How To Fly Flight Simulators

For other aviation tutorials, click here

by Hal Stoen

minor revision: 13 March, 2013

This narrative, along with aditional content, is available as a CD or an eBook.

For CD information click here. For eBook information click here.

Purpose of this tutorial

Flight simulators are one of the most popular category of computer "games" but they can also be a little daunting. And, in all fairness, they can easily be taken out of the game category and placed in the "serious hobby" category. Many simulator pilots take their craft very seriously, and strive to do things absolutely correctly and by the "book." You will find that in this tutorial I often discuss situations as if you were "there." This is done, in part, to heighten the situational awareness of the simulator pilot.

Hopefully this tutorial will give you enough information to get up in the air and back down on the ground in one piece. Although you can just "hop in and go" it can be difficult and frustrating if you don't know some of the basics of why aircraft behave the way that they do. The flight model for many flight simulators can be quite accurate, so a little knowledge of aerodynamics and flight principals will allow the reader to enjoy the simulation experience even more. Some of this information may be more than the reader initially needs, but it is given so that if you wish to pursue various facets of flying you will have enough basic knowledge to explore further.

About the author

I soloed in 1966 and received my Commercial license several months later. For the next 20-some years I made my living flying airplanes: flight instructing, charters, mail, commuter airline and ending up as a corporate pilot for the last 18 years or so. All toll I spent about 25 years driving airplanes for a living. Of all the things that I did in aviation, I enjoyed flight instructing the most. Teaching in itself is rewarding- doing whatever is necessary to get a student pilot to "see the light" is an incredible rush.

About this current edition

This latest release of "How to fly flight simulators" is an extensive revision of the original that was released in October of 1998. Almost all of the graphics have been revised with current editions, especially those of the individual instruments. Extra graphics have been added where necessary to make explanations more clear. Additional text has been added to discuss items that were not on the original release. Total content has been increased by about 50%. If you have any corrections or suggestions for future revisions please let me know. Thank you.

Simulator used for this tutorial

In this tutorial I have tried to treat the aircraft as it operates in actual use. Some things, like the pre-flight inspection, obviously cannot be performed- simulators do have their limitations. However, they continue to be improved with each release, and I suspect that it will not be that long before we will be able to put on our "virtual reality" glasses and immerse ourselves into an actual "hands-on experience."

There are many simulators out there, however I had to use one for some specific illustrations. In those situations, the graphics are from the "X-Plane" flight simulator, however the items addressed in this tutorial apply to all flight simulators, and for that matter, actual aircraft.

Type aircraft used in this tutorial

For our training purposes we will be using the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a popular single-engine General Aviation airplane.

How things are discussed

The depth of knowledge desired varies from reader to reader. Some just want to know enough to get flying, and there's nothing wrong with that. Some want more detailed information on how things work, and why airplanes do what they do. In order to please both sides, the descriptions are basic-needed knowledge for the various items. If detailed information is available it will follow a "Tell me more." statement. You don't have to read the "Tell me more." stuff, but it will give you more in-depth knowledge.

The "real world" vs the "simulator world"

I get a little sensitive over the phrase "real world" when it is used in flight simulator discussions. To me, it almost sounds pretentious, as if the user really knows what goes on with "real airplanes," and the non-"real world" person lives in a fantasy. Perhaps it does apply to some individuals, but many simmers take their "craft" very seriously, and many are licensed pilots that use a simulator to stay sharp.

Having said that, the term is recognized, so use it I shall, but I'll wince a little bit each time. If you can come up with a better phrase, please let me know.

(Bas Cost Budde of Holland offers: "I usually refer to the 'physical world' where mistakes lead to death, and to the 'computed world' where they don't. Usually.")

Let's fire up the simulator

When the graphics come up on your monitor you are sitting in the cockpit. This is the Cessna 172 panel as shown in the "X-Plane" flight simulator. It may appear different in your simulator. Not a problem, and please don't worry about it. This stuff is standard, and the gauges on the panel are almost always the same no matter which simulator you are using. Sometimes there is a difference in items that apply to a specific simulator- if this is the case, I'll call attention to it. However, if you stuck your head inside of a modern Cessna 172 this is pretty much what you would see.

Don't let the appearance of all these things intimidate you. There is information presented here that you have probably never seen, or needed, before. Pilots take great relish is snowing the "uninitiated". In truth, most of this stuff is really straight-forward.

The instrument panel. What is this stuff?

Let's work our way around the panel and discuss what all of these things do.

Stall warning indicator

When lit: it indicates (along with a "buzzer/horn" ) that the aircraft is at or near a stall condition. This means that the wing is going too slow to create lift to keep the aircraft in the air.

The "N" number for this aircraft When using the radio to communicate you refer to yourself as "Cessna 8742 Golf", "42 Golf" for short.

Tell me more. Every airplane has it's own distinctive "N number". In the United States, the "N" prefix is used, while other countries around the world have their own, some using strictly letters without any numerics. Oh, why do you say "Golf"? Aviation has a phonetic alphabet, same as the one used by the military- it's one of those "inside things". Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf etc.

Airspeed indicator

The numbers are in knots. There is some important information shown by the color coding on the indicator.

The white arc represents the flap operating range. The maximum speed the flaps may be lowered is shown at the "top" of the arc- in this airplane that is 85 knots. The "bottom" of the arc represents the stalling speed of the aircraft with full flaps, in this case about 30 knots.

The green arc represents the normal operating speed range of the aircraft. The "top" of the arc, about 127 knots, is the maximum speed the aircraft should be operated at in turbulent air. The "bottom" of the arc, about 43 knots, is the stall speed of aircraft with no flaps down.

The yellow arc is the caution range. The aircraft should never be operated in this area unless it is in smooth air, ie. no turbulence.

The red line is the maximum demonstrated airspeed this aircraft was designed for. Go above this speed and you become a test pilot and may have structural failure.

A word about Knots, Nautical Miles and "Miles Per Hour"

Aviation picked up a lot of its jargon from sailing, and this can at times be confusing.

Statute Mile This is the measurement that Americans and some other parts of the world, are used to- you probably didn't know that it was called a "statute mile", just calling it a "mile".

A Nautical Mile is 1.1508 Statute miles.

MPH, Miles Per Hour If you cover 20 miles (statute) in one hour, you are traveling at a rate of 20 Miles Per Hour.

Knots If you cover 20 Nautical Miles in one hour, yor are traveling at a rate of 20 Knots.

Notice that you are not traveling at "20 knots per hour", it's not said that way in sailing or aviation. It's just plain "20 knots".

Artificial Horizon

Also known as the Attitude Indicator. The bar with the "U" in the middle represents your airplane from the rear. The blue is the sky and the brown is the earth. The knob on the right adjusts "your airplane" up or down. It should be adjusted when you are in level flight. Using the knob, bring the top of the "wings" up to where they just kiss the blue. Each white horizontal hash-mark represents 5 degrees of pitch, up or down. The white marks along the outside are degrees of bank, 10 degree increments up to 30 degrees then a 60 degree mark.


This shows how high you are. Now, wouldn't you know it but even this can be confusing? This readout is your height above MSL- Mean Sea Level. In the United States the Kollsman Window, the one at the bottom, just above the number "5", reading 29.93, is set to local (or the nearest available) barometric pressure. The phrase "altimeter setting" refers to the numbers set in this window using the knob on the lower left. The hands indicate feet in hundreds and thousands. The small hand is the "thousands hand", and the long hand is the "hundreds hand". In the example above the small hand is just a little past the "1" which represents 1,000 feet- so you know that the aircraft is over 1,000 feet high, but less than 2,000 feet high (because the small hand is still not past the "2"). The long hand is just past the "third hash mark". Each "hash mark" is 20 feet, so we know that we are at 155+/- feet PLUS the 1,000 from the small hand. So, in this example, the aircraft is a 1,155 feet +/- a couple of feet.

Tell me more.

Wait a minute! What happens when you go above 10,000 feet? How is that shown? Well, there's a third "hand" that isn't shown here. It's triangular in shape and goes over the "number of 10,000's feet. So if you were at 10,155 feet there would be a white triangle hand over the number "1". This is called a "three-pointer altimeter".

Confusing? Yep. Potentially dangerous? You bet! For this reason, the "three pointer altimeter" is not legal in many countries. There actually were some accidents in the old days when they were used and aircraft let down to a lower altitude, misread their altimeter, and made an early arrival with our Mother, the Earth. In their place is a digital altimeter that shows the readout in a window on the face of the instrument.

When set with the current altimeter setting the altimeter will indicate your aircraft's altitude above Mean Sea Level. In our case 1,155+/- feet. By using the local (or nearest available) barometric pressure all aircraft in the area are on the same standard assuring proper separation between other aircraft and obstacles.

Altitude readings can be confusing to the new comer in aviation. Let's try to explain this MSL & actual altitude stuff.

MSL stands for "Mean Sea Level". It is the average height of the ocean. The abbreviation "MSL" is understood without being stated in altitudes. If you want to refer to something's height in reference to terrain, the term "AGL" is used- Above Ground Level.

In the example above the airport is at 800 feet MSL, the mountain is at 7,000 feet MSL but is also roughly 6,200 feet AGL. You are cruising along at 9,000 feet MSL but are actually only 8,200 feet AGL, and are clearing that mountain by a comfortable 2,000 feet.

Confusing, huh? That is why MSL, with few exceptions, is used in aviation . That mountain that you just flew over is at 6,200 feet AGL from the perspective of the airport. But look to the right of the mountain and note the valley. The floor of the valley is at 200 feet MSL and to an observer standing there the mountain is 6,800 feet AGL. So if we refer to the height of that mountain reference AGL the information is of little value to you as a pilot. Which is it, 6,200 feet high or 6,800 feet high?

By using MSL as a standard we all dance to the same tune.

VOR heads

These are your navigation displays. This aircraft has two navigation receivers (radios), and two displays for them, one stacked on top of the other. The top one is for "Nav. One" (note the small red window that says "NAV1"), and the bottom one is for "Nav. Two" (note the small red window that says "NAV2"). Let's take a look at one of these things and see what all of that stuff means.

HEADING: A bit of a misnomer here- it's not actually the heading of the airplane. The reading is the result of turning that knob on the lower left, the OBS. On some more expensive aircraft, and even as an option on the 172, you can have the heading "slaved" to the Direction Gyro (discussed later, below) and then it will accurately reflect the aircraft heading. Don't get intimidated by this guy. It's used for navigation and you don't need to understand it for basic flying.

Tell me more.

When tracking a navigational station the vertical needle will indicate your selected course- if it goes to the left you must turn left to re intercept it. If the needle goes to the right you must turn right to re-intercept it. If you are flying an ILS approach the needle will be more sensitive. See the X-Plane Instrument Flying Tutorial for details on instrument flying.

Normally the horizontal needle will just rest in the center position. If an ILS (Instrument Landing System) frequency is tuned in the horizontal needle will represent the glide slope, your "stairway to the approach end of the runway". "Up needle" means that you are too low and must climb to re-intercept the glideslope, "down needle" means that you are too high and must descend to re-intercept the glideslope. Once again, see the X-Plane Instrument Flying Tutorial for details on instrument flying.

Turn coordinator

Like the Artificial Horizon the view is from the rear of your airplane. There is no pitch (up & down) information displayed. If you bank your airplane until the tip of one of the wings is on the hash mark, your aircraft will be making a Standard Rate Turn. In a Standard Rate Turn you will complete a full circle (360 degrees) in two minutes. When flying IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) almost all turns are Standard Rate Turns.

The "window" in the lower half of this instrument is the yaw indicator. Yaw is the rotation around the vertical axis of the aircraft. If the chair that you are sitting in rotates, turn left or right. That's yaw. The rudder is the prime controller of yaw.

In this instrument the yaw indicator is a ball, that thing that you see between the two black vertical lines. It is in a glass tube that is gently curved and filled with kerosene for dampening. You will often hear the phrase "Keep the ball in the center". What that means is to use enough rudder to return to "coordinated" flight- no yaw. As a helpful clue, remember the phrase "step on the ball". If the ball is to the right of center, "step on right rudder" until the ball is in the middle. If the ball is to the left, "step on left rudder" until the ball returns to the area between the two lines. If the window indicator is in other than the center (between those vertical lines) the aircraft is in an "uncoordinated" condition. It's kind of like a dog walking forward but a little sideways at the same time. While not harmful to the aircraft, uncoordinated flight is not aerodynamically efficient.

Heading Indicator, or DG (Directional Gyro)

This instrument tells you which way you are going. The view is from above, looking straight down at your airplane. The magnetic compass is broken down into 360 divisions, this instrument shows it in 5 degree increments. North is 000, or 360- you'll hear it referred to both ways, and either one is totally acceptable. East is 090 degrees, South is 180 degrees, and West is 270 degrees. These four (North, East, South and West) are called "cardinal headings". I don't know why, that's just what they are referred to as. (Reader Julian Grant suggests that this is also derived from the sailing world.)

Heading That orange "triangle" mark at the top is known as a "lubber line", and shows your heading. In this case it is 055 degrees, roughly East, Northeast.

The compass rose The compass rose is the 360 degree circle around the DG. This is a marvelous orientation device. Given your current heading of 055 degrees, which way is South (180 degrees)? Taking a look at the compass rose shows us that a right turn of about 125 degrees to the right would take us to that heading.

Heading bug Located on the compass rose is a movable heading bug, the yellow "M" that is pointing at "E" (East, or 090 degrees). This bug is moved around the rose by rotating the knob on the lower right. The heading bug can be used several ways. When hand flying the aircraft turn the bug to your desired heading. This way you will have a constant visual reminder. If Air Traffic Control gives you a new heading move the heading bug to the new heading and you have your visual reminder.

This instrument is generally referred to as the DG.

Tell me more.

A word about Slaved Gyros There are two different basic ways that a directional Gyro can tell what the heading of the airplane is. In some airplanes there is a knob on the directional gyro that you use to turn the "card" around until it reads the same direction as the magnetic compass. Usually this is done on the runway, just before departure, using the runway heading. This can lead to some minor errors. Minneapolis/St. Paul International's two parallel runways used to be designated as 29, Left and Right (and, of course, at the other end 11 Left and Right), even though their actual magnetic heading was 296 degrees- closer to 300 than 290. Only in the late-nineties were the runways redesignated as 30 Left and Right, and 12 Left and Right. This is all because of that molten iron core in the Earth that slowly drifts around making compass readings change over long periods of time.

Now, if you have a DG that is set by this method, it is a manually set DG and must be checked against the compass from time to time while you are flying along and reset. This is important, as gyros "precess" and slowly drift off of the set heading.

The second type of gyro is one that is "slaved". This gyro is constantly being adjusted by an electrical signal that is generated way back away from any possible magnetic interference- that usually means the tail of the aircraft. The signal goes through a "flux gate", a near cousin of the infamous "flux gate capacitor" from "Back To The Future" movie fame. This signal is amplified and applied to the slaved gyro(s) so that they will always be accurate. This setup requires no adjustment from the pilot.

So, how can you tell if your gyros are "manual set" or "slaved"? When you power up the airplane look at the headings. If they are the same as the compass, you've got slaved gyros. A word of caution. Many times the main DG is slaved, but the co-pilot's DG is not. Also, the main DG may be slaved, but not the ADF card. Usually there will be a notation on these other instruments that says "slaved".

Vertical Velocity Indicator

Also known as "Rate of Climb/Descent Meter" and the "Vertical Speed Indicator". This shows the vertical, either up or down, rate of your aircraft. The scale is in feet per minute in 100 foot increments to 1,000 feet and 500 foot increments to 2,000 feet. This instrument is generally referred to as the VSI.

ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) Card

This is one of the original instruments used for flying on instruments. When tuned to a low-frequency station, the needle will point to the transmitter. For a complete explanation of the ADF, and how it is used to fly an instrument approach, see the tutorial IFR, NDB (ADF) Approaches.

ADF Tuning Head

This tunes in the desired low frequency station and is the source of data supplied to the ADF Card above. In this example, the frequency is 210 Khz (Kilo Hertz: 210 thousand hertz, or 210 thousand cycles per second). The ADF is primarily used for instrument flying, and then mostly for locating the Outer Marker on an ILS (Instrument Landing System) approach. For visual (VFR) flying, which you'll be doing during your training, it is primarily used to "listen to the radio", as it will tune in to the regular radio broadcast frequency range.
Audio Control Panel, with Marker Beacon Receiver

This unit controls which radio you are going to listen to; Com. 1 or 2, Nav. or 2, ADF 1 or 2, DME (see below), or the Mkr. Beacons. In addition there is a Marker Beacon receiver built-in. That's what those buttons "O", "M", and "I" are. When you fly an ILS approach these will light and make Morse code sounds as you cross each location on the approach. ("O" is the Outer Marker, "M" is the Middle Marker, "I" is the Inner Marker.) The Inner Marker is being removed at most locations in the United States having been deemed unnecessary.

Tell me more.

This receiver automatically indicates passage over ground navigation beacons by lights and coded audio signals. Huh? Marker Beacons are points along an ILS that indicate where you are on the approach. The first one that you cross is the Outer Marker, about 5 miles from the end of the runway. When you cross over it the blue light with the "O" on it will flash and you will hear a "dah, dah, dah" on the speaker. About a half mile from the end of the runway you will cross over the Middle Marker, the yellow light with the "M" will light and you will hear a "dit-dah, dit-dah, dit-dah". Lastly, just before the end of the runway, on some approaches- but not all- will be the "Inner Marker". The White "I" button will flash and you will hear a "dit, dit, dit".

DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) readout

This equipment is not on our 172 example airplane, but you may have one on yours. DME will show the distance from the station you have selected in your radio Nav/Com 1 or 2. This unit will also show your ground speed IF you are going directly to or from the station. After acquiring the signal there will be a brief delay and then the unit will display the correct information. The N1 and N2 buttons select which navigation radio you want to use.

The "radio stack", radio 1 (Nav/Com 1). and Radio 2 (Nav/Com 2)

These are actually two units combined into one box, a popular configuration in General Aviation aircraft. The left side, labeled "Com1" is your number one communications radio. The right side, labeled "N1" is your number one navigation receiver. In our 172 the top navigation display (below) is "driven" by Nav. 1, and the bottom display (below) is "driven" by Nav. 2. When you use your microphone to talk to someone, you will be using the "Com." side of the radio. It is a transmitter and a receiver. You cannot transmit over the Navigation side of the radio, only on the Com. side. The "test" button lights up all of the LED lights into "8's" so that you can check to see if any LED segments are burned out.

The top display is "driven" by the "Nav. 1" receiver, the bottom display by the "Nav. 2" receiver.

NOTE: Normally there is a "Transmit Select Switch" that permits the pilot to select which communications radio to transmit from. This switch can be located anywhere but is normally a part of the Audio Control Panel. The feature is not included in this panel, however I mention it because the reader is certain to wonder how you determine which radio to use.


This receiver/transmitter allows Air Traffic Control to see your aircraft better on their radar screens. A transponder receives a signal from the ground radar asking "who are you?" and it will reply in the 4-digit code you have dialed in- in this case 1200, the standard Visual Flight Rules code. In some cases VFR aircraft will be asked to "squawk" a discreet code that is assigned to that aircraft only. In addition there are codes that are reserved for emergency purposes only- 7700 for example indicates an emergency, 7600 is for lost communications, and 7500 is used for hijack.

Tell me more.

Without a transponder the radar controller will just see a fuzzy blip on his screen that is your aircraft. With a transponder he will see two small lines similar to an "=" sign. If the controller asks you to "squawk ident" pressing the "IDT" button will make the "=" sign on his radar fill in and positively identify your aircraft. The "REPLY" illuminates each time your aircraft is interrogated by radar- in Minnesota it will pretty much stay dark while in New York City it will never go out. If you get lonely, pressing the "TST" button will make the "REPLY" illuminate- it will not send an "ident" signal from the transponder.

OFF: What can I say?

SBY: Standby. The unit is warmed up and ready to go.

TST: Test. The LED segments will light up, and the ident light will illuminate. This actually does not make an internal test of the unit's functionality- it just kind of makes the pilot feel better.

ON: The unit is operational

ALT: If your aircraft has an encoding altimeter, this position will allow Air Traffic Control to observe your altitude.

An encoding what? An "encoding" altimeter has circuitry inside the altimeter that encodes the altitude information and piggybacks that information along the transponder signal. If your aircraft is so equipped then you should operate in the "Alt." position. If you don't want ATC to see your altitude (use your imagination), then setting the transponder to "ON" will show your aircraft on radar but will not display your altitude.

GPS Display

Using the Global Positioning Satellites, this unit will show where a location is relative to your current location. You use the 4-way switch at the top to tune/select items from the menu. Once a selection is dialed in, this unit will show you the distance, magnetic heading, and the time (based on your ground sped) to get there. In the case shown, the Bonaire NDB (PJB) is 3,011.6 Nautical miles away, on a heading of 090 degrees. The unit has not had enough time to figure out your ground speed, so it is shown as 0000 kt (knots) and at that speed it would take you "forever" to get there- in this case 999 minutes as that is as high as the unit will count.

APT Is for finding airport codes. "KMSP" is Minneapolis/St. Paul, "KATL" is Atlanta an so on.

VOR is for finding surface navigation stations that are known as "VOR"'s- Very high Omni Range, with the word "high" referring to the radio frequency spectrum. (Versus "low" which is where the NDB's in aviation are located in the radio spectrum.)

NDB is for locating NDB's.

INT is for locating intersections. Huh? Yep, there's intersections out there just like on the ground. You won't get involved with them though until you start flying by instruments, so don't worry about this feature when you start flying.

As an aside, my favorite intersection is down by Mason City, Iowa. If you have ever flown commercially into Minneapolis from the South or East you have probably crossed it as it is the beginning point for most arrivals into MSP. The intersection is actually closer to Clear Lake, Iowa. It is named "Holly", after the late Buddy Holly who died in a plane crash not far away. He, and several others lost their lives there. "The day the music died."

Suction Gauge

There is a vacuum pump on the engine that is used to "drive" some of the instruments.

Tell me more.

Those that are "driven" by vacuum have a small opening on the case of the instrument (with a filter) that is plumbed with tubing down to a small wheel, much like an old fashioned water wheel. The vacuum line is plumbed up opposite of the air line coming in, and the air passage "spins up" the instrument involved. The "instrument involved" could be any instrument that uses a gyroscope. This could be a "Turn and Bank" indicator or a Artificial Horizon for example. Why use suction? Because it is cheap and reliable. Some gyro-driven instruments use ship's power to drive the gyros, normally 12 or 24 volts DC, depending on the aircraft. If the gyros are driven by electricity, there will always be a marking on the gyro to that effect. Something like "DC" for example. In many aircraft the Attitude Indicator will be electric, and the Turn and Bank indicator will be vacuum powered. This way one can back up the other in case of failure. And lastly, why do they call it a "Suction Gauge" when it's really a vacuum gauge? Well, in some aircraft they do. There's no rhyme or reason to it. That's just the way aviation is.

Fuel Gauge

This one is important. In the Cessna 172 it's pretty simple. There's fuel in both wings and the gauge reads the total. However, in some airplanes the gauge reads the quantity of the tank that has been selected. And, in some airplanes, the fuel gauge can be selected to read a tank other than the one the engine(s) are running off of. You can see the potential for disaster here. It is up to you, the pilot, to understand how the fuel system in the aircraft that you are flying operates.

Fuel Flow Gauge

Shows how much fuel is being burned by the engine in P.P.H.- Pounds Per Hour. Aviation fuel (Avgas) weighs six pounds per gallon. It's a little more dense when it is cold, and a little less dense when it is warm, so the actual weight varies by a minor amount depending on the temperature. However, given the amount of fuel on a General Aviation airplane like the Cessna 172 this variance is negligible. What really counts is energy- how much mechanical energy the engine can convert into turning that propeller out front from the energy it burns in the form of Avgas. Quiet franklly, measuring the fuel flow in PPH is a little overkill in a 172, but it is good training as you will see this format used in almost all of the larger aircraft that you decide to fly later. Oh, and about that propeller turning out front- the one that uses fuel measured in pounds. It's there to keep the pilot should see him sweat when it quits turning. (OK, OK, I'm sorry- cheap aviation humor.)

Exhaust Gas Temperature Gauge

Known by the acronym "EGT". There is a probe located in the exhaust that supplies this gauge with its information. The purpose of this gauge is to allow the pilot to lean the fuel flow to the engine for optimum performance and fuel conservation in cruise conditions.

Tell me more.

To lean the mixture, slowly pullback on the Mixture control and watch as the EGT increases. The EGT is increasing because you are removing excess fuel from the engine. This excess fuel helps to cool the engine. As the EGT increases continue to slowly lean the mixture until the EGT peaks and then starts to go back down again. At this point, you have removed so much excess fuel that the air coming into the engine is starting to act as a cooling agent. This is know as "peak EGT". Procedures vary from aircraft to aircraft but for the 172 you can lean to "peak EGT" at cruise power only. Make certain that the mixture is full rich before takeoff and landing, or any operation that requires full power.

You don't have to lean the engine. You can cruise around happy as a clam leaving the mixture full rich. Of course, if you do that you'll eat up a lot of fuel in the process, and probably foul up the spark plugs because of the too-rich fuel mixture. See, as the airplane climbs, the air becomes thinner and this changes the fuel/air ratio in the engine. As the air thins, and if you don't decrease the fuel coming in, then the engine runs too rich and is less efficient. You're not hurting the engine when you lean it, you're actually helping it to run more efficiently. This applies to both carburated and fuel injected engines.


Engine RPM. In the case of the Cessna 172 there is no gearing between the crankshaft and the propeller so engine RPM and propeller RPM are one and the same. The green area is the normal operating range, the red line is the maximum. On take off, the 172 is "firewalled"- full power is applied. It's not like a car leaving a stop sign where you push down on the gas pedal enough to get you going and accelerate to whatever speed you want. In an airplane it's all the way. There are exceptions on turbine powered (turboprop, "jets") and turbocharged airplanes, but for this stage of your training, it's put the pedal to the metal. And, it's left there until you reach your cruising altitude. Some airplanes use a reduced power setting for climb, and some have what is called "METO power"- Maximum, Except Take Off".

Trim Wheel, Trim Indicator, Flap Lever & Brake Indicator

Trim Wheel: That's the one on the left side. It's a round wheel that has "knurls" on it so that your fingers can move it easier. The idea is that you want to be able to take your hands off of the wheel (the "flying wheel", not the trim wheel), and the airplane will not pitch up or down. This makes for a safer operation, and also relieves the pilot of "fighting" the wheel by having to push down or up all the time.

Tell me more.

Here's how it works: On the elevator, the horizontal part of the tail that moves up and down, there is a small moveable surface about 10 inches or so long. It is connected by linkage and cables to the trim wheel in the cockpit. Let's say that you are flying along and because of passenger load in the rear seats the airplane wants to pitch up when you take your hands off of the wheel. You roll the trim wheel forward. This makes that small moveable surface back on the elevator (it's called a "trim tab") move up. When it moves up, it gets hit by the air flowing over the elevator, and that air striking the trim tab forces the elevator down. When the elevator goes down, air striking it pushes the tail up, and the nose down, and relieves you the pilot of having to hold the wheel forward. You roll this wheel back and forth until the control wheel is "neutral"- letting go of the control wheel doesn't allow the airplane to pitch up or down.

The 172 only has trim for the pitch axis. On some aircraft there are trim wheels, or knobs, for all three axis: pitch, roll and yaw. On the 172, and on many of the smaller General Aviation aircraft, there is a small tab on one of the ailerons- the devices on the wings that make the airplane roll. If the aircraft has a tendency to always want to roll one way or the other you can bend this tab up or down until you get the airplane to be neutral. It's a trial and error thing, a little crude perhaps, but simple, cheap and effective.

Normally, you want to trim the aircraft where the pressure on the wheel is "neutral", be that in climb, cruise or landing.

Trim Indicator: Thats the "window" just to the right of the trim wheel. It indicates if the elevator trim is adjusted up or down. Now, you don't look at this thing when you are in flight and trimming the aircraft for neutral- that's done by feel. You'll know when the wheel is neutral just by the force feedback on your hand. The trim indicator is part of your pre-flight inspection and takeoff check list. If it is not in the center position you may find that the aircraft wants to pop off of the runway before you're ready, or requires extreme up pressure to get off of the runway. Either condition is potentially dangerous as it will distract the pilot a very critical phase of operation- the takeoff. There have been accidents that are directly attributable to the trim being set to one extreme or the other.

Wing Flaps: The fourth item from the left. It's difficult to see in this straight on drawing, but the flap lever (the white horizontal thing just above the letter "W" in the words "Wing Flaps", is shaped like an airfoil. It's thick at the front, the part that is next to the panel, and tapers to an edge at the rear, the part facing you. It is done this way so that you can reach over while looking outside during a landing and tell by feel that you have the flap lever- no other control in the cockpit has this look or feel. In airplanes that have retractable landing gear, the gear lever is round, just like a wheel. This is done for the same reason- you can reach over and tell by its distinctive feel that it is the gear lever. If you were to look into the cockpit of a Boeing 747, or an Airbus 300 you would see the very same setup.

On the trailing edge of the wings, from the fuselage (cabin) outwards for a few feet, are the flaps. Flaps, in effect, increase the lifting capability of the wings. There are many designs, "split", "Fowler", "slatted", and so on. For our purposes, we'll just call them "flaps". In the up position, they tuck into the wing and have no bearing on the aircraft. As they are lowered (you must be in the "white range" on the airspeed indicator) they increase drag, slowing the airplane down, and decrease the stall speed, because they create lift. Flaps are almost always used when landing, and are sometimes used for takeoffs. "Pressing" the lever down increases the flap extension, until you get to maximum extension when the lever is all of the way down.

Just to the left of the flap lever is a vertical slot with a small white tab sticking out. This is a visual indicator of where the flaps are: up, down or partially extended.

Brakes: When the brakes are pressed, this lights up. This is an exclusive to flight simulators, and is not in the actual airplane.

The power quadrant

These fellows are totally foreign to what you are used to seeing in a car.

Throttle: When the engine is a it's lowest power setting, the knob is pulled all of the way back. For maximum power, push it all of the way forward. Most airplane throttles on general aviation airplanes have a twist feature that will lock the knob and prevent it from creeping in or out.

Mixture: Here's another new concept, touched on in the discussion of the EGT gauge above. This control adjusts the amount of fuel going into the engine. This control is always used to shut down the engine. To stop the engine, pull the throttle back to idle and then pull the mixture control all of the way back. Once the engine has stopped you can turn the ignition (see below) to the "off" position.

Tell me more.

Piston-powered airplane engines are air cooled. There are exceptions, but for all intents and purposes air moving across the engine casing is what prevents the engine from overheating. In a car, you have coolant circulating around the engine, and the temperature is maintained by the thermostat. In an airplane, the cooling is from the air, and from using excess fuel. In addition, when you are at altitude the engine will be running too rich because the air is thinner and the fuel/air ratio is not the same as it was on the ground where the air is more dense. When full power is applied, most aircraft engines automatically go into an "extra rich mode" to help cool the engine. It is primarily for this reason that partial-power takeoffs are not recommended. Some engines allow leaning during the climb, some do not. This information will be in the Pilot's Operating Handbook.

Carb. Heat: A confusing concept to the new pilot. This control brings in warm air to the carburetor to prevent the formation of carburetor ice. It is the nature of the carburetor's design that air expands within the device. When air expands it cools and often gives up moisture content. If the temperature is right, and the moisture is there, ice will form inside of the carburetor. Pulling on Carb. Heat will melt this ice.

Tell me more. Generally speaking, from an aircraft operational standpoint, carb. heat is either "on", or "off". Full out (on), or full in (off). The use of partial carb. heat is discouraged. The reason for this is that it is very difficult for the pilot to know if there is ice in the carburetor or not. If, suspecting that carburetor ice is forming, the pilot pull out carb. heat to some intermediate position, and it is not enough to melt the ice as it forms, then the carburetor will continue to ice up until it is choked with the stuff and the engine quits. Along that line, if the pilot waits too long to use carb. heat, there may be insufficient airflow to melt the ice even with full carb. heat applied.

In addition, the air used by carb. heat is taken from outside of the air filter. Thus you are applying potentially dirty air to the engine and may cause premature wear. (There is baffling installed that routes air around the engine, warming it- it is this air that is used when you apply carb. heat.) Lastly, just to muck up the water a little more, when you use carb. heat you are changing the fuel/air ration to the engine. Huh? Warm air (carb. heat air) is less dense than cool air. When you pull on carb. heat, the air is warmer and therefore less dense, but the amount of fuel being introduced doesn't change. So, the net result is that the mixture becomes richer and the engine will run less efficient. In fact, you will notice this effect when you do your engine run up before departure. One of the checklist items is to pull on carb. heat. When you do, the engine will run slightly rougher and the RPM will drop. If this doesn't happen, there is a problem with the carb. heat control and you do not want to take that airplane up into the sky.

When flying a fixed-pitch propeller airplane like the 172 (for a discussion of fixed-pitch propellers and variable-pitch propellers see the tutorial Throttles, Mixtures and props) it is possible to get carburetor ice while enroute- even though there's not a cloud in the sky. This is all because of the air expansion/temperature change that takes place inside of the carburetor. Generally you will notice that the RPM's are decreasing. If this happens, pull on carb. heat right away. The RPM's will initially fall even more, the engine will run rough while the ice is melted and ingested into the engine, and then the RPM's will pick up again.

There is an after market device that places a temperature probe into the carburetor to help detect ice. If the temps. fall into an established range, a light on the panel will go off. In addition, there is usually a gauge installed on the panel that tells you what the carb. temp. is. If you have this equipment you can use partial carb. heat to keep the temperatures above the melting range. In cold air the atmosphere cannot hold as much moisture and carb. icing is not as great a problem.

Outside Air Temperature gauge

Known by the acronym OAT.


This is the ultimate fail-safe heading instrument. No batteries, no gyros. An ordinary compass sitting in (usually) kerosene, which acts as a dampener and lubricant.

Tell me more. The compass is setting front dead and center because it deserves top billing. Well, it also likes to be away from metal objects and electrical fields and up there by the windshield is a good location. When all else fails, you'll always have the compass. Now, don't think that this simple instrument doesn't have its nuances, it does, in spades. First off, if you turn left the compass will indicate a turn to the right. After a bit it will stop and begin turning in the correct direction. The same thing happens if you turn the other way. If you accelerate, it turns one way- if you decelerate it turns the other. When you stop turning it keeps on going, finally stopping and coming back to read correctly. And, it is affected by the radios. Every compass installation in an airplane has a "correction card" that is on or near the compass. It tells you what you need to steer for a particular heading, usually broken down into those four cardinal headings- North, East, South and West. In addition, on the card will be a check box that tells you if the calibration applies with the radios on or off.

If you were to lose your directional gyro, and had to make an instrument approach, the compass would be very difficult to follow for all of these reasons. Recognizing this, the FAA has a procedure called a "no gyro approach". In it you will be told to make a standard rate turn. Approach will say "Start turn.", and then "Stop turn." anticipating your time to roll out of the turn. This is much more likely to lead to a successful approach than following the magnetic compass would.

Ignition Switch

Off: What can I say?

R: Right, the engine is running on the right magneto only.

L: Left, the engine is running on the left magneto only.

Both: The engine is running on both magnetos.

Ign.: Start. This position engages the starter

Tell me more.

Piston-powered airplane engines run on magnetos. Automobile engines run on alternators or generators. In a car, the voltage is bumped up to a higher voltage by the coil and then distributed by way of the distributor to the individual spark plugs. In an airplane, the magnetos power the spark plugs directly. In a car, if the alternator or any of the other parts between it and the spark plugs fail, the engine quits. In an airplane, there is just a wire between the magneto and the spark plug- possible, but not likely to fail. In a car, there is one spark plug for each cylinder. In an airplane, there are two spark plugs for each cylinder. In a car, the spark plug is placed for the most efficient fuel burn. In an airplane, the spark plugs are placed on the top of each cylinder, and the bottom of each cylinder. ("Top" and "bottom" referring to the top of the cylinder chamber in a flat, horizontally-opposed engine. Whereas in a car the cylinders are usually vertical.)

Why go through all of this trouble? Magnetos do not need any outside source of electricity. They don't need the battery, and they don't need the alternator or a generator. They are completely independent of outside electrical sources. By wiring the output of the magneto directly to the cylinders, all other devices (coil, distributor and their associated wiring are eliminated- less things to fail. And lastly, there are two magnetos on each engine. One magneto fires the top spark plugs, and one fires the bottom spark plugs. If one magneto was to fail, you can continue flying on the second one. If one spark plug was to fail, there is a second one to carry on. Redundancy- airplanes, and the pilots that fly them, like that kind of thing.

One last thing. Magnetos are wired so that they need to be un-grounded to operate. This means that the wire from the magneto needs to go to the engine casing to not operate, ie: "OFF". If this wire was to become loose, the magneto would be "alive". So, the magneto is always un-grounded and the ignition switch grounds the magneto when it is turned to the "OFF" position. This way, if the ignition switch was to fail, or if the ground wire was to come loose, the magneto would still operate.


But, potentially dangerous. If the ignition switch was faulty, or if the ground wire came loose, it would mean that the magneto would be "alive" and ready to furnish power to fire the spark plugs and start the engine. If you had an aircraft in this condition, and if there was any residual fuel in the cylinders (or if the throttle was opened), and the prop was rotated by some unsuspecting person, the engine could start up. For that reason, always treat a propeller as if the engine was "alive", and just rotating it would start the engine. That is another reason why, when shutting down an airplane engine, the first thing that you do is pull the mixture control all of the way back to starve the engine for fuel and thus shutting it down. Only after the prop stops turning do you turn "OFF" the ignition switch.

Starting The Engine

To start the engine, "crack" the throttle. Push the mixture to full rich. Now you get to talk "pilot talk". Look around to make certain that there is no one near the aircraft. Open a window and yell "Clear!" Pause for a second just in case there is someone nearby, and then turn the ignition to the "start" position. (OK, you may feel like a bit of a dufus yelling "Clear!", but starting a car can't hurt anyone- a spinning propeller can.) Once the engine fires, release the ignition and it will spring return to the "both" position. Before you take off, and as part of your departure check list, you will check the magnetos for proper operation. Now that the engine is warm, run the RPM up to around 1,000 RPM- or whatever the Pilot's Operating Manual recommends. Now, turn the ignition switch to the "R", right, position. Now you are operating on only one magneto, and one spark plug in each cylinder. The engine will slow down, and perhaps even run a little rough. This is normal. After all, you have cut the fuel burn efficiency by turning off one of the spark plugs. This drop in RPM shows you that the Right magneto is operating, and that the spark plugs associated with that magneto are OK. Next, go back to the "both" position and allow the engine to speed up and smooth out- it will only take a couple of seconds. Then, turn the ignition switch to the "L", left, position and do the same thing. After you are satisfied that the magnetos are operating normally, you may complete your departure check list.

(Reader Paul Kerry has noted that another reason the engine "dogs down" is that there is increased "mechanical drag" from the non-functioning magneto when switching to single-magneto operation.)

One last thing. If you are flying along and the engine starts running rough, and you have pulled on the carburetor heat to check for ice and it doesn't help, try running on just one magneto or the other. It may be that you have a bad mag. or a fouled spark plug. The engine will run just fine on only one magneto, although the power will decrease some, and the set of spark plugs that are not firing will probably get a little oil fouled in the process. So be it. You just want to get safely to the ground, and the mechanic will check all of these things out during his inspection.

Lighting controls

Battery Turns on the electrical supply to the aircraft systems. You need to turn this on to make the starter work, but if the battery is dead you can still start the engine by "hand propping". This switch is often referred to as the "battery master" switch.

Avionics Turns on the electrical supply to the radios and any electrically driven instruments. In airplanes, these are called "avionics". This switch is often referred to as the "avionics master" switch.

Beacon Turns on the rotating beacon up on top of the tail. In smaller aircraft like the 172, this really is a flashing red light rather than a rotating one. Before you do your engine start, turn this "on". It helps to alert anyone nearby that your airplane is about to come "alive". You should operate the rotating beacon any time that the engine is operating, day or night.

Nav. Lights Turns on the position lights on the airplane. There is a red light on the left wing tip, a green light on the right wing tip, and a white light back in the tail cone. These are the same as the lighting on a ship, a carry-over from that mode of transportation. A partial "memory crutch" here. "Red port wine." Red is the light on the left side, and port is the designation for the left side- starboard is for the right side.

Land. Light Turns on the landing light out in the leading edge of the wing. It is angled down so that you cans see the runway surface shortly before touchdown. It is good practice to turn this on, day or night, when in the traffic pattern or when landing and you are within five miles of the airport.

Pitot heat Turns on an electrical heating element in the pitot tube, that "L" shaped thing out there on the wing.

Air that enters the pitot tube is used to drive the airspeed indicator. The faster you go, the more air is rammed into the tube. This is compared to "static" air that is drawn from a small port back towards the tail cone of the airplane. If there is freezing moisture in the air, it could freeze in the tube an cause the airspeed indicator to fail. For that reason, it is heated. Any time that you are in moisture that is near the freezing temperature, including snow, turn on the pitot heat. As a part of your pre-flight inspection, you should turn on the "battery" switch, and then turn on the "pitot heat". Go out and lightly and quickly touch the pitot tube to see if it is warm, After checking, go back to the cockpit and turn the switches off so that the battery is not drained by the heater. Hmm, you're thinking "If the airspeed indicator uses information from both the pitot tube and the static vent, why is just the pitot tube heated and not the static vent?" An excellent question Grasshopper. The static vent is back in an area that is considered as "non-icing". So there. However, on larger aircraft the static vents are heated- even though they are located in the same part of the aircraft. Go figure.

Cabin light A "rheostat" (actually a potentiometer) that adjust the intensity of the cabin lights so that you can read a chart at night. You really don't want to use this fellow too much at night as you won't be able to see outside very well while it is on, and it will cause a temporary loss in night vision if it is too bright. Experienced pilots carry a flashlight for this purpose.

The Hobbs Meter

Measures engine time. There actually was (and still is to the best of my knowledge) a company that originally made these for airplanes named "Hobbs". Aviation has its nostalgia too, and old-timers like to refer to it that way. It is, nothing more than, an hour meter. The meter is activated by oil pressure, and keeps on counting from engine start to engine stop. Most flight schools charge aircraft usage time by the Hobbs meter, that's why you want to do your training at a small field without a lot of delays- you're paying for flying even though you're sitting on the ground just waiting to take the runway. The Hobbs meter is also used to schedule the aircraft maintenance- usually every 100 hours for General Aviation engines and airframes, although this can be broken down into 25 hour segments. The Hobbs meter is never reset so it is an indicator of the total time on the aircraft, and it seldom fails.


The Wing In a nutshell (and an over-simplification) an airplane flies because the wing has a curve on the top and is flat on the bottom. As the wing moves through the air, the air that meets the front edge must separate and go up and over or down and under the wing. Because of the curve on the top of the wing, the air that flows over it has to travel farther than the air below it, The laws of physics say that the two separated air masses must meet at the trailing edge. The faster moving air on the top in effect creates a lower pressure than that on the bottom and the wing, along with the airplane that is attached to it, "rises" upwards. The end result is called lift.

Airfoil lift is really not quite that simple- in aviation, nothing is quite that simple. If you wish to pursue this subject from an engineering/aerodynamics standpoint, see (With appreciation to Costas Sourelis for pointing this link out to me. Link revised 8/8/03)

THE AILERONS Located out towards the ends of the wing are the ailerons. These devices allow the airplane to turn. They are interconnected so that when one goes up, the other goes down.

Turning the control wheel of the 172 to the right makes the left aileron go down and the right aileron to go up. Air striking the down aileron pushes the left wing up and air striking the up aileron pushes the right wing down. The airplane will roll to the right and continue to roll to the right as long as the wheel is turned and the ailerons are in this position.

For this reason, once the desired angle of bank is reached the wheel is centered to stop the roll. If you don't center the wheel, the airplane will just continue to roll, and will continue to increase the roll until you stop the turn. To stop the turn, the control wheel is turned in the opposite direction until the roll is stopped, and then the wheel is centered. Now you are in a bank, turning, and the wheel is centered. To get out of the bank, and the turn, turn the wheel in the opposite direction. Hold it there until you reach your desired angle of bank. When you reach that desired angle of bank center the wheel and the roll will stop. When you approach level, roll the wheel in the opposite direction until the wings are level and then center the wheel. I know that sounds incredibly confusing, but once you get in the air and try air maneuvers you'll find that it all comes quite natural.
Notice that in a turn (bank) the lift is no longer directly opposite of the ground (gravity) as it is in level flight. Say, for example, that your airplane weighs 2,000 pounds. In level flight the wings are creating 2,000 pounds of lift. Everything is equal, and you're level. However, when you turn the lift is no longer opposite of gravity, some of it is "angled" away from "straight down"- gravity. Because of this the aircraft will descend in a turn. The steeper the bank, the greater the descent rate, the more you have to apply "up" elevator. If you were to go to the extreme, and enter a 90 degree bank, there would be absolutely no lift left to keep the airplane from descending. Actually, in a 172 you will reach this point right around 70 degrees of bank. Remember: you will always have to apply some "up" elevator in a turn, and the steeper the bank the more you will have to pull back on the wheel.

Tell me more. This "phenomena", the aircraft wanting to descend in a turn, probably kills more pilots than anything else in flying. When an airplane "stalls" (covered a little bit down from here) it no longer has enough lift to overcome gravity, and it descends (without a lot of control) until it regains "flying speed" or makes contact with the ground. At some point during flight training the flight instructor will put the student pilot "under the hood". This device blocks out the view to the front and sides, and only permits viewing the instruments on the panel. Suddenly, all of the information that you have been receiving from your inner ears to keep you upright, is invalid. You have to put your life in the hands of all these gauges to remain in a level, stable condition. Trust me, this is not easy to do- it requires an incredible transfer of faith. Before long, if you do not pay attention to the instruments, a wing will lower- either the left or the right, each airplane is different. It's usually the left wing because the pilot uses his left hand on the wheel to drive, and his right hand for power adjustments and radio tuning. Let's say that the left wing drops. Because the wing is no longer level, the airplane enters a bank. Because the airplane is in a bank the lift no longer equals gravity and the airplane starts to descend. As the aircraft descends it starts to pick up speed. Sensing this, the pilot pulls back on the wheel. Because he does not turn back the other way to level the wings and stop the turn- he doesn't know that he should, he's not watching- or believing- the instruments, the bank becomes steeper. Because the bank becomes steeper, the lift opposing gravity becomes even less and the descent rate increases even more.

This continues until one of two things happen: Either the aircraft will continue in a ever-tightening spiral until it impacts the ground- possibly tearing the wings off first, or the pilot levels the wings too late and pulls back on the wheel and enters a stall. The aircraft will most likely snap over in the opposite direction, enter a spin and impact the ground. This is what happened to JFK Jr. off the East Coast of the United States. Lives lost because the pilot, not instrument rated, didn't pay attention to his instruments. If you find yourself in what is affectionately known in aviation as an "unusual attitude" do this: 1.) If the airspeed is increasing, cut the power. If the airspeed is decreasing, apply full power. 2.) If the wings are not level, level them. 3.) If you are climbing, and the airspeed is falling off, gently press the nose down until you stop the airspeed from decreasing. 4.) If you are descending, gently apply back pressure until the airspeed stops increasing. This will return you to level flight. The key word here is gently. Make your control inputs too abrupt and you may damage the airplane.

The elevator Located on the back of the horizontal stabilizer is the elevator. Although it is split into a left and a right side it is considered as one unit.

The elevator moves when you push or pull the control wheel. Pushing the wheel forward lowers the elevator. Air striking this surface forces the tail up and the nose down. Pulling the control wheel back raises the elevator. Air striking the surface in this position forces the tail down and the nose up.

The rudder This is located at the rear of the vertical stabilizer. This control surface controls the yaw of the aircraft, the nose moving left or right- or to be exact the movement about the vertical axis of the aircraft. Twist around in your chair- that's yaw.

The rudder is controlled by pedals on the floor. Pushing the right pedal moves the rudder to the right. Air striking this surface forces the tail to the left and the nose to the right. Pushing the left pedal moves the rudder to the left. Air striking this surface forces the tail to the right and the nose to the left.

The "ball" at the bottom of the Turn Coordinator is the indicator for the rudders effect on the aircraft. If the "ball" is displaced anywhere other than being in the center the aircraft is in an uncoordinated mode. In other words, like the old dog you're tracking sideways. Because of aileron drag when making a turn the aircraft will normally have a "yawing moment". This can be overcome by using appropriate rudder. Also turbulence will tend to yaw the aircraft and this likewise can be controlled by use of the rudder.

In addition, the brakes for the aircraft are also on the rudder pedals. Pushing the top of the pedals down will activate the appropriate left or right brake. And lastly, the aircraft is steered on the ground by the rudder pedals. There is a link that engages nose wheel steering when on the ground, pushing the left pedal will turn the aircraft to the left and vice versa. To the uninitiated, this method of ground steering with your feet can be extremely confusing. On one occasion I spent the better part of an hour with a student just driving around on the surface of the airport until the bulb in his mind went off and he understood how to do the procedure.

Driving airplanes, both in the air, and on the ground, can be confusing.

The flaps This is the last moving surface we have to talk about. Flaps serve three primary purposes on an aircraft, They increase lift, lower the stalling speed and they act as air brakes.

When the flaps are lowered in the 172 they extend back and down. When this happens the effect is to re-configure the surface of the wing, creating a longer distance for the air going over the top and therefore more lift. You don't get something for nothing in physics, and the byproduct of this new lift is drag. During the initial extension of the flaps you get more lift than drag. During the latter part of the extension you get more drag than lift.

Now, here's where this comes into play. On a normal takeoff in a 172, flaps are not used. Why? Mainly because of the drag situation. If you have an engine failure on departure the increased drag from those extended flaps will hasten your arrival with Mother Earth. However, if the field is short, or rough you may be willing to make this tradeoff because of the increased lift available and therefore the shorter takeoff run.

On landing, flaps are always used. An aircraft by its very nature is a slippery beast and trying to slow it down for arrival can be difficult. This is where the flaps come into play. In a landing configuration your primary consideration as a pilot is to maintain the proper approach speed. Increasing or decreasing power will work to a degree but remember that a "clean" airplane does not like to slow down easily. By lowering the flaps you increase the drag of the aircraft. That's why you sometimes hear the phrase "down and dirty" for an aircraft that has the gear down and flaps extended. Having flaps down while landing makes the airspeed easier to control. Finally, when the landing is assured full flaps can be extended to slow the aircraft even more and to lower the touchdown airspeed. This saves on tire wear, brakes & use of runway. For more detail on the landing phase of aircraft operation, see the tutorial How To Land Airplanes.

Joysticks and rudder devices

Trying to fly a simulator without a joystick is just about impossible. The assumption will be made that you are using one. If you don't have a joystick, put it on your "wish list". You don't have to spend a ton of money on one- you can, but you don't have to. The more expensive ones have nifty buttons and switches that can assign tasks to, but if you just want to fly the airplane, and don't mind clicking on the panel with your mouse to lower the gear, raise the flaps, etc. then a plain Jane model will do until you decide what you want. Pedals are an option that will allow you to fine tune your technique, but certainly are not necessary for normal airplane operations. For flying the helicopters, you will want pedals.

OK, that's it for ground school, let's fire up the 172 and go flying....

Let's get started

It's the nature of the simulator that you don't get to perform preflight actions to the exterior of the aircraft. Having said that though, let's take a look at (here I go) the "real world." You're about to climb into an object that travels in a potentially hostile environment- the atmosphere. What a marvelous device the airplane is. It has its own power plant, electrical generator, communications devices, navigational devices, and, depending on the complexity of the aircraft, its own air (pressurized), water, heat and so on. Now, you don't want to climb into this thing that may control your destiny without taking a peek around before you go, do you? Of course not.

The pre-flight inspection

Depending on the aircraft, the first destination is the front office. Are all of the switches "OFF"? You don't want to go moving a propeller around with the ignition on, they sometimes will start the engine that they're connected to. Turn the "Master Switch" to the "ON" position.

See if the electrical fuel pumps (if the aircraft is so equipped) are working. Note the fuel levels on the gauges. Turn the pumps "OFF", and then turn on the navigation lights, rotating beacons and strobe lights. Now walk around the airplane to see if they are all working. Back to the office. Turn off the lights and turn on the pitot heat. Walk over to the pitot tube and gently and quickly brush your fingers across it. If it is warm, the heater is working. If not, wait a second to see if it does warm up. If it doesn't you should not use that aircraft. Period. Back to the office. Lower the flaps, then turn the Master "OFF". Some aircraft have a "cross feed fuel drain" that is activated by pulling a lever in the office. If so, do that now so you can be certain that it is not leaking during your exterior visual inspection. While you are inside, remove any control locks that may be in place to keep the movable surfaces from getting banged around while the aircraft was parked. Now, back outside.

Start by the door that you left from, and walk around the airplane. You're looking for anything unusual. A dent, a tear, a crack, anything that moves that isn't supposed to move. Grasp the aileron and move it up and down. Does it move freely? Any binds or strange noises? As you work your way around the airplane, you'll be draining fuel from various locations. This is done to get rid of any water that may be in the fuel system. There may be only one, there may be a dozen or more. Each time you drain it should be into a clear container so that you can see if there is any water. If you just drain it on the ground, you'll never know if the stuff hitting the ground is water or fuel. If you do find water, keep draining until it is gone. Aircraft use a combination of sumps (low spots) and filters to get rid of water and contaminates. Water, being heavier, will settle in the low spots, the sumps. Contaminates will be caught by the filters.

Now we're up front at the propeller. Try not to move the prop. (that starting up thing), but tug or push on it gently- towards the inside, not on the tips. Always treat propellers as if the ignition was alive. If you must move a propeller, always have your body's balance so that you are leaning away from the engine. Run your fingers along the leading edge of the blades. Any nicks? If there are some, they usually are the result of too high an RPM on the ground, and the prop "wake" pulling small stones up into its arc. If you do find a nick, use a coin to smooth it out. If you can't smooth it out, and you're in doubt, get a mechanic to file it for you. Dressing a prop is an art form. Propellers receive a lot of stress as they rotate, and bend. A small nick in the leading edge can lead to a crack can lead to a failure can lead to a really bad day experience. Usually if a portion of the propeller breaks off the vibration will tear the engine out of the mounts before the pilot can take any action. Before you leave the propeller area look at the ground below the prop. If there are any small stones or rocks, sweep them away with your hands or your shoes- if you don't they may get sucked up into the prop. and make a fatigue mark on it.

Check the fuel levels as you go around the airplane. Visually. Remove the caps and verify that the fuel levels are what you think that they are. Get a ladder if necessary. Make certain that the fuel caps are on tight. Open the access cover to the engine and look around to see if anything is amiss. Check the oil level on the dipstick. Look carefully in the cowling inlets. These allow cooling air to enter- and birds, who love to nest in the nice tight surroundings. Continue your walk around. Look at the tires. At the back of the airplane (the empennage) check the rudder and the elevators the same way that you checked the ailerons. With the flaps extended, tug on them to make certain that they are secure. Look at the flap tracks, the mounting hardware. Everything OK? Then it's back inside. Raise the flaps. Look around the cabin. Any loose objects that may go flying around in turbulence and crack you in the noggin? Stow or secure as necessary.

Take a last look around the airplane to satisfy yourself that you have made a thorough and careful examination of your trusty bird.

Engine start

Now it's time for engine start-up. Using the check list, turn on the Master Switch, then turn on the rotating beacon. This is a nice way to say to anyone near that the airplane is alive and not to go near. Look around you, out all of the windows. Make certain that no one is near the aircraft that could be harmed when it fires up. Turn the magnetos "ON". Open the window, yell out "Clear!" I know, I know, it sounds corny. But what the heck, it's pilot talk, and it just may stop someone from walking into a spinning propeller. Mixture to the "rich" position, crack the throttle, and hit the starter. Look over at the oil pressure gauge and make certain that it is coming up. Apply enough power so that the engine runs smoothly and doesn't vibrate, but not so much that you have to stand on the brakes to hold it in position.

Some aircraft have a "Avionics Master" switch, on others you just turn each radio on individually. Get your taxi clearance from Ground Control if appropriate, or make a blind call on Unicom. See Aircraft Communications for more information on communications techniques.

Engine run-up

Generally speaking, an aircraft's engine will warm up enough during the taxi out to the active runway. Additional running of the engine is not necessary. Remember, modern aircraft engines are tightly cowled and will only be properly cooled when the airplane is flying. See Cowl flaps and engine cooling for more information on this subject.

When you reach the active runway, there will be an area that is used for run-ups. Use this area, don't pull up to the edge of the runway. There may be someone behind you that is ready to go, and you will be blocking his access to the runway. Also, if there is an aircraft behind you, they will not appreciate your running up your engine and spraying their aircraft with stones and sand. Use the run-up area. Look for a clean area, without sand and stone on the ground. If at all possible, position the nose into the wind. This will help to cool the engine, and give you a view of the approach area so that you will know that it is clear of any landing aircraft when you are ready to go. Use the check list.

The departure check list

Look, I flew the same airplane for 15 years. I knew it by heart. I always used the check list. Don't trust your memory. I love airplanes, but just like a dog, they can bite if you give them the opportunity.

If you don't have a check list, use the buzz phrase CIGAR.

C- Controls Free and operating correctly. (The right aileron does go down when you rotate the wheel to the left, doesn't it?) Trim tabs set to the take off range.

I- Instruments Set the DG (Directional Gyro) to the compass heading. Set your HSI heading bug and course needle as necessary. Set your radios to the proper frequencies. Set your transponder as appropriate, but leave it on "standby".

G- Gas Set your fuel selectors to the Main Tanks. Turn on the fuel pump. Make certain that the Mixture knob is in the full rich position.

A- Aircraft Everything OK inside? Seat belt fastened? This is the miscellaneous category.

R- Runup Bring the power up to the recommended RPM. (If you had a constant speed prop, this would be the time that you would "cycle" it.) Now turn off one of the magnetos. There will be a drop in RPM as you are now only running on one ignition system. Turn the mag. back to the "both" position, then turn the other one off. For each engine there is a standard for the maximum RPM drop and the differential between them. Oil pressure OK? Vacuum (suction) gauge reading OK? All right, back to idle. Contact the tower or make a blind radio call.

In August of 2007 "Dani M." wrote me suggesting that an "S" should be added to "CIGAR" making it "CIGARS" with the "S" standing for "security." Seatbelts fastened? Doors fully latched and locked? Cargo/baggage tied-down and secure? It's easy enough in your mind to make the word "cigar" plural, and adding that "s" is not a bad idea. Anything that can make a flight safer is worth considering. (Thanks for your input, "Dani M."

Getting started and configuring the simulator

For our flight training purposes, pick a single-engine airplane from what your simulator offers, preferably the Cessna 172. While not the ideal trainer aircraft, this model is available in most simulator packages.

(Why do I say "....not the ideal trainer aircraft..." when referring to the 172? Well it's certainly isn't to denigrate the airplane, that's for certain. The 172 is a wonderful airplane- comfortable, carries a reasonable load of fuel and passengers, and is easy to fly. Ah, there you go- "...carries a reasonable load...of passengers...easy to fly." As an axiom, it is more or less true that the bigger the plane, the easier it is to fly. If you were paying for your trainer with cold hard cash you sure wouldn't want to be paying for a 4-seater when it's just going to be you and the instructor sitting in there- that's a waste of your money. And you don't want an aircraft that is too easy to fly either. As a student you want- no, you need- an airplane that requires your constant attention- that's how you learn. You want an airplane that will do some nasty stalls, spins and require that you fly it. My "ideal" trainer? Oh, any two-seater tail dragger would do. But, they're hard to find. In the "modern" fleet I think that the 172's smaller brother does nicely- the Cessna 150/152 series. Learn to fly in one of those boys and the first time that you fly a 172 you will be absolutely amazed at how easy it is to fly. And that folks, is just my opinion.)

Then, pick an airport, preferably one with some hills in the area that you can use for reference points. Also, try to pick an airport that has just a single runway, preferably orientated North/South, or East/West. If you can't do this, don't worry about it- the runway orientation will just make it a little easier to see how things work, but it isn't a necessity.

This is the Redlands Airport in California. I had to pick an airport someplace that had some hills in the distance (that part will be explained later), and one with a single runway. It's not necessary that you use this airport, but it will be the one that is used in our landing phase of this tutorial. You are on the ground, runway 08.

Take a little time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the panel and the location of the various instruments. Also note that the airspeed indicator, artificial horizon, altimeter and the directional gyro form a "T". Almost all aircraft, from the lowly trainer to the SST, will have this configuration. Although all of the instruments are important to the safe and proper operation of the aircraft, these four are the most important. That is why they are included in this "T formation".

I will bring this up again when we are airborne but it cannot be said enough. Scan all of the instruments that are on the panel. Obviously they are all there for a reason. Do not fixate on any one of them but practice moving your gaze from one to the other. When you reach the end of your scan, start all over again.

It is almost a certainty that the one item that you do not pay attention to is the one that will deviate from normal. Pay particular attention to the instruments that are in the "T formation".

Let's fly!

Your natural desire at this point is to get in the airplane and "fly around the patch". That's great, and perfectly understandable. If your skill levels permit you to do this then have at it. When you're ready to fine tune things, come on back and pick this lesson plan up again.

One last thing here before we go flying. As a flight instructor I can't really teach you how to fly any more than your Dad could teach you how to ride a bike. I can give you advice on technique and procedures but flying, like riding that bike, is an acquired "feel" and a combination of inputs from your senses. The bottom line is that you might fall down a few times and the wheel may get a little wobbly, but just keep working at it- that's one of the great things about simulators.

If at any point you "lose it", go back to start and rejoin the lesson. Also take advantage of the "pause" feature. Sit back, relax & try to figure out what is going wrong, or right. Learning how to fly airplanes isn't easy, real or simulated. Trust me, at some point it will all come to you and make sense.

Lastly, the smaller aircraft like the 172 are actually more difficult to fly than the larger aircraft because the smaller aircraft are more sensitive to control inputs. That's the beauty of a small trainer, get this baby down and the "big boys" will be easy to handle. (well, there are all of those systems on the big guys, but that's another chapter).

Lesson Length- simulators and the "real world"
I don't want to bore you to tears and make your eyes glaze over, but this is a "How To Fly In One Easy Lesson" tutorial. In the "real world" (I know, I know), your lesson plan would be much more varied and broken up into segments. "Real world" flight training starts off with flying the airplane in the straight and level configuration. Then turns are introduced and a brief introduction is given to stalls. Then, so the poor student doesn't become too bored, it's back to the airport for some touch-and-go practice. Then, back to the practice area for more work on straight and level, turns, stalls and so on.

We can't do it that way here. So each segment in this tutorial is rather detailed on that particular subject, until we finish at the landing phase. It's up to you of course, but suffice to say that you should be comfortable with all of the maneuvers presented here in sequence. Not perfect, but proficient.

Here's what we're going to do

Takeoff, climb straight ahead to 5,000 to 6,000 feet above ground, do some level turns, some climbing turns, some stalls with and without power, steeply banked turns, and then land. That's a lot.

How do I get this thing going? Do I just floor it or what? What about once I'm up, what speed do I hold?

This can be really confusing. Your experience to date is with cars. To go, you press down on the gas pedal. Once you are up to speed, you press as hard on the pedal as necessary to maintain that speed. Airplanes don't work that way. (You just knew that they wouldn't.) First off, you use your hand for the gas, and not your foot. (In airplanes you use your feet for the rudders and the brakes.) When you want to "go" in an airplane (take off), you give it everything it's got- you floor it, or in aviation-speak, you "firewall" it. The power stays in this position until you reach your desired altitude.

When you are at cruise, you set the engine power by a chart, and the airspeed falls where it may. Let's say that one more time. You don't get up to 150 knots and then adjust the power to maintain that speed. General Aviation airplane engines cruise at a percent of available power, usually 75%. And, to make things a little more complex, the amount of power that the engine can produce decreases the higher you go because the air is thinner up there. So, when you level off at, say, 5,000 feet you consult a table for that particular airplane. It will tell you that at 5,000 feet, for 75% of power, you set the RPM for, let's say, 2,300 RPM. After you do that, the airspeed will be at a particular value- and the chart will tell you in advance what that will be. That's just the way it works in airplanes.

Lastly, with rare and few exceptions, General Aviation airplane engines are air-cooled. They depend on the flow of air over them to keep them within operating temperature limitations.

Show time
This the last lecture before it gets noisy. Take things easy. Make your control movements smoothly, and gently. Add and remove power smartly, but not abruptly. That's the way it's done in the "real world", and that's the way you should practice in the simulator. Also, use the "pause" feature if you get in trouble. Take a look at the paused screen and try to figure out why you got into the position that you are in. Try to learn from that experience. (Even though the 172 only has trim for the elevator, some joysticks have rudder and roll (aileron) trim. If yours does, take advantage of the features.)

Release the brakes and smoothly, but smartly, advance the throttle to full. Reach over and turn the transponder from "Standby" to "ON." Steer down the center of the runway and ease back on the wheel (stick) at 55 knots. Allow the airplane to fly off of the runway and become airborne. No need to pull back abruptly, just ease back and the aircraft will pretty much fly off on its own. Now that you are in the air, don't make any sudden or abrupt changes. Relax your grip.

Keeping full throttle, lower the nose slightly to increase the speed to 75 knots. Keeping the wings level, and doing your best to hold the runway heading on the directional gyro, climb at 75 knots. Gently raise the nose to lower airspeed or lower the nose to gain airspeed. Use rudder trim (if available) as necessary to keep "the ball" on the turn coordinator centered. "Step on the ball" to bring it into the centered position. In other words, if the ball is to the left of center, step on the left rudder to bring the ball back to center. Continue to use the rudder trim as necessary. Our "target altitude" will be 5,500 feet but feel free to move the controls gently and see what their effects are. Use the elevator trim to ease of any up or down pressure on the wheel. Trim so that you can take your hands off and the airplane will maintain 75 knots and wing level. Use aileron trim if available. It will never be perfect, but you have your hands full as it is and there is no sense in fighting an out of trim airplane.

Do not concentrate on any one instrument. For example, the Artificial Horizon clearly shows if your wings are level. However the first indication that they are not is usually a change in heading that shows up on the DG . By the same token the Artificial Horizon also clearly shows your pitch attitude (nose up or down). However the first indication that you are climbing or descending is usually a change in airspeed.

So, if you see that you are turning to the left for example, turn the wheel gently a little bit to the right to stop the turn. By the same token, if your view out of the windshield is nothing but blue sky, gently lower the nose a little bit. Try not to horse the airplane around in the sky, nice and easy is the way to go.

Practice scanning your panel, and don't fixate on any one instrument. Once you reach your desired cruise altitude the nose will come down a bit as you level off giving you better forward vision through the windshield. This should make keeping the wings level a little easier as you will be able to reference the earth's horizon.

It's going to be a battle for you to keep the wings level and maintain airspeed. You are kind of putting the cart before the horse, in that you're soloing before you have learned to fly - a difficult task.

Level off

Wouldn't you just know that straight and level flight and using your trim controls could become a complex subject? Here's the deal. There is more than one way to "trim out" an aircraft for straight and level flight. The advocates of the various ways can be as voracious on the subject as a politician is on welfare reform. This is just one way, and it works.

As you approach 5,500, feet ease the stick forward to maintain altitude. Allow the aircraft to accelerate for about 30 seconds. Gently reduce the power to 2,400 RPM, your cruise power setting. Allow the airspeed to stabilize at the new airspeed. Now adjust the elevator trim until there is zero feedback from the stick and the aircraft does not pitch up or down when you go "hands off". Next, adjust the aileron trim until there is zero feedback from the stick and the aircraft does not roll left or right when you go "hands off". Lastly, adjust the rudder trim until there is zero feedback from the rudder pedals and the "ball" is centered on the Turn Coordinator.

Straight and level flight

This is the "Home Base" for all flight training. From here on in, everything that you practice, including touch-and-go landings, will always transition back to straight and level flight. It may be boring, but if you can't keep the airplane in this configuration, then everything that you practice from here on in will go right in the tank.

At this point you should be able to take your hands and feet off of the controls without the aircraft making any deviations up or down, left or right. Now is a good time to align the "wings" on the Attitude Indicator.

Don't do any more air work until you have the airplane trimmed out for straight and level flight with your hands off the controls. The trimming won't be perfect- get it as close as practical.

Gently lower a wing. Gently bring the wing back up again so that you are straight and level. Do the same with the other wing. Raise the nose a little. Bring the nose back down to straight and level flight. Do the same by lowering the nose and bringing it back up again.

Continue on with your instruction only after you are comfortable with straight and level flight.


When you turn the wheel of the Cessna 172 to the left, the right aileron goes down, and the left aileron goes up. Air strikes these displaced surfaces forcing one side of the wing up, the other side down. As long as the wheel is turned over, the wing (and the aircraft that it is attached to) will continue to roll about the longitudinal (nose to tail) axis. If you don't bring the wheel back to neutral, the aircraft will just continue to roll- ignoring loss of vertical lift, which will in the practical world cause the aircraft to descend in the roll until it strikes the earth.

What does this mean? It means that, unlike a car, you initiate a turn in an airplane by turning the wheel in the direction you want the aircraft to turn until the desired angle of bank is reached and then you "center" the wheel. Ignoring the loss of vertical lift, the aircraft will maintain that angle of bank. When you want to stop the turn, you turn the wheel in the opposite direction until the wing is once again level.

Remember that in a turn (bank) the lift is no longer directly opposite of the ground, and gravity, as it is in level flight. Because of this the aircraft will descend in a turn. The steeper the bank, the greater the descent rate. To counter this, "up elevator" must be applied in a turn to maintain level flight.

Try a gentle turn to the left or right. Try to avoid exceeding 15 degrees of bank. The steeper the bank, the more "up elevator" required, and the more difficult it is to maintain control of the aircraft. Steep turns, defined as 30 degrees of bank or more, are very difficult to do without altitude loss. Maintain your altitude by applying back pressure as necessary. Continue practicing gentle turns to a heading of your choice until you are comfortable with how the aircraft handles. Your confidence will increase if you if you do this in stages, not biting off too large of a chunk at one time. Concentrate on maintaining your altitude of 5,500 feet while making turns.

Pick a heading that is more than 30 degrees to your left or right. Reach up and set the "heading bug" on the DG to that new heading. Now make a gentle turn and try to roll out on that heading without gaining or losing any altitude. Do the same thing except to the right. When you can do this, try making 90 degree turns to the left and right, finally 180 degree turns both ways.

Once you are comfortable with turns, straight and level flight, and are able to hold an altitude we will move on to the next segment. Don't rush yourself on these basics, scan your instruments and remember not to fixate on any one of them.

Climbing and descending

OK, you're doing straight and level and doing turns with a reasonable amount of control and smoothness. Now let's work on up and down.

Going up

This seems simple enough. You want to go up, you pull back on the wheel and you go up. Right? Well, it's not quite that simple. In effect, an airplane climbs because of an excess of power.


Say that you are going along in straight and level flight. The engine is set at 75% of available power. You want to climb, you pull back on the wheel. The airplane climbs. The indication on the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) shows that you are climbing. So, what's wrong with that? Well, nothing really if you just want to go up a few hundred feet. But let's keep at it and see what happens. Before long, you notice that the airspeed falls off. The reading on the VSI decreases. Before much longer, you'll have to raise the nose even more to maintain a climb. Once again the airspeed starts to decrease, and before long the VSI decreases again too. Pretty soon, you'll have a fairly steep nose up attitude, and a pretty low airspeed.

You're approaching a stall.

What happened? You didn't have enough power. An airplane climbs because of an excess of power.

Let's try that again. You want to go up. Increase the power, all of the way, unless you're only climbing a few hundred feet. Now what happens? Well, if you don't touch the trim at all, the airplane will start to climb. It is climbing because it has an excess of power. You may have to raise, or lower, the nose a little for visibility, or for engine cooling (less air flow). As you go higher and higher, the rate of climb shown on the VSI will decrease. Why? Because the air is getting thinner, and the engine is producing less power. In other words, you're losing your excess power. Let's keep going up. You will finally get to an altitude where the engine can no longer produce enough power to allow the airplane to climb. If you lower the nose at this point, you will descend. If you raise the nose any more, you will stall. For the Cessna 172 this will occur around 13,000 feet.

So, to climb the airplane, unless it's just a few hundred feet or so, add power, climb to your new altitude, level off and follow the leveling procedures that were discussed above.

Going down

Let's see now. You add power to go up, you must have to remove power to go down. Right?

Not necessarily.

You can descend with power, or without power, or somewhere in between. Remember that an airplane doesn't care if the engine is running or not in order for it to fly- it just needs the right amount of airspeed. As we noted above, you can stall with full power on. When it comes to descents, several factors enter into the equation as to your plan of attack.

These factors are:

- The care and feeding of your engine. If you pull the power off at cruise altitude and just push the nose down you will drastically decrease the engine's life. The result of this action is "ring flutter", something that happens when the prop. "drives" the engine. The air coming across the propeller actually makes the engine turn at a higher RPM than it would if you weren't going so fast in the descent. OK, how about if you don't go that fast, why not just pull the power off and slowly "drift on down"? Shock cooling. The engine is at a normal operating temperature at cruise. If you chop the power off and make a prolonged descent it will cool the engine at a faster rate than desired- not good. The engine casting, usually aluminum, doesn't like shock cooling. It can get fatigue cracks or stress points if you do that. These can lead to engine failures down the road.

- How far away you are from where you want to be.

- The condition of the air mass that you are flying in, ie smooth or rough air.

Remember the markings on the airspeed indicator? Let's look at them again, as they come into play here.

In a perfect world you will start your descent to your new altitude in smooth air, and leave the power alone. Gently push the nose down with the wheel, and down you go. The airspeed will increase of course, and that's where the airspeed indicator comes into play. In smooth air, you can let the airspeed build up until it is right at the end of the green arc, about 127 knots in this case. Because the 172 has a fixed gear prop, you may have to retard the throttle to maintain your set RPM so that you don't do that "prop. driving the engine" thing. Why not go into the yellow "caution" range? You can, but if you come across an invisible hunk of turbulence you may bend the airplane. Remember that the "caution" range is for smooth air only.

How about if you are too close to your destination altitude, the airport for instance? Then you can reduce the power, gently push the nose over, and once again fly at that 127 knot airspeed. You will be going at the same airspeed as above, but because you have the power reduced you will be descending at a steeper angle, and get down in less distance than if cruise power was set.

How about if you're really close and have to get down fast? Pull the power back, verify that you are in the white "flap operating range" of the airspeed indicator, drop full flaps, and gently push the nose down until you are at the "top" of the white arc- about 86 knots in this case. You will have a steep angle of descent, and lose altitude rapidly. And probably really anger your powerplant.

In actual practice, most descents are a variation of all of the above.


So, just what is a stall?

First off, unlike your car, a stall in an airplane has nothing to do with the engine.

Remember how the air flowing over the wing creates lift? Well, when that air no longer flows over the wing smoothly, it fails to create enough lift to hold the airplane up. Although this is normally associated with slow speed, it can happen at any speed as long as the airflow is disrupted.

Picture a dive bomber making his run in a near-vertical dive...bombs away and a pull-up to level flight (we have a really strong aircraft here). Although our bomber pilot is now level, until he gains some forward speed he will be in a stalled condition because the air (relative wind) is coming from below the wing and not from in front of it.

The aircraft is going straight down at 200 knots. When the pilot pulls the aircraft abruptly out of the dive and transitions to level flight, the aircraft is momentarily stalled due to a lack of airflow over the wing.

Simply stated, a stall is when the airflow over the wing becomes interrupted and turbulent. When that happens, the wing can no longer provide the necessary lift to keep the airplane in the air.

What happens when the airplane stalls?

It will shudder and shake, some more than others. If you do absolutely nothing, the nose will drop down until the wing is "flying" again and the nose will come back up again. Airplanes are not perfectly trimmed, so one wing or the other will usually "drop" during the stall. Generally speaking, an airplane like the 172 can recover from a stall better than a new student pilot can.

OK, I can understand that. Why should I care?

Learning how an airplane stalls, and how to recognize the condition is for your own safety. Should you get yourself in a situation with an aircraft in a near-stall condition, you must know how to recognize and recover with a minimum loss of altitude and direction.

And, you ask (you did ask, didn't you?), "Why would I place myself, and my airplane, in a near-stall condition?" And the answer is.... every time you land your airplane. In a perfect world, when you land an airplane it will stall just before you touchdown on the runway. Why? because you want the airplane to land at the lowest speed possible. Why? Airplanes are great in the air, but lousy machines for driving around on the ground. The farther removed the airplane is from flying speed, the more stable it will be on the ground. Throw in the fact that lower landing speeds create less stress on the airframe, reduce tire and brake wear, and use less runway, and the case is made for landing as close to the stall speed as possible.

One of the first things pilots do when checking out in an aircraft they have never flown before is to go out and do stalls. How an aircraft stalls is part of the flying qualities of that particular aircraft and is invaluable knowledge to the pilot.

The next part of our instruction plan is to practice stalls, with power on and power off. In all of these practice scenarios, you should be at a safe altitude, around 5 to 6 thousand feet. The stalls that we will practice will be in situations that you are most likely to encounter in normal flight routines.

Straight ahead, power off stall, no flaps

Our "introductory stall"

This will be an introduction to stalling an airplane. Of all of the stalls, this one is the easiest to feel when it happens, and the easiest to recover from.

Pick out a heading, a Cardinal one (North, East, South or West) will be the easiest for you to see on the DG. Be at a safe altitude, around 5,000 to 6,000 feet above the ground, as you will lose some altitude in this maneuver. Gently bring the throttle back to idle. All the way back. As the aircraft slows it will want to descend. Use back pressure on the stick to maintain altitude. While doing this, note how the airspeed is decreasing. Keep the ball in the Turn & Bank centered- step on the ball. Try not to let the airplane lose any altitude. Maintain your heading. Note the up angle on the artificial horizon. Note how the nose of the airplane is covering up the horizon out the front window. Continue to bring the stick back. Hold your heading and altitude until you hear the stall warning (the stall warning light will also illuminate). When you hear and see these stall indications, apply full throttle. Ease the nose down. Do your best to maintain your altitude and heading. Try not to lose, or gain any altitude. Try to maintain your heading. Keep lowering your nose as airspeed increases back to cruise speed, decrease power to 2,400 RPM.

There, you just did your first stall. The FAA wants to see people taking their flight tests for Private Pilot initiate recovery at the first sign of a stall. If you wish to explore this deeper, do not apply full power when you hear the stall warning. Keep gently pulling back on the stick while trying to maintain altitude. At some point the aircraft will nose over and point downward, and the aircraft may roll to the left or right.

Did you notice how "sloppy" the controls were as you approached the stall? That's because of the decreased airflow over them. As the aircraft slows toward its stall speed the controls become increasingly less effective. It will take much larger movement of the ailerons, rudder and elevator to have an effect on the aircraft. The extreme displacement required will become one of your first indications that you are nearing a stall condition.

Keep practicing straight ahead power off stalls until you can recover with a minimum loss of altitude and heading change. When you are comfortable with your technique we will move on to stalls with the flaps down.

Straight ahead, power off stall with landing flaps down

This simulates a stall in the landing phase of flying

In cruise configuration at 5,000 to 6,000 feet above the ground, select a heading on the DG that you will use for reference. This will be your imaginary runway heading. Reduce the power to 1,900 RPM. Allow the airplane to start a descent of two to three hundred feet per minute. Use the VSI for this information. Maintain your heading. Bring the throttle back to idle. As the airspeed indicator reaches the top of the white arc, 85 knots, add 1/4 of the flaps. Maintain your heading. Slowly decrease your airspeed, using back pressure on your stick, to 75 knots. Increase the flaps to 1/2 down. Maintain 75 knots. Maintain your heading. Slowly decrease your airspeed, using back pressure on your stick, to 65 knots. Maintain your heading. Increase the flaps to full down. Maintain your heading.

Now slowly pull back on the stick allowing the airspeed to decrease below 65 knots. Continue pulling back allowing the airspeed to decrease. Maintain your heading. Keep pulling back until the stall warning goes off. When it does, apply full power. Retract your flaps to 1/4 down- NOT all the way up. Maintain your heading. Try not to lose any more altitude than you were at when the stall occurred. Maintain your heading. Try not to lose any altitude. Maintain your heading. Once the airspeed passes through 85 knots retract the remaining 1/4 of flaps.

Did you notice how much lower the airspeed was when you stalled? That's because of the increased lift from the flaps. Did you also notice how much longer it took to accelerate out of the stall and get your airspeed back? That's because of the increased drag of the flaps.

So, why not just dump all of the flaps to "zero" when you are doing your recovery? Doing so will cause a larger loss of altitude as the aircraft will settle due to the sudden loss of lift as the flaps retract. Also, full flap retraction during your recovery may lead to a secondary stall during the recovery due to the increased stall speed with the flaps up.

Also, did you notice that you lost a fair amount of altitude from the onset of the stall until you recovered? Keep that in your mind. You do not want to stall when you are near the ground- unless you're a few feet above the runway.

Practice these stalls until you are comfortable with your technique, and can recover with a minimum loss of altitude and change from your original heading.

Straight ahead power on stall

This simulates a stall as you are climbing out after takeoff

In cruise configuration at 5,000 to 6,000 feet above the ground, pick and maintain a Cardinal heading. Slowly add full throttle. Bring the nose up. Hold your heading. Allow the airspeed to decrease. Watch the Turn & Bank instrument. You will need to add right rudder as the aircraft slows. "Step on the ball." Continue to bring the nose up as the airspeed continues to decrease. Keep the wings level. Check the T&B and make certain that the ball is centered. Use rudder as necessary- "step on the ball." Continue to bring the nose up slowly. Maintain your heading until the stall warning goes off. You already have full power in, so the only thing you can do to recover in this situation is to lower the nose and regain airspeed. Note your altitude when the stall occurred and try to recover to level flight with a minimum loss of altitude and heading change.

Notice that the airspeed was lower with the power on stall than it was with the power off stall. This is due to the added airflow over the wing by the propeller.

Practice these stalls trying to lose a minimum of altitude and maintaining your heading until you are comfortable with your technique.


Did you notice how I kept harping about keeping the ball on the T&B centered? What happens if you don't? As the aircraft slows, one wing will stall before the other because you're flying "sideways." When this happens, the aircraft will roll over and start a tight spiral descent. This is known as a spin. Should this happen to you, pull the power back to idle. Pull on full carb. heat. Push the nose down- forward elevator. Push in opposite rudder- if the spin is to the left, press in full right rudder, if the spin is to the right, press in full left rudder. The airplane will quickly transition out of the spin into a tight spiral. At this point you may be at, or above, the red-line airspeed. Slowly, gently, bring the nose up and level the wings. Once the aircraft is level, add normal power. Check your wallet and see if you have enough money for the laundry bill.

Want to practice spins? OK, use full power. Bring the nose up a little more abruptly than you were when practicing power-on stalls. In fact, bring it up fairly abruptly. Keep pulling the nose up after you hear the stall warning. When the aircraft shudders and the nose starts to drop, kick in full rudder, pull on carb. heat and chop the power. Stand on the rudder. Left or right, your choice. The airplane will snap over and enter a spin. Notice that the airspeed is not that high in the spin- the aircraft is in a stalled condition. It is during the recovery that the airspeed will build up if you're not careful. To really become proficient, try rolling out of the spin to a predetermined heading, best to use a Cardinal one. When you're ready to exit the spin, push the nose down "smartly" and kick in full opposite rudder- if you're spinning to the left use right rudder, opposite for the other direction. As soon as the airplane transitions out of the spin into a spiral start pulling back on the wheel and leveling the wing. As the airspeed approaches your cruise speed start adding power back to your cruise setting.

You can lose a lot of altitude during a spin. World War One fighter pilots often used the maneuver for just that purpose as it gave maximum rate of descent with minimum airspeed build up.

Some last thoughts about stalls

Practicing stalls can be an uncomfortable exercise. On the other hand, the knowledge that you gain about how your aircraft performs when in this flight regime is invaluable. Almost more important than being able to recover from a stall is the ability to recognize the onset of a stall. This is indicated to you the pilot by how "sloppy" the controls become. They're this way because the airplane is going so slow, and the airflow that they need to "steer" the airplane is not there. Get to know the airplane that you are flying in. This knowledge just might keep you from becoming an accident statistic. Practicing stalls should be a part of your airwork as you keep your skill levels current and sharp.

Steep turns

This is the last maneuver that we will practice. It comes last because there is the possibility of stalling while practicing steep turns and you'll want to know how to recover just in case. Generally speaking, a steep turn is bank greater than thirty degrees. We'll be doing thirty degree banked turns in a 360 degree circle, and lastly sixty degree banked turns.

Why? Mainly to illustrate that you will need to add full power when making steep turns, and how difficult it is to maintain level flight without descending in a steep turn. After practicing steep turns you should have an appreciation that they are a "special maneuver", and one that if you should have to use you will be aware of the potential problems that may affect safe operation of your aircraft.

Keep in mind that as you increase the angle of bank your aircraft's lift becomes less "efficient" as more and more is "directed" away from gravity- the force that wants to pull you down .

Climb until you are five to six thousand feet above the surface. Gently roll the aircraft into a bank until you reach thirty degrees of bank. Add power as necessary to maintain your airspeed. If you start slowing down, add more power. If you start going faster, decrease power. Pay attention to the Turn & Bank. Use rudder as necessary. ("Step" on the ball.) If you start to descend, ease off on the bank a little bit until you stop the descent, and then re-establish the 30 degree bank. Maintain your altitude. Try holding altitude through at least two "360's". When through, roll out to a wings level position, maintaining the same altitude that you were using during the turn. This will require a fair amount of "down elevator" as you roll out. Wow. Not easy, was it? Did you notice how much "back elevator" was required? Our next act will require even more "back elevator", and finesse on your part.

Just like in the above exercise, gently roll the aircraft over until you reach a 60 degree bank. Trim the elevator while you are doing this to make the elevator "neutral". Add power. Add full power as you approach 60 degrees. If you start to climb, increase the angle of bank. If you start to descend, decrease the angle of bank. In each case, as you get back to your altitude, re-establish the 60 degree bank. If you were doing this in a "real airplane", you would feel a bump every time you completed a turn as you hit your own wake turbulence. This is a very difficult maneuver to do, be patient. You may hear the stall warning going off- if you do, decrease the angle of bank and add full power if you haven't already done so. When you roll out to wings level, try to maintain the same altitude that you had in the steep turn.

Now, if you really want to get sharp on these turns try this. Roll into your bank, thirty or sixty degrees, do several turns, roll out to wings level and immediately roll into the same angle of bank in the opposite direction. This is a true challenge and a test of your piloting skills.

The bottom line: Be aware that steep banked turns require close attention and skill, and that it is very easy to lose altitude while doing them.

And, that your stall speed will be higher than it is in straight and level flight.

The landing phase

OK, we're finally here- landing the airplane. Let's look back a bit on what we have practiced so far. Climbs, descents, turns and stalls. Hmm, what does this look like? Well, these are the maneuvers that you use when flying the traffic pattern and landing the airplane. You practiced stalls because you will be flirting with them as you fly low and (relatively) slow. And, with any luck, you'll perform a power-off stall just before the airplane touches down on the runway.

So, the bottom line is that everything that we have practiced and learned to date will now all come together in one grand dance- flying the traffic pattern and landing the airplane.

Airplane speed and ground speed

This really belongs in the earlier part of this tutorial, but I've saved it until the landing phase of our flight instruction because, with the exception of the takeoff, we've been up there in the air not thinking about the ground- er, unless one of those stalls or spins went awry. Now that you are entering the landing phase, the ground (hopefully with a runway built on it), is going to start filling up the windshield. And, as it does, it will look different to you depending on the relative speed of the aircraft. Keep this in mind please. The airplane doesn't care what the wind is doing until you go to land.

Let's look at some examples.

1. Flying along at an airspeed of 65 knots, your groundspeed is 65 knots. Simple enough. And, in this situation, if you touchdown on the runway at 65 knots, you will use the appropriate amount of runway for your rollout and braking the airplane.

2. In this situation your touchdown speed will be 45 knots and you will need less runway and braking than above.

3. Now you get to play helicopter pilot. The airplane will literally "hover" over the runway at the same spot. If you increase power so that your airspeed is 75 knots, you will slowly go down the runway at a ground speed of 10 knots. If you touchdown in this condition (65 knot airspeed) you will want to leave the power alone and not make any reduction. If you were to touchdown and stand on the brakes and reduce power the airplane would become airborne and most likely flip over on it's back.

4. Now you're really playing helicopter pilot- backing up with an airplane. In order to land you would have to increase power to match the wind, 75 knots, then you would be at a relative speed of zero. However, like in the example directly above, you would flip over as soon as you reduced power.

OK, examples 3 and 4 are to the extreme, and are there only to help explain the relationship between airspeed, wind and touchdown speed. However, I have "hovered" in a Cessna 150, thanks to its low stall speed, and actually was flying backwards (relative to the ground) one day after a strong Fall cold front moved through Minnesota. I have seen pilots successfully land in high wind conditions only to have the airplane flip over as soon as they turned the airplane to a heading of other than directly into the wind. From a practical standpoint, should you find yourself in a position of landing in a very strong wind that is right down the runway, stop and remain on the runway. If you have at least two volunteers on board, have them get out and each one hold on to a wing tip as you taxi in to parking. If you are alone, just sit there until someone comes out to help you. This situation is much more critical in a high-wing airplane than it is in a low-wing airplane. (See the tutorial "High-Wing, Low-Wing.")

The downwind turn

There is an exception to this "ocean of air" and the airplane not caring what the surface wind is doing. It's a phase of operation called the "downwind turn". There is an axiom in aviation known as "Beware the downwind turn." It stems from exceptional conditions, like 3. and 4. above, but it is a valid concept. Here's what happens.

The pilot makes a sharply banked turn from the upwind leg to the downwind leg. Because it takes time for equilibrium to be established, for a brief period of time the airplane will be at an airspeed of 45 knots and stall. This is an extreme situation, and unless the cards are stacked just right, won't happen. But, if you do something like this in these conditions, you most likely will feel the airplane start to settle as the airspeed momentarily bleeds off before before equilibrium is established. There have been accidents that have been directly attributed to this phenomena. How do you prevent it from happening to you? Easy. Be aware that it can happen in higher wind conditions such as in the example above, and always make normal turns.

The airport traffic pattern

There just has to be some organization to this phase of aircraft operations or we would all be out there running into one another. There is a plan, and there are rules. It is called the "airport traffic pattern."

The "pattern" at an airport is flown with left hand turns (standard pattern) or right hand turns (non-standard pattern). Left turns are the rule of the day unless local conditions dictate otherwise. The traffic pattern is made up of four "legs": the "upwind leg", the "downwind leg", the "base leg" and the "final leg".

Notice that there are two other items on the diagram, the "join pattern" on the crosswind leg and the "join pattern" on the downwind leg. These are normal entry points into the pattern for arriving aircraft. It is perfectly acceptable to join the pattern at any leg except for the base or final legs.

The landing checklist

Just as you use a checklist for departure, you use one for landing. If you don't have a check list, use the buzz phrase GUMP.

G- Gas Make certain than you are on the correct fuel tank.

U- Undercarriage A free pass on this one, on the Cessna 172 the gear is "welded" in the down position.

M- Mixture Move the mixture control to the full rich position. Pull on full carb. heat

P- Propeller Another free pass. The Cessna 172 has a fixed-pitch propeller.

Entering the landing pattern

Let's "walk through" a landing at an airport.

Approach the airport for landing in a cruise configuration. When you are about 10 miles out pull out full carb. heat and reduce your power to 2,000 RPM. Descend to the local pattern altitude. Pattern altitudes are what the particular airport in use dictates. It can be anywhere from 800 feet to 1,000 feet above the ground. For our examples we will use 1,000 feet AGL for the pattern altitude.

In this example, the airport is at 850 feet. Your pattern altitude will be 1,850 feet. Landing aircraft for all intents and purposes always land into the wind. This slows your touchdown speed relative to the ground, and decreases the amount of runway needed.

Get the local altimeter setting and the local winds so that you will know in advance which runway you can plan on. This can be done in a variety of ways. You can get the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) broadcast from the nearest "Big City Airport", or you can tune in to the Unicom frequency when well out, and hear if anyone is making "pattern calls" at your destination airport. In addition, you can look at the streaks in nearby lakes. Lastly, you can join the pattern and observe the windsock. In calm wind conditions it is your call as to which runway you want to land on, although in actual conditions most airports have a preferred no-wind runway. Generally speaking, the runways that are orientated to the North or West are the no-wind runways at most airports.

In our example the wind is from the North so we will landing on runway 36. Let's say we are approaching from the East. The aircraft has now slowed down from cruise speed and should be indicating around 90 knots.

The crosswind leg Join the crosswind leg on a west heading at 1,850 feet. When you are at about a 45 degree angle from the end of runway 18 turn from crosswind to

The downwind leg All of this time you should be looking for other aircraft. For the proper radio procedures, read the tutorial Aircraft Radio Communication.

Lower the first 1/4 of your flaps. Adjust power as necessary to maintain 85 knots. Start a gradual descent out of 1,850 feet. When you are at about a 45 degree angle from the approach end of runway 36 make your turn from downwind to

The base leg Once on base, lower your flaps to the 1/2 down position and maintain 75 knots. Notice that the aircraft is continuing on a slow descent toward the runway. Time your turn so that you enter

The final leg aligned with the runway. Once on final, lower flaps to 3/4. When about a half a mile out from the end of the runway lower the balance of your flaps and adjust your throttle to maintain 65 knots.

(Here is a great visual clue to help judge if you will land short or long from your desired touchdown point. If the runway end appears to be moving towards you, you will land long. Reduce your power, but maintain your airspeed by lowering the nose as necessary. If the runway end appears to be moving away, you will land short. Add power but maintain your airspeed by raising the nose as necessary. If there is no relative movement of the runway end you will touchdown in the landing area.)

Adjust the throttle to maintain 65 knots. As you cross the end (threshold) of the runway remove all of the power and let the aircraft settle toward the runway. Note: you should cross the threshold about 20 to 30 feet above the ground. As the runway nears, slowly pull back on the stick and the aircraft should touchdown just before it stalls- a perfect landing. Note: if you do not touchdown in the first 1/3 of the runway add full power, reduce the flaps to 1/4, takeoff, climb, slowly remove the balance of the flaps, rejoin the pattern and try again. This is a good safety yardstick to use. If you are not on the runway in the first 1/3 of its length, go around.

Once the aircraft has touched down make certain that the power is back to idle, maintain control, use the brakes as necessary, and taxi clear of the runway. Once clear of the runway raise the flaps. And turn your transponder to "standby."

Landing airplanes- an overview

This is a very complex maneuver you just did. There was an awful lot going on. That's why it is recommended that you practice at altitude before trying to actually land the aircraft. Keep in mind that the approach to the runway and the landing are directly related. With few exceptions, a bad approach will end in a bad landing. To avoid having too many things going on in this critical phase, try to have as many of your ducks lined up as possible before you turn final- flaps, airspeed and power set.

A straight-in landing is the most difficult to do because you don't have as much reference with the runway environment as you do when flying a pattern. You should avoid straight-in landings because of this, but if you need another reason, try this. Most mid-air collisions at airports take place on the Final Leg. They usually occur between a high-wing airplane and a low-wing airplane, with the high-wing airplane being struck from above by the low-wing airplane. And, in most accident cases, either one, or both, of the aircraft made a straight-in landing.

Now that you know the concept and terminology let's go to a single-runway airport for actual practice.

Flying the traffic pattern

In the example below, we are using the Redlands, California airport, runway 8. If you can go to that airport, please do. If not, try to pick out an airport that has a runway orientated towards the East (runway 9). Nothing wrong with the other compass directions, it will just help to keep us all going in the same direction as we go through the various traffic pattern phases.

A brief note on runway numbers

Runways are numbered based on their magnetic allignment in two-digit format. Thus, runway 08 is, roughly, alligned towards the East. Runway 18 would be alligned towards the South and so on. So, as you are looking down a runway from the end of the runway you are looking down its "magnetic direction."

You are on the departure end of runway 08 at Redlands Municipal Airport.

There are a couple of things that you can do to make this procedure easier for you to accomplish. First, although runway 8 is not exactly at 080 degrees magnetic but is closer to 075 degrees don't worry about the five degrees- consider it to be 080. No one will know, or care, about the difference if you fly the pattern as if the runway was exactly at 080 degrees. Turn the heading knob on the DG to 345 degrees. This will be your heading for the crosswind leg of the pattern. Look at the "tail" of the airplane in the DG. It is pointing at the reciprocal of 080, 260 degrees- make a mental note that this will be your heading for the downwind leg.

Another thing to help on orientation is to locate an object that is straight away from the runway. Notice the valley that the arrow is pointing to.

After departure, climb towards that valley. This will help you to fly a straighter pattern. Use similar visual clues for the crosswind leg and the downwind leg. In an actual aircraft you would be looking out the windows as you fly the pattern. This visual lack of clues in the simulator makes pattern flying more difficult until you are comfortable with the sequence of events. Make use of the "pause" feature and use the "Views" to see your orientation with the runway.

Flying too "tight" of a pattern will make this maneuver more difficult. If you find that things are just happening too fast, extend your upwind leg before turning to the crosswind leg. Similarly extend the crosswind leg before turning to the downwind leg. This will give you a wider pattern and more time to adjust throttle, airspeed and flaps.

This is what we are going to do: Takeoff from runway 8. Climb straight ahead to 2,600 feet (1,000 feet AGL). Level off at 2,600 feet. Reduce the throttle to 2,200 RPM. (We are now on the upwind leg of the pattern.)

After you have climbed to 2,600 feet looking back will present you with this view.

Turn 90 degrees left to a heading of 345 degrees. Fly level at 2,600 feet for 45 seconds to a minute. (We are now on the crosswind leg of the pattern.)

Just before you turn from the crosswind leg to the downwind leg you will have this view. Notice that you are about 45 degrees from the end of the runway.

Turn left to a heading of 260 degrees. Remain level at 2,600 feet. Pull carb. heat to "full" and reduce the throttle to 1,900 RPM. Lower the flaps 1/4. Descend out of 2,600 feet. (We are now on the downwind leg of the pattern.)

This is the view from the downwind leg. You are about 1 mile from the airport, just starting to descend out of 2,600 feet. The aircraft is still on a heading of 260 degrees.

This is the view from the downwind leg when you are just about to turn to the base leg. You are on a heading of 260 degrees. The throttle is at 1,900 RPM. Airspeed is 85 knots. The first 1/4 of flaps has been lowered. The aircraft has descended out of 2,600 feet. Make your turn from the downwind leg to the base leg when you are about at a 45 degree angle from the approach end of the runway. Your base leg heading will be 170 degrees.

The aircraft has just started to turn from downwind to the base leg heading of 170 degrees and is descending. Lower flaps to 1/2. Adjust the throttle to maintain 75 knots. We are now on the base leg of the pattern.

Turn to a heading of 080 degrees. Lower flaps to 3/4. Maintain alignment with the runway. We are now on the final leg of the pattern.

The aircraft is about 1/2 mile out on final. Airspeed is 75 knots. Flaps are down 3/4.

Continue descent and lower full flaps. Slow to 65 knots by bring the power back. Continuing towards the end of the runway, adjust the throttle for more or less power to maintain the target airspeed of 65 knots and maintain position to land on the first one third of the runway.

The aircraft is just about to cross the threshold. Airspeed is at 65 knots. Full flaps have been lowered. The throttle will be pulled all the way back as the aircraft crosses the runway threshold. Land the aircraft and brake to a complete stop.


OK, no more lectures. You have the basics now so go out and practice. Have fun. Before long, you'll realize that flying airplanes isn't really that difficult. It's just a bunch of new stuff that you have to learn and become comfortable with.


If there is anything that you feel was presented in a confusing manner, or if something was not treated with the attention you feel that it should be, or if you have any suggestions that would make this a better tutorial, please let me know.

This narrative, along with aditional content, is available as a CD or an eBook.

For CD information click here. For eBook information click here.

Hal Stoen

revised: August, 2002 (instrument graphics courtesy Maciek Schejbal)

revised: October, 2002 (correction in the magneto operation description. Thanks to Benard B. Spaulding for pointing this out.)

10/05/02: Airspeed remark in steep turns corrected. Thank you Bernard B. Spaulding.

revised June 20th, 2003 (description of Audio Control Panel and correction of 210 thousand cycles per second in the text. Thank you "Dorian J." for pointing this out.)

revised: August, 2005 (Remarks about using the Cessna 172 as a trainer added. Thanks to Stein R. Bolle for suggesting this.)

revised: August, 2009 (Remark about using the HSI vs the directional gyro in the climb. Thanks to Scott Thompson for pointing this out.)

revised: March, 2013 (Remark about single-magneto operation and RPM drop added. Thanks to Paul Kerry for making this input.)

This part, and all previous parts ©2002
Hal Stoen (

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