Stick and Rudder

I’ve heard many different interpretations of the phrase “good stick and rudder skills”, the latest of which was in reply to the following scenario: A student pilot is doing his check ride and told to do a short field landing. The student sets himself up on a glide path but when he/she becomes low they add too much power and end up too high. He/she then overcorrects a couple more times and eventually has to go around for another try. The question was “would you pass this person?” and a CFI replied with a no because they didn’t have “adequate stick and rudder skills.” To me, this is not an example of poor stick and rudder skill, but one of poor energy management. I define stick and rudder skill as a pilot’s ability to put the airplane into any attitude through a controlled coupling of the yoke/stick and rudder without much thought. I know this is a mouthful so let me explain. I’ve just turned final and I’m too high.

final approach

At this point, knowing I have the airport made, I will take all of my power away and glide down to the runway. This is all well and good for an airport like KLEX where I have 7000’ of runway to work with and no obstacles, but what if I had a short field with a large tree that required me to come in a little high. This is where good stick and rudder skills come into play. The forward slip is my go-to method for cases such as this because it allows me to lose altitude quickly without increasing speed. All you have to do is input some degree of rudder (I usually just use full rudder) and turn the yoke/stick in the opposite direction in order to keep the airplane tracking straight down the runway.

slip down runway

The ability to keep the plane tracking straight should be second nature to any pilot. This of course means that the pilot should be able to change the direction of the slip at any time without thinking and while maintaining the same track. Essentially the airplane needs to become an extension of the pilot.

You might say, “Well I don’t really need to be able to do this because I never fly into short runways, and I give myself plenty of room for my final approach.” While this may be true, you’ll still face crosswind landings at some point, and if you’ve had a direct crosswind of at least 10 kts you know that you can’t point the airplane straight down the runway without drifting; that is, unless you perform a “side-slip.” This is done the same way as a forward slip except you do it to fix a drift rather than create one. I was flying with a good friend who is also a pilot and they wanted to try their hand at landing a taildragger. There was a slight crosswind and we were crabbing on final so I told them to correct for the crosswind, but it took a little while for them to think of how to do it. In a tricycle gear aircraft, a direct cross of 6 kts is nothing to worry about. You can land in a slight crab and it’s no problem. In a conventional gear aircraft, it is absolutely crucial that you land with the nose pointed in the direction you are tracking at all times, no matter how strong the wind. Everyone should know how to do this, and to be able to do so without thinking. If you are proficient at these skills, you will be a safer pilot because it will allow you to get out of dangerous situations when there is no time to think.


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