The window is your best tool

Pitching for Attitude vs Pitching for Speed

By Scott Krogh, MySkyForce, ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI

The window in your airplane is one of your most valuable tools when you are learning to fly.

By keeping your eyes outside a majority of time, you will fly better, expedite your training, and perfect your landings and maneuvers in less time.

As someone who has spent over 6,000 hours teaching students to fly, I guarantee it!

Let me give you an example of how looking out the window can help you perfect one of the first maneuvers students must learn.

Searching for 79 KIAS

A while back I flew with a student who had about 70 hours of flight time and a Private Pilot Certificate. It was our first flight together, and we were going to be working together as he prepared for his instrument rating. On that first flight I asked him to perform a VY climb as we transitioned to the practice area.

We were VFR in a Piper Warrior and for a few minutes I watched the airspeed go up to about 83 KIAS, then down to about 72 KIAS. Back and forth it went, never once stopping and remaining on 79 KIAS (the speed recommended for a VY climb by the Pilots Operating Handbook for the Piper Warrior III).  It was clear to me the student was focused on the airspeed indicator as the way to nail down the elusive 79 KIAS.

I pulled out a few post-it notes (I never fly without them) and covered the airspeed indicator and the attitude indicator. The student was now forced to look outside and maintain an attitude by relating the position of the nose to the horizon. We discussed the proper attitude for a VY climb in that plane, and he maintained the attitude by looking out the window as we climbed. When the post-it note was removed, we were in a steady 79 KIAS climb.

Struggling with climbs 

The simple climb is one of the first maneuvers students are taught, yet many pilots continue to struggle with climbing throughout their training. And it is probably because students are usually taught to associate a climb with an airspeed. The student will be told the airplane has a best rate of climb (VY) and a best angle of climb (VX) both of which have a specific airspeed associated with them. During his early training, my student had been taught to advance the throttle to full power and pitch for 79 KIAS to climb at VY.

The fact of the matter is, a pilot does not pitch for an airspeed to conduct a VY climb. To conduct that climb in a Piper Warrior, you set full power and pitch for an attitude that yields 79 KIAS. The speed is the result of the attitude and the power setting.

The subtle distinction between pitching for an attitude that results in a speed versus pitching for a speed can make the difference between success and failure for many pilots as they begin flight training.

Student pilots and even some experienced pilots spend entirely too much time staring at the instruments, neglecting the wealth of information provided by looking out the window and referencing the aircraft’s attitude in relation to the horizon.

I see why students are so concerned with the instruments. As instructors we constantly ask them to fly a certain heading, climb at a certain airspeed or maintain a specific altitude. The Airman Certification Standards (ACS) define specific headings, bank angles, and altitudes for maneuvers. If you are asked to perform a steep turn at 45 degrees of bank angle and maintain an altitude within 100 feet of a starting point, it is only natural to look inside at the instruments.

Here’s the answer

So here is my tip if you are struggling with your maneuvers.

Have your instructor demonstrate the maneuver, while you note how the nose looks in relation to the horizon. Use this mental image as you practice replicating the attitude without the instruments. It will make you a better pilot, and it will seem effortless. It is much easier to move the nose of the airplane a few degrees on the horizon than it is to move the little miniature airplane on attitude indicator a few millimeters.

Cover the instruments or just ignore them, and you will find your maneuvers improve. You won’t need an inclinometer to tell you more rudder is needed during a power on stall when you can simply look out the window and notice the nose yawing dramatically to the left.

Instrumented rated pilots rely solely on the instruments when they are in the clouds, but the best instrument-rated pilots are the ones who learned to fly by looking out the window and setting an attitude and power setting. Once that skill is mastered, it can be applied to the instruments, but not before.

Remember to use your window. It is one of the best instruments you have.

Pilots have a cool vibe

Everyone notices when they walk through the airport

It’s that whole “There goes the pilot” thing. Bars on the shoulder. Well-traveled luggage rolling carelessly behind. Some swagger in the walk. Sunglasses hanging just so in the pocket.

MySkyForce can’t get you the bars. But it can put the swagger in your walk. (That confidence comes from knowing your stuff.) The MySkyForce pilot training app for iPad and iPhone gives you all the information you need to pass your FAA tests for Private or Sport Pilot certification.

We think you can figure out how to hang the glasses yourself.

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