“Pushing the Envelope …” 24 February 2018
The training for the Commercial Pilot Certificate includes a great deal of study, and many hours of cross-country flying (mentioned in my last blog), but it also includes practical training that allows the pilot to demonstrate some key performance maneuvers. According to FAR 91.303, it defines “aerobatic flight as an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.” The commercial flight maneuvers, which although takes the airplane to the edges of flight performance and in a general sense, seems like abrupt and abnormal, they do not meet the criteria of being aerobatic flight.
Nonetheless, the pilot who can demonstrate within tolerances of speed, altitude, and heading, all while maintaining constant vigilance outside and inside the cockpit will have shown the examiner that they have mastered a higher level of flight proficiency and aircraft control. Without spending time discussing the technical aspects of each of these maneuvers, I want to specifically share with you my struggles with learning how to fly two of the maneuvers. If you are interested in the technical aspects of “Eights on Pylons” and “180 degree Spirals,” there are hundreds of Yo
uTube videos, and thousands of articles available that provide that kind of insight.
I want to share with you how after struggling to learn how to fly these maneuvers, I eventually I mastered the “Chandelles” and “Lazy Eights.” The chandelle is an aircraft control maneuver where the pilot combines a 180° turn with a climb. The history of the Chandelle comes out of the days of early dogfighting. French aviators during World War I described it as monter en chandelle, or “to climb vertically”. It was used with success by Japanese Zero pilots of the Tainan Air Group in 1942 over New Guinea. It was a maneuver in combat that allowed a pilot to either escape a pursuer (if their climb performance was better) or engage an enemy who was approaching at a higher altitude.
The difficulty with this maneuver lies in the use of precise and consistent bank control, establishing maximum pitch and climb rate, while maintaining sufficient rudder input to counteract the increased left turning tendencies of the aircraft at increased pitch and full power. All the while, the pilot is trying to achieve maximum climb rate by taking the aircraft just above stall speed at the 180 degree turn point. Each time I tried this maneuver in practice, I either failed to enter the maneuver with smooth bank application, or forgot the rudder input, or did not maintain sufficient pitch to maximize the climb rate, or I failed to keep my head out of the cockpit to maintain visual clearance. These are normal mistakes for this maneuver, but for some reason I was struggling to pull it all together. Eventually, with some practice, I was able to master “walking and chewing bubble gum” at the same time or better yet, I was able to apply smooth and accurate bank attitude, while entering the climb at a sufficient angle, while keeping sufficient and proper rudder input, and looking outside for traffic.
My next challenge was the maneuver called “Lazy 8’s.” The FAA describes this maneuver as “a maneuver that is designed to develop the proper coordination of the flight controls across a wide range of airspeeds and attitudes. It is the only standard flight training maneuver that, at no time, flight control pressures are constant. The lazy eight can be loosely described by the ground reference maneuver, S-turns across the road. Recall that S-turns across the road are made of opposing 180° turns. For example, first a 180° turn to the right, followed immediately by a 180° turn to the left. The lazy eight adds both a climb and descent to each 180° segment. The first 90° is a climb; the second 90° is a descent.” So, from the description you might think that this was an easy maneuver to execute, but it was far from that. Imagine trying to fly across a road using visual references, while maintaining constant pitch and bank changes. This maneuver is fluid and shifting with precision and grace. Imagine two ballroom dancers smoothly moving symmetrically across the dance floor and you will get an idea of how the “Lazy 8” should feel.
First, the pilot selects a long road over which the maneuver can be executed and enters the maneuver perpendicular to the road, and at a pre-determined altitude. Next, she/he identifies the location of three visual references at the 45°, 90°, and 135° points. The pilot begins the maneuver by entering a smooth bank to 15° with a smooth application of pitch to maximum pitch at the 45° point. The pilot continues the climb to maximum bank of 30° and maximum altitude gain at the 90° point, and simultaneously reduces pitch and bank to maximum pitch down and 15° bank at the 135° reference point. As the pilot crosses back over the road, she/he should be at the same altitude at which the maneuver began, with wings level, and at level flight. Without stopping the maneuver, the pilot continues the same dance in the opposite direction, all while maintaining smooth pitch/bank application and maintaining outside visual traffic clearance. Sounds like it is a difficult maneuver right? It is! However, with practice, it can be one of the most incredible demonstrations of the precision and skill of a pilot.
My problem with this maneuver early on was my inability to identify really good ground references at the 45°, 90°, and 135° points. So, my instructor made me create a mental checklist before I began the maneuver. First, set power for maneuver speed and maintain. Second, identify altitude at which the maneuver would begin and end. Third, select the three ground references and be clear about where they are located. Next, smoothly and consistently execute the maneuver like you were dancing with your wife on the dance floor. Eventually, this memorized checklist and the visual reference of dancing helped me to master this incredibly difficult, but absolutely skill challenging flight maneuver.
In time, I was able to pass the incredibly difficult commercial written exam, master each of the commercial flight maneuvers, and become familiar enough with the complex airplane in which I took my check ride, which I did pass on the first attempt. It was an incredible feeling to have the examiner hand me the Temporary Airman’s Certificate that read “Commercial Pilot, Single Engine, Land, Instrument,” which I carry with pride in my wallet today. Even so, there was an even more difficult task ahead and the training, study, and efforts I put into this next accomplishment would have an impact on my flying career, even to this day. Endless hours of study of the FAA regulations, performance standards, certificate and training requirements, and endorsement stipulations were all just a small part of what it takes to earn a Certified Flight Instructor Certificate. I had to learn to fly the airplane to commercial standards and demonstrate all of the maneuvers I learned, all from the right seat, while teaching and flying said maneuvers. In my next blog, I will share with you the frustrations, challenges, and successes I had training for my CFI check ride. More later …