Super Cub landing
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There’s an old story about an insane asylum in which nobody ever thought up any new jokes, so all the old jokes were given numbers. This meant that telling a joke only required giving its number.

In that same spirit, here is a list of arguments as to whether pitch or power controls airspeed or altitude. Now pilots can discuss the issue more succinctly by tossing numbers around.

  1. Throttle in Cessna

    Does pitch or power control airspeed or altitude?

    Pitch controls speed, power controls altitude.

  2. Pitch controls altitude, power control speed.
  3. It’s not what controls what, it’s what is used to control what.
  4. Neither one directly affects only airspeed or altitude, they’re interrelated.
  5. How can you say which controls what without comparing throttle/wheel movement amplitudes?
  6. How can you say which controls what when the units are different?
  7. Look at the ACS standards for speed and altitude tolerances for a given maneuver and express what controls what in terms of percent of allowable deviation.
  8. Write out the fourth order linearized longitudinal dynamics and compare the coefficients.
  9. Pitch is the high frequency component of the control law, power the low frequency component.
  10. The real issue is not what controls what, but how we describe what controls what.
  11. Nothing controls altitude, you can only control altitude rate.
  12. Is the question about small changes or big changes?
  13. It depends on whether you’re tracking the glideslope or fighting up- and down-drafts in cruise.
  14. It depends upon whether power is fixed or not.
  15. Are we talking about the current FAA answer, the one before that, or the one before that?
  16. Airline pilots will tell you to just turn on the autopilot and ring the flight attendants for coffee.
  17. In comparing textbook answers, the oldest textbook is correct.
  18. Look it up in “Stick and Rudder.”
  19. Do not ask a glider pilot.
  20. Are we talking about high wing or low wing airplanes?
  21. It depends upon whether the airplane has a high or a low thrust line.
  22. The youtube channel with the most views is correct.
  23. The youtube channel with the most views is not correct.
  24. Take your CFI’s word for it, unless they are building hours for the airlines.
  25. Take your CFI’s word for it, unless they learned at a flight school with more than five locations.
  26. Navy pilots are correct, Air Force pilots are incorrect.
  27. Air Force pilots are correct, Navy pilots are incorrect.
  28. Go find a Master’s Thesis on the topic. It will be wrong.
  29. Is there another answer besides these?
  30. Who says there’s only one answer?

PS – If you are taking your Private Pilot flight test, make sure you give the correct number. Or just give all of them.

Ed Wischmeyer
20 replies
  1. Dale C Hill
    Dale C Hill says:

    #32 From Top Gun “I feel the need, the need for speed!” Goose and Maverick walking in from a flight.

    #33 Every fighter pilot, “Speed is LIFE!”

    #34 “Take the shot, you probably won’t hit ’em, but you’ll scare the pants of ’em!”

    #35 Good advice, “Have a ‘last ditch’ maneuver that scares you, ’cause it will also scare the other guy!”

    #36 “At the merge (when your radar return overlaps the enemy) be going as fast as you can and keep your head on a swivel!’

  2. Skip Stagg
    Skip Stagg says:

    Gentlemen! Please !!
    Lets have some order here.
    The real answer is, as we all know MONEY controls both air speed and altitude
    As in the book and movie “The Right Stuff” No bucks no buck Rogers!

  3. cornelius cosentino
    cornelius cosentino says:

    THIS IS How as a CFI I ANSWER THE PITCH OR POWER…HOW I solve the issue:

    Tell have my students –
    – fly out as far as possible and climb if necessary to CONTINUE TO see the runway VASI lights.
    – To mark the position on the sectional and turn inbound.
    – Slow to approach speed note the power setting and where the throttle is BY FEEL
    – To start a decent as the VASI lights turnS white – cover the RPM gage – HAVE THEM reduce power by feel — hold the same pitch attitude
    – Note the airspeed and lower the pitch to control the airspeed
    – Once the design rate of descent and airspeed and VASI light are established Pitch controlling airspeed and power rate of descent to stay on the glide path
    – next add power and hold the pitch and then re-establish on glide path setting
    – next reduce power to descend below the VASI glide path then add power hold the pitch and re-establish the VASI glide path.
    – practice going up on and down the VASI glide path … it is amazing how fast they learn
    – most of my students solos in minimum time …in part by mastering this simple drill.
    there approach to landing is so much like and airliner …beautiful to watch them when they solo…

    Please share your VASI LIGHT DRILL experience and note if the drill answers the question ABOUT Pitch and Power? FEEDBACK to [email protected] C?T 813-784-4669

  4. Duane Mader
    Duane Mader says:

    Final answer, 31- All of the Above!
    Teaching power for altitude may help students realize the need to get up or slow a descent requires power.
    Teaching an ILS- fly it like an autopilot does. Pitch to hold the slope, power for speed.

  5. Ray
    Ray says:

    Duane said it best “do it like the autopilot” – trying to track an ILS glideslope with power adjustments is like trying to write your name with the pen on the end of a fishing rod.

  6. rwyerosk
    rwyerosk says:

    Hmmmm……man are you looking for trouble alright……

    In this case one has to ask god…..

    BTW if your flying along and ATC says slow down 20kts….Your on auto pilot on alt hold…..and the old rule of thumb is 100RPM equals 5kts….

    Your IAS is 100kts so reduce power 400rpm…….so power controls airspeed!

  7. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    Variation on the numbered joke joke: a newbie admitted to the ward is mystified by the number calling among inmates followed by laughter. After explanation, in the middle of the next night’s number-calling session, he tries his luck. He calls a couple of numbers__crickets. He asks a lifer why his numbers got no laughs. Answer: “ Some can tell ‘em, and some can’t.”

  8. Rick Van Arsdale
    Rick Van Arsdale says:

    See Catherine Cavagnaro in AOPA PILOT titled are we there yet? She uses lift v drag graph to describe region of reverse command. If you’re on the back side of the power curve, pitch controls airspeed. If you’re on the front side, pitch is used to maintain altitude, like an autopilot.

    • Warren Webb Jr
      Warren Webb Jr says:

      That’s a very common total misinterpretation of the Region of Reversed Command, Chapter 11 in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. If you were flying a V22 Osprey, it would be true. When slowing, the engines/rotors point up and take over altitude control. But in a fixed wing airplane in the region below best glide speed, the thrust vector doesn’t change. It is only a horizontal force and in a Skyhawk, the maximum force is around 500 lbs. So it is ridiculous for anyone to say that that force can control altitude while the pilot pitches to airspeed. The Region of Reversed Command is that region of speed from best glide down to the stall. As you get slower, more power is required to hold a slower speed because the induced drag from the wing increases with every knot slower. Try it yourself. With flaps up, note the power to hold airspeed at 65 (best glide), then 55, then 45. More power will be required at 55 than 65, more at 45 than 55.


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