of 256. Each of your 40 notches changes the trim by a value of 1024. A little math reveals that you both have the same range of elevator travel, but you have much less control over that travel. That's why you may go crazy in the sky when you use what you think is just a modest amount of trim, like one notch up or down. And that's why really precise control aloft eludes you.

Well, it needn't. The secret is: Use power to control your condition, and use elevator very sparingly. Manage your altitude with power. Correct for changes in altitude by putting on or taking off a notch of power. You'll find that you can hold within 20 feet of your present altitude, 3500, or any other altitude very nicely if you get the power habit. When you're about 20 feet below where you want to be, add a notch of power and nose up to 20 feet over where you want to be. Then (isn't it lovely?) you can ease down for a full 40 feet before you have to repeat the procedure. How's that for mathematical wizardry?

While you're reading here, Recall the mode a few times. Try holding your altitude with elevator. Then start again, and try holding it with power. Do both a couple of times, and judge for yourself.

By the way, don't feel inferior to Cessna. Your throttle control, while it doesn't have the special half-steps that Cessna has, is very comparable in performance. Your engine sound is far superior (Cessna pilots can barely hear their engines unless they rig them with external amplification). And the squeal you hear when the rubber hits the runway is more satisfying than all of Cessna's sounds put together.

Cessna, see how nicely you hold your altitude? The reason is that you have 160 notches of trim to Piper's 40. At a specific altitude, you can usually use one notch of trim to stay straight and level if power doesn't do the job precisely. In the present situation, you're trimmed down one notch from operational neutral. That's what you noticed in particular when you did your scan, isn't it? And for the best result when you do use trim as an adjunct to power, let it be one notch, and let it be down trim. The reason it should be down rather than up is efficiency; you'll get better airspeed.

You have another advantage over Piper pilots, and that's the F6 on your input console. The F6 acts like a half notch of throttle. You can try it for holding altitude before you resort to trim. But remember, it's always a half-notch increase. There's no comparable decrease key. However, you can effect a half-notch decrease with one press of F6 and one press of F8, which will give you half the power reduction of F8 alone.

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