November 2008 Issue

Flying All The Angles

Why measuring your wing’s angle of attack can increase your flight safety.

Are you a proactive or reactive pilot? From our early primary training days, we’ve learned to fly by the airspeed indicator and listen for the stall warning horn when we venture too close to the lower edge of the plane’s airspeed envelope. Or, we live with the monotone blare while practicing the stall series. But what does it really tell us? Like other traditional primary instruments, there is some level of lag in their indications, and the information we receive is delayed or incomplete. Enter the angle of attack (AOA) indicator. While ubiquitous in gliders, where lift is life, chances are good your primary trainer did not have such instrumentation on board, although your training covered the concept of angle of attack. Ah, stalls. During primary training, we memorize the aircraft’s stall speeds, clean and dirty, in 1G flight. We are further admonished that the stall speed increases as the wing loading, as well as gross weight, increases. And then there’s density altitude to consider. All these factors conspire to sabotage lift, and while the dissipation of lift has its place (such as right before touchdown), it’s better to be proactive in preserving lift than chasing its loss.

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