Turn from cockpit
12 min read

Or is it six, or 12, or 100…

This story has its roots in many conversations between my father, Leighton Collins, and his great friend Wolfgang Langewiesche. Both had been there and done that with the quite basic airplanes spawned by The Great Depression. Both flew 36 or 40 hp E-2 Cubs and/or Aeronca C-3s over much of the country. And both sought answers to the questions about how to best teach basic pilots flying these basic airplanes how to survive.

E-2 Taylor Cub

Flying an E-2 Cub will teach you a lot about flying.

Wolfgang wrote a book about it. Stick and Rudder was first published over 70 years ago, in 1944, and it was, is, and will probably always be the best-selling aviation book on the shelf. I know first-hand about the best-seller part because my father wrote a chapter in the book and I still get eight-percent of the royalties on Stick and Rudder. It is more than a little humbling for me to note that this small share generates almost as much revenue as the total royalties on the twelve books that I have written since 1977.

As successful as that book was, Wolfgang and my father still talked a lot about something that would explore the things that a pilot really needs to know to stay alive. How many things might that be? I heard every number up to and including 100. They have both Gone West but they were thinking about this to the end.

I was part of the conversation in later years and with the thought that I would try deal with before my Gone West time comes, I’ll make the effort here, in Air Facts. That is where they started on it in 1938.

In talking with other pilots about this, some have suggested that the FAA knowledge test is a place where vital knowledge should be ensured. That is not being done. The FAA test efforts seem aimed at things like regulations and performance charts and science with very little about the art of flying. In one sample test I examined, there was one superficial question on angle of attack.

FAA-approved CFI revalidation programs don’t address this either. They seem to be more of an effort on the part of educators to convince you that they are smart and you are dumb and here’s the mnemonic to prove it.

I think the question is primarily related to things that pilots desperately need to know but that are not adequately taught in today’s formulaic training schemes. I came up with short lists and long lists but in the end I think there are three primary things to address. They are:

  • Flight path visualization
  • Angle of attack
  • The ever-present big picture

Flight path visualization

Flight path vector

Glass cockpits show a flight path vector in the middle of the display – can you visualize it without such technology?

I have flown with a lot of pilots and have worked hard to help them develop the ability to visualize the flight path of the airplane. Unfortunately we can’t all afford the head-up display or synthetic vision system that includes a display of the flight path vector, but I’ll always remember the first time I flew one of these. Being able to see where the airplane was going seemed like magic. Just put the little symbol on the touchdown zone of the runway and keep it there and you will fly to the touchdown zone of the runway. Most of the computer programs, such as X-Plane, have this if you want to give it a try.

I was vaguely aware of how this worked when an article came in at the old Air Facts on the subject of precise approaches and landings. The author was Captain Gordon Graham, USMC, who was at the time an instructor at Pensacola teaching pilots how to best hook up with the number three wire on an aircraft carrier. That does define precision landings.

Gordon’s explanation of how to do it was based mainly on visual cues from the ultimate head-up display, the great outdoors. He led the reader through the visual cues found on downwind, the constant turn around to line up on final, and down final. (I didn’t leave out base leg. The Navy doesn’t fly a base as such.)

When I talked on the phone with Gordon about this as we were preparing to publish his article, “Landing as a Science” in the February, 1966 Air Facts, he must have gotten a sense that I didn’t quite get it. He told me to let him know the next time we were in my wife’s home town of Headland, Alabama, and he would come demonstrate.

I clearly remember the sound of the Navy T-28’s 1,425 hp Wright engine ticking over in the background when Gordon called on the pay phone from the strip at Headland and told me to get my butt out there and he would show me what he was talking about.

He showed me that and a lot of other things about the Navy T-28. That was one robust and spirited airplane. I had previously flown an 800 hp USAF T-28 and, as an old-friend airplane modifier once said to me, “horsepower makes all the difference in the world.”

cockpit shot of Malibu

If the touchdown point is moving lower in the windshield, you are overshooting.

The key to the Gordon story was in developing the ability to see the flight path vector without instrumentation. In simple terms, the point toward which the airplane is flying remains stationary. On final, if the touchdown zone is moving lower in the windshield, you are overshooting. If it is moving higher in the windshield, you are undershooting. If it is remaining in the same place in the windshield, things are fine so long as the airspeed is good and the path steep enough to clear obstacles. No pilot who has broken an airplane in an under- or overshoot accident paid heed to that.

When I would stress the importance of this, I would ask pilots to use 500 feet above the ground on final as a place to make a decision on the approach. If, when there, the view out front and the numbers on the panel aren’t right, it is time to go around and start all over. Most go-arounds that result in crashes start much later than that.

One place I found flight path visualization of great value was on night approaches to runways without visual approach slope guidance. There I would get established with the touchdown zone remaining stationary and the airspeed on a correct value and then consult the vertical speed. If it showed less than a 600 fpm rate of descent, I would judge the approach as being too shallow and take the steps to steepen it. Fortunately, most runways have come to have visual approach slope guidance.


The current attention to angle of attack is interesting to me because I had a Safe Flight angle of attack indicator in my Piper Pacer 60 years ago and my father wrote an article extolling the value of angle of attack instrumentation in Air Facts 50 years ago. To listen to some folks today, you would think that they just discovered this.

AoA Gauge in ICON

Does it have to be so complicated?

I want to point to something that I think explains why angle of attack instrumentation has remained so dormant for light airplanes for so long. You can find it right here on the screens of this journal.

We posted “Airspeed vs. angle of attack – what pilots don’t understand” by Chuck Moore a short while back. It is a good basic primer on the subject and prompted some heated comment. All this made a relatively simple subject seem horribly complicated. It is easy to see how a “normal” pilot could read the comments and decide that his trusty airspeed indicator is all he wants or needs.

Back, for the moment, to the May, 1965 article my father wrote on the subject. We will post the article in its entirety for those who wish to delve deeply into the subject. If you read it, do consider that the author started flying before airspeed indicators were installed in airplanes. Given that, to survive a pilot had to understand what was going on with the wings in every phase of flight.

I want to offer two quotes from the article:

Even without a proper formal knowledge of angle of attack.. anyone, then or now, who flies an airplane long without wrinkling it most certainly has at least a subconscious understanding of it.


The people who get deeply into the angle of attack realm are purists and they are impelled by intense missionary zeal. They can save your soul and want terribly to do so. And in the trying they literally scare the pants off of you.

The latter comment was, among other things, in reference to the methods used to demonstrate the value of angle of attack instrumentation while flying near the edge of the envelope.

Turn from cockpit

If you’re pulling back in a turn, you’re loading the wing.

All this aside, understanding angle of attack is extremely important. Low speed loss of control accidents, of which there are a lot, are matters of the pilot not properly managing angle of attack. To address this, the FAA has long required stall warning systems in airplanes that don’t give good aerodynamic warning of a stall. What either method does is tell the pilot that the angle of attack is getting too close to the stalling angle, which is 16 to 18 degrees on most airplanes. All that is required to move the angle in a safer direction is to unload the wing by lowering the nose of the airplane.

Much is made of the value of angle of attack instrumentation in adjusting speeds for weights below the maximum for the airplane. Guess what? You can do this with your brain, too. Some airplane manuals give speeds adjusted for weight but if you don’t have that information then any performance speed decreases by half the percentage the weight is below the maximum. If, for example, the weight is ten percent below the maximum, decrease all the performance speeds, from the stall on up, by five percent.

There are rules of thumb, too. Hopefully all pilots know that when you load the wing, as in pulling gs, the angle of attack increases. The most common way we load the wing is in steep turns. The rule of thumb to never bank more steeply than thirty degrees in low level maneuvering provides some angle of attack protection.

When the subject of angle of attack comes up, know two things. First, there’s nothing new here. The Wrights used a piece of string to show the wind relative to their airfoil. And, two, you had best have a good understanding of angle of attack if you are going to fly safely and well. Whether you want to get AOA information from an instrument or from your brain is up to you.

The elusive BIG PICTURE

This is often referred to as situational awareness. All it involves is knowledge of where you are, what is going on now, and what happens next, and next, and next, and on and on until the airplane is parked.

Where are you now, what is the airplane doing, what are you doing, and what comes next?

Where are you now, what is the airplane doing, what are you doing, and what comes next?

When I let relatively new instrument pilots fly my airplane I would often ask them what they were thinking about. The answer was, too many times, “I don’t know.” The correct answer might have covered where they are, what the airplane is doing, what they are doing, and what comes next.

Another question I liked to ask when it seemed like the airplane was ahead of them on an arrival was how many flying miles they had to go until touchdown. That one could really get blank stares but it is important if you are to make the peanut butter and jelly come out even. It never works if there is a lot of altitude and speed and not much distance to fly.

It is often stated that a pilot has to stay ahead of the airplane. That is just part of the big picture and means only that the pilot has to be thinking ahead all the way to touchdown.

Because I am a weather geek, I like to relate this to the relationship between the airplane and the weather. There is no way to know exactly what the weather is going to be from minute to minute. What you see is what you get. But the pilot who doesn’t make the effort to project his thinking into and through those clouds that are up ahead doesn’t really have a chance should something bad be lurking.

It is often said that accidents are usually the result of a series of bad moves. That might be true but it is also usually true that there is a time when the series can be broken and the deal salvaged without damage.

I will use an example of bad behavior to illustrate this. This is all hypothetical because you just know that I never did such, even when young and foolish.

This can happen in any airplane when the pilot is overcome by the desire to “show” the airplane to people on the ground. I sense that there are fewer instances of low flying, “buzz jobs,” now than there used to be but they still lead to some accidents.

Properly done buzz jobs can be safe enough but when a pilot’s mind moves from thinking about flying to thinking about the quality of the buzz job, that means trouble. Most accidents during buzz jobs do not occur on the first pass; they come as the pilot attempts to improve on the buzz job. Never buzz, it is illegal and dangerous, but if you do it, do it right the first time and go away.

Having command of the big picture includes knowing when to quit. When the weather is low pilots often crash while attempting one or more approaches after the first one doesn’t work. That has proven to be lethal. There are only a few things in flying where you can use the old cut-and-try method, but if the big picture is well in mind, that should never be necessary.

If you think the list should be longer, please be our guest and comment on this. I’ll stop at three and wonder what my father and Wolfgang would have thought of this effort.

Richard Collins
24 replies
  1. Mike Barlow
    Mike Barlow says:

    Very good column, with great advice. I had the good fortune to meet Wolfgang Langewiesche in Princeton, about 20 years ago. He even signed my copy of “Stick and Rudder.” It is still the best book about flying, and I always recommend it to younger pilots. I’m not sure why some pilots have a problem with angle of attack … it’s an aspect of flying that seems quite “natural.” It’s always top of mind when I’m turning base to final, that’s for sure …

  2. Joro
    Joro says:

    Excellent article. It will definatley help me as I am a new (200 hr) pilot and still trying to soak up as much knowlege as I can. It is nice that you are able to honor your father by continuing to share his stories. More please!

  3. Duane
    Duane says:

    Dick – these are good points, but I’ll beg to differ with you a little on the value of AOA instrumentation, and the fact that AOA changes with multiple variables.

    You pointed out that a pilot can do the calculation of AOA in his head, but I would point out that human brains make lousy computers, particularly when said brain is preoccupied with many different simultaneous diversions when operating close to the ground in maneuvering flight. The distractions are mostly unavoidable. And scientific studies have shown that human brains are terrible at multi-tasking, even though most of us think just the opposite.

    Having a precise AOA indication in the cockpit helps to train a pilot to calibrate the seat of his or her pants to the actual performance of the aircraft he/she flies, and that itself is of great value.

    And for those times when the cockpit is full of distractions (as it typically is in the traffic pattern on windy days with strong crosswinds, while keeping track of other traffic in the pattern, trying to line up the aircraft for arrival, chatty passengers in the cabin, radio traffic going on in your headset, flaps and gear and throttle and prop to manage, and so on and so forth) … well, having a trusty AOA indicator in sight, that you’re used to looking at in maneuvering flight, and which tells you NOW to reduce the AOA or you’re going to stall and spin out, can be of great value.

    The above common scenario is one of those many times a pilot can use a little help from his electronic friends.

    The fact that low altitude loss of control is still one of the leading causes of private aviation fatalities tells us that the system we’ve been using for many decades just isn’t working very well to prevent these needless fatalities. The present “system” consists of both deficiencies in pilot training and FAA airman standards, as well as reliance on a very poor substitute indicator of AOA – the airspeed indicator.

    I don’t get the resistance from so many to adopting this simple device, other than stubbornness and resistance to any form of change, coupled perhaps with refusal to recognize that we humans don’t do multi-tasking nearly as well as do our machines.

    • Duane
      Duane says:

      Per the NTSB, over 40% of all general aviation fatal accidents between 2001 and 2011 involved loss of control. That’s a huge proportion of our fatal accidents, considering all the other causes of GA fatalities.

      The NTSB recommends:

      “Pilots should:

      •be prepared to recognize the warning signs of an impending stall, and be able to apply appropriate recovery techniques before stall onset.
      •be honest with themselves about their knowledge level of stalls, and their ability to recognize and handle them.
      •utilize aeronautical decision making (ADM) techniques and flight risk assessment tools during both preflight planning and inflight operations.
      •manage distractions so that they do not interfere with situational awareness.
      •understand, properly train, and maintain currency in the equipment and airplanes they operate. They should take advantage of available commercial trainer, type club and transition training opportunities.

      Airplane owners should consider installing an AOA indicator, which, coupled with pilot understanding and training on how to best use it, can enhance situational awareness during critical or high-workload phases of flight.”

      • Chris Papageorgiou
        Chris Papageorgiou says:

        Student pilots have a fraction of the percentage in GA accidents compared to certificated (rusty ?) pilots.
        The explanation is simple.
        They fly with a CFI under supervision, recency of knowledge and experience, awareness of hazards, assistance in ADM…..
        These facts do not include AOA indicators on board.
        Training is the key, continuing education.
        A private pilot successfully completed his check ride today, he flies a few hours the next few months safely then no flights at all ( money, time, work, family) 18 months later he is still legally a PIC. If he ignores the contents of this article ( most do) he can go out there and fly.

        • Duane
          Duane says:

          Chris – You say that training is the key, because primary flight students don’t have (and apparently you think they don’t need) AOA indicators to help them learn to fly the wing?

          I would never disagree that training is important, both primary and recurrent training, and that more is better. But I live in the real world where most private pilots never train with a CFI except for the legally required minimum BFR, just one hour in the cockpit every two years. That’s not much training for most private pilots.

          We can all say that well, pilots should do more training than the minimum required, and nod in agreement … but the reality is we don’t, and that’s unlikely to ever change.

          And even CFIs are far from infallible. Two of the best and most experienced CFIs I’ve ever known, both being retired professional pilots with many tens of thousands of hours each, who within a three-year period lost their lives in low altitude loss of control accidents. One of which was during a dual instruction session with a student (both onboard died). As I like to say, we all can use a little help from our electronic friends from time to time.

          In any event, given that most of us will fly without benefit of a CFI in the right seat to guide us and keep us out of trouble for 99+% of our flying hours once we get our tickets, then where does the solo private pilot get the extra bit of help he or she needs from time to time?

          Once the AOA indicator is in or on your panel, she’ll be there on every single flight thereafter, in every possible condition of weight, balance, airspeed, flap setting, bank angle, turbulence, and wind shear … and she’ll be whispering to you, “Duane, this is what you’re asking your wing to do at this instant … maybe you need to adjust”.

          • Chris Papageorgiou
            Chris Papageorgiou says:


            I was referring to Nall report statistics and the absence of AOA on the accident involved airplanes.I am neither for nor against AOA.
            The term training/ continuing education applies to all, CFIs ATPs,DPEs included.
            As soon as we let our guard down, we will be on the Nall Report, NTSB, FAA statistic….
            As a CFI my primary concern is to remind myself, my students and anyone interested that I am not better than anyone else.
            An accident can happen to anyone.
            As I put my clothes on every morning I ask myself : Do I want to be buried in these clothes today ?
            It might sound strange, but it keeps me on my toes for the day.


          • Fenster
            Fenster says:

            As a student pilot, I recently posted about AOA indicators on a AOPA facebook forum , and shared my opinion that is was an invaluable device in the cockpit. To my surprise many old school pilots opined how unnecessary it was, and an AOA indicator wasn’t needed if you had a good feel for your airplane, etc etc. Typical bravado type stuff. Respectfully, I couldn’t disagree more, and when I’m fortunate enough to get my purchase my first plane, it will be one my first additions to my tool box.

  4. Chris Papageorgiou
    Chris Papageorgiou says:

    New instruments to aid pilots are very welcomed.
    There is no magic instrument that will give a pilot the wisdom and experience for safe flying except the old fashioned ” PP&E” Pilot Proficiency & Experience.
    Preparation is also evident in the article.
    PP&E&P are the tools we employ for a safe professional outcome every flight requires in order to enjoy the gift of safety in air transportation.
    As much as anyone wants to criticize the FARs, the PTS and the methods used for training and certification, it is undeniable that they need improvements, but they also deserve credit for what they aim to do: Regulate,Teach, Guide, Evaluate, Cast Vision for common sense in the quest for Safety.
    I try to teach my students what kept me safe to date,not an easy task but I love the challenge because it keeps me in my toes and most importantly ” my feet are always in their shoes”.
    When they ask me what Airplane would I buy so I can get there faster/safer ?
    My answer is always: Training.
    A good training is the answer to safety.
    Mr. Collins shows that in every article.
    Thank you Sir !!!!!

  5. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    Reducing the list down to three is definitely a challenge, but this list does seem general enough to be pretty inclusive.

    We do tend to think of safety only in the flying sense however. For that reason I might suggest a forth category – Listen To The Airplane. As airplanes get older, there seems to be rise in mechanical failure related accidents. In many of these, the airplane probably gave signs to the pilot well before the failure. If you listen to the airplane, a lot can be discerned. Hard starting, vibrations, leaks, color of the oil, power output, etc. Here the new engine analyzers can definitely help, but can not do it all. The pilot still needs to be in the loop.

    Maybe this could fall under the Big Picture category; I don’t know.

    • john
      john says:

      I agree that aircraft condition is a very important factor. The NTSB published a table titled “Defining Events” for 2012 GA accidents. While maneuvering flight was the big killer, pilot response to engine failure (including all reasons) was a close second. Mechanical failures have previously been estimated to be the root cause of 18-20% of GA accidents. I recently conducted a survey of GA pilots. The survey response was very positive. I limited questions to GA, single engine, normally aspirated, piston engine, fixed wing, factory built aircraft. Survey respondents averaged 1500 hours of flight experience in the target aircraft type, and the range was 64 hours to about 30,000 hours. 421 pilots provided input. Of those who responded about 1 in five had suffered a complete engine failure during their piloting career, yet of those who reported an engine failure, only 1 in five reported that event resulted in an accident. This suggests that the NTSB data base significantly underestimates the number of engine failures experienced by the GA fleet. While I didn’t pose questions about EAB aircraft, I expect the pilots of experimental singles have even more opportunities to practice emergency procedures… and to pay close attention to AOA and its surrogate, air speed.

      Thanks for a good comment. And thank you Richard Collins for another very interesting and insightful discussion.

  6. Charles Lloyd
    Charles Lloyd says:


    Very valid points – I bought Stick and Rudder years ago and the points are still stuck in my brain.

    The demo pilots at Citation Marketing, who were retired fighter pilots who introduced me to the value of a heads up AOA display in the late 70s. An interesting point is that I never received any training in Citation or Hawker type training on AOA systems included in any aircraft at Flight Safety.

    Ten years ago I became a missionary for GA AOA installation in single engine aircraft. I installed one in my 182 and wrote an article about the installation simplicity, calibration and operation. The result was one nasty-gram from an FAA inspection who shall we say was misinformed.

    Great article – Keep’em coming.

    Fly Safe,

  7. A. H. Powers
    A. H. Powers says:

    Great Article! I read “Stick and Rudder” in 1954 when I was learning to fly and have given copies of it to friends when they started training. I think it’s the best book on primary flying out there. The angle of attack discussions in the book resulted later in my purchasing and installing an angle of attack indicator in my Twin Comanche in 1990. The original one I bought from the inventor, Mr Huntington, was called a “Lift Reserve Indicator”. I still have the Twin Comanche (now modified with the Robertson STOL mod)and feel an AofA instrument it is the best safety investment I have in the airplane.
    A. H. Powers

  8. Cary Alburn
    Cary Alburn says:

    Like some who have already posted, I’m a bit of an AOA indicator proselyte, “converting” about 5 years ago after many years and a couple thousand hours of saying that I didn’t see the need, but now that I see the benefits, I’m really bemused by the anti-AOA indicator crowd. What can be wrong with knowing in a graphic way what the wing is doing? For myself, using rules of thumb to calculate differences in approach speeds just gets in the way of flying–there’s enough to do without trying to compute. As I’ve gotten older, that’s become even more difficult.

    I guess if I were to add one significant thing to the “list of three”, it would be attitude–not the airplane’s attitude, but the pilot’s attitude. We all know pilots who, because of their attitudes, are accidents waiting to happen. Conversely, we all also know pilots whose attitudes make us very comfortable. How to foster a positive attitude that includes safe practices all the time would appear to be a major issue–if someone can figure that out, the aviation accident rate would start down again.

  9. Lane Wallace
    Lane Wallace says:

    Hi, Richard –

    Just a note to let you know how much I’m enjoying your work at Air Facts — including this piece. It says something that, after all my years in the aviation magazine business, I was still intrigued enough to read something on “the basics.” What it says is that you have the breadth and depth of experience to bring a valuable new perspective to even well-trodden subjects, and the writing talent to make it accessible and interesting, even to old (or medium old) hands. Loved the part about the 8% royalties. Reminds me, too, how very privileged I was to have had the chance to work with you. Bottom line: I believe Air Facts is currently the best aviation publication out there. Kudos and applause. Lane

  10. Jim Frankenield
    Jim Frankenield says:

    Hi Lane….I’ll ditto all your comments to Richard. Here are my comments on AOA. A few hours of aerobatic instruction in a Citabria, Decathelon or two-holer Pitts is well spent $$$ IMHO.

    When I was taking dual in Trig’s champ in prep for my pvt. ck. ride back in July 1952, I asked him to show me spins, which he did, both left and right, usually one turn. Then it was my turn and it gave me much more confidence in my flying ability. Later I did loops and split S’s. (and balloon busting). Then, in the late ’50s, our local EAA chapter (I’ve been a lifetime member since 1959, EAA 6886), built the first chapter-built project, a Corben Baby Ace which I flew to Rockford from Phila. 1960 and ’61. Loops and snaps OK but I remember my first attempted slow roll which I split S out of in a screaming dive. duhhh, need more fwd. stick when inverted.

    Then in the ’60s (by this time I was a CFI, multi and instruments and a DPE for the local GADO), (now FSDO), and chief pilot and chief flight instructor at a small FBO north of PHL. During the years 1964-’68 Tom and I built two 225 hp D’Apuzzo Senior Aerosport bi-planes (which took the Grand Champion award (Tom) and me as Ist runnerup at the ’68 EAA Convention, Rockford, Ill.

    So with the aid of Duane Cole’s two books on aerobatic flying, I taught myself the usual air show maneuvers from snaps on top of loop, square loops, outside loops, Cuban 8s, vertical snaps – up and down, hammerheads, to the Lumchevak (tumble tail-over-nose).

    Now back to AOA. Mary and I headed from FLL to Andros, Bahamas, and after calling Small Hope Bay Lodge on unicom, lined up for the obligitory loop down low, just off the dock. I was ‘heavy’ (took off from FLL with 64 gal. fuel) Mary had luggage and was holding the top layer of our wedding cake on her lap,(frozen from last year from our 1971 marriage.) On the down side of the loop, looking ahead at the azure-blue water of the bay, I felt a ‘burble’ through my stick, of course I had to release a bit of back-pressure to decrease the AOA. Loop completed then back to the airport to be picked-up by Dick. I like to think that I learned something that day, the necessity of easing-off on the back pressure when a burble is felt and watch my weight (and altitude).

    My recommendation…..get some aerobatic training if you want to fully understand AOA. Old and not-so bold…Jim

    • Chris Papageorgiou
      Chris Papageorgiou says:


      Thank you for the refreshing reference to all these aerobatic maneuvers and the importance of practicing them.
      What I hear you saying is : The flight controls are talking to the pilot in real time as well as the seat or Alpha Sierra Sierra.

      Cheers !!!

  11. Adrian Ryan
    Adrian Ryan says:

    Excellent article! I bought a copy of “Stick & Rudder” more than 30 years ago, and although it is now well-thumbed and dog-eared it has proven to be an invaluable reference – more so than any of the so-called flight training textbooks I had to study to get my PPL.

    I didn’t get my PPL until I retired, and what surprised me was, as you say, the formulaic training. No-one explained to me what I was doing or what the aircraft was doing, it was simply “Do this, push that, twist the other…”.

    Without wishing to take up too much space, the approach and landing phase eluded me. I spent 14 hours of circuit practice and simply did not understand what I was doing, nor why I was getting it wrong. I would flare too high, too low, too fast etc, you name it I did it.

    Then one very experienced flight instructor took me under his wing, no pun intended, and one Saturday morning told me that he was going to get this monkey off my back. He showed me how to get a spot on the windshield lined up with my chosen touch-down point, and showed me that, keep it stationary, maintain airspeed, and then how to feel the ground effect and keep flying the damn thing even when the wheels touch, and suddenly I had it. I went home and re-read Wolfgang’s explanation, and cemented the picture in my head. Since then I have acquired a reputation of greasing it on the runway.

    I entirely agree with your other comments, many thanks for your insights.

  12. Don R
    Don R says:

    Another great article Richard. If it makes you feel any better, I have read at least three of your books, and am reading the fifth edition of weather flying per your recommendation. I have never read Stick and Rudder, but I may have to give it a go.

  13. Jim Frankenield
    Jim Frankenield says:

    Don R…….Not braggin’ but find me on page 207, Weather Flying, fifth edition. jim

    • Jay Mason
      Jay Mason says:

      Jim Frankenfield, are you the CFI that taught in the early ’60’s at Turner Field north of PHL? If so, I would like to get in touch with you-likely you are the Jim Frankenfield that my Dad trained with for his PPL there at that time.

  14. Warren
    Warren says:

    I think Richard’s three primary items are right on target. The concept of the aiming point (I pick an individual marking) remaining stationary is the fundamental method to descend to the runway and is in the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook including good graphics (FAA-H-8083-3A, Stabilized Approach Concept pg 8-7). It’s a technique that works exactly the same in all aircraft so after learning it in the first aircraft you fly you are set for all others. Beats me why it isn’t familiar to 100% of pilots.

    The AOA stall/spin issue is so much more than knowing a stall will occur when the critical angle of attack is exceeded, or that the pitch needs to be reduced when critically slow (reference the ‘What Pilots don’t Understand’ article by Chuck Moore that Richard mentioned). This is basic information in all of the Private Pilot Manuals and on the Knowledge Test – Aerodynamics 101. The issue is the overall skill of the pilot, or as Richard put it, doing it with your brain. The maneuvers that play a critical part, but which I never see discussed, are ground reference maneuvers (to fly a good pattern and anticipate ground speed and turning points to avoid steep banked turns), slow flight (including coordinated turns at approach speed), stalls and recoveries including entries from turns (recommended in the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook). If you don’t know what turning entry stalls look like and feel like, how are you going to anticipate that one is coming (so you can avoid it), and how are you going to recover from one. Put together these skills maximize the pilot’s Big Picture (Richard’s third primary item) or situational awareness – the pilot will be much further ahead of the airplane.

    Training in turning entry stalls is recommended by the FAA. And examiners may request a stall from a turning entry. However, training and testing often don’t happen so a pretty important skill in my opinion isn’t developed and tested. The AOA indicator then may look like an answer to the problem. However, as has been mentioned by other commenters, in base-to-final stall/spins we’re dealing with a pilot who is behind the airplane, fixates on the runway, has abrupt control technique, cross-controls, pulls the nose up, loses control. He does not use the turn coordinator, attitude indicator, or airspeed indicator effectively. You’d think the stall warning horn might save the day – apparently not. Is adding another instrument (AOA indicator) to the cockpit going to help?

    Besides the above maneuvers, what I think would help is flight training with fewer instruments, not more. For years, I would not solo a student without several takeoffs and landings shortly before solo with the airspeed indicator covered (sometimes the whole panel covered with a chart). Primarily it was to avoid any problems in case of an instrument failure on the upcoming solo. It never failed to produce increased confidence and safety, including for the future. I could always see the student’s ‘seat of the pants’ senses, observation outside the airplane, and coordination of all controls turn up to the maximum, and the pattern, approach, and landing always finished as well as or better than with a full panel.

  15. Jim Frankenfield
    Jim Frankenfield says:

    I’m youe guy, Jay Mason. I worked for Art Turner from 1960 thru 1971 when I married Mary and took up residence in FLL. Now retired and living in MLB.

    I’d love to hear from you. Any relation to Mort Mason?

    [email protected] 321 543-1013 (anytime) Old, not so bold, jim

  16. Joel Godston
    Joel Godston says:

    What a GREAT True-To-Life VERY useful article that every pilot, and ‘wanna-be’ pilot should read, understand, and make use of, “The Three (3) Keys to Flying Safely”. While Richard Collins is no longer with us, his articles, and what he did for ALL of Aviation; and those interested or involved in the ‘World ‘ of Aviation WILL always remember him. I know I will…. because, while I no longer fly, the Three (3) Keys (or is it Six, 12, or 100) for Save Flying; I did become an integral part of my flying for 50+ years. I flew Piper Cub, T-28, T-33, and B-47 aircraft in the US Air Force; T-33, F-84, and F86H aircraft in the Mass. Air National Guard; and owned and flew a Cessna 182 in the civilian sector….. and Richard Collins Three (3) Keys played an ALL Important Role in making Flying Save… Amem, Amen, AMEN!

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