December 2008 Issue

Air Work

When exploring an unfamiliar airplane’s slow-speed handling, altitude is your friend.

If your primary training experience was like mine, my instructor and I spent a lot of time coaxing a tired trainer up to altitude, only to come right back down. Much of the time, it was-hot—south-Georgia-in-the-summertime hot—and the little 150 in which I sweated out my private did okay, all things considered. It was pretty far removed from being a homesick angel, however. Spins weren’t in the curriculum then, but we did a bunch of stalls and slow flight. After each abrupt descent, we again explored the 150’s best climb rate configuration and engine cooling capability. Of course, a 150 doesn’t lose that much altitude in a stall, even if aggravated by a sweaty student pilot, himself perhaps aggravated. But, we still took the time to get at least 3000 feet between us and anything hard. Thankfully, we never came close to needing all that room. Since then, as I checked out in larger, faster and heavier airplanes—and obtained spin training—I’ve taken to wanting even more air beneath me before slow-flight or stalls. The issue, of course, is what happens if the airplane enters an inadvertent spin or I screw up the stall recovery. Better to be safe (have too much altitude) than sorry (have not enough). As we will see this month, as airplane weight, performance and complexity increase, so should your minimum altitude for stalls and slow-speed work. This is especially true when neither the pilot receiving instruction nor the instructor are all that familiar with the airplane.

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