Can you guess the three ways? Don’t sweat it. I will give you my answers right away. However, if you cannot speculate what my answers will be, then I’ll wager that you are not giving the three methods their proper attention. Although these methods can also apply in visual flying, I am primarily considering the instrument flying environment as I discuss this.
The first way is engaging the autopilot, programming its modes appropriately, then sitting back and serving as the true Pilot-in-Command while “Otto” does the mundane tasks of physically controlling pitch and roll.
The second method is just the opposite: Leave the autopilot and the flight director alone and revert to raw data flying. “Why would I want to do that, Tom? That’s hard work and keeps me far too busy!” About the only logical reason for using this method – unless you take perverse joy in masochism – is to be better prepared for the time the AP/FD computer fails and you are forced to take matters into your own hands until repairs can be made.
The third way is to hand-fly while using the flight director. More common than a complete AP/FD computer failure is the failure of a single autopilot servo. The AP can no longer control both pitch and roll properly but the computer still knows exactly what bank and pitch attitude is called for and can direct the pilot to the proper attitude by movement of the V-bar or cross-pointers.
Have you used all three methods – No! Not in equal amounts! – in the last twelve months? You should have. None of us can remain comfortable and proficient in the three ways unless we practice them at times.
Maybe you are thinking that your annual recurrent training session will address the second and third methods and you will stick with autopilot the rest of the time. Okay. I can buy that approach, but…
The “but” is that neither you nor your instructor will be impressed with your skill when it’s been a year or so since you have last exercised that particular method of airplane control. We are expected to operate to the standards specified in the Practical Test Standards (PTS) applicable to our rating regardless of what method we are using. Keeping the ILS localizer and glideslope within half-scale deflection while hand flying with raw data…whew, that ain’t easy!
So to make both the training provider and yourself come away with more warm, fuzzy, feelings about your skill, please try to practice all three methods with some regularity. Each of us is different and what applies to one will not necessarily apply to another. For example, perhaps a high-time professional who spent years doing instrument instruction may find that he or she may remain totally sharp while using a breakdown of 90-8-2. That is, 90% of the actual flights will be with the autopilot engaged, 8% will be hand flying with no computerized help, and 2% will be hand flying while following the properly-programmed fight director modes.
For the relatively low-time newbie, maybe the breakdown should be 60-20-20. Maybe for the right seat “warmer” – for the few times he or she is actually manipulating the controls in IMC – perhaps 10-50-40 serves best.
I ask you to consider your personal allocation of time spent in the three ways and modify them as needed if your training results are not quite as sharp as you desire.
Author: Tom Clements (King Air Academy)
Banner image: Marco Lima (King Air Nation Community Member)