Rudder, Aileron or Both?

by Richard Morey
© Copyright 2022. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine August/September 2022 Digital Issue

My introduction to flying was unconventional. As previously mentioned in prior articles, I grew up in an aviation family, handling the controls of aircraft at a very young age. I was so young that I could not see over the instrument panel, nor reach the rudder pedals. The advantage of this was, I became somewhat adept at, or at least comfortable with, instrument flying. The disadvantage was, I did not learn how to use the “rudder” until I started flight training! In this, I was no better nor worse off than every other student pilot. We all must learn how to use the rudder when we start flying.

Years of driving cars teach us skill sets that are counterproductive to pilots. As any new student will soon discover when they embark on their first taxi, the desire to “steer” with the yoke is something that must be overcome.

Driving the aircraft versus flying the aircraft.

The yoke looks like a steering wheel. We are used to steering a car, thus student pilots, as well as more experienced pilots, tend to overuse the yoke and underuse rudder. Here is a classic example, which happens often on takeoff.

The pilot begins the takeoff roll and more-or-less keeps the aircraft on centerline. On rotation, the nose of the aircraft moves to the left. This is due to gyroscopic precession, torque, and asymmetric thrust of the propeller (P factor). The student pilot then banks the aircraft right, to offset the left drift. This “works,” in that it keeps the aircraft from turning further to the left, but results in an uncoordinated climb. The correct response to the left-turning tendency is to apply right rudder to the extent needed to keep the aircraft from turning in the first place. Use the ailerons to keep the wings level in a straight climb. This results in coordinated flight, which gives better climb performance.

“A conditioned response is an automatic response established by training to an ordinary neutral stimulus.” (Oxford dictionary.)

For the most part, pilots are aware of the aircraft turning left on climb out and can tell you about P factor. They see the nose drift and respond. Seeing is half the battle, but not the full picture. The second half of the battle is to suppress any conditioned responses from driving and execute the correct response. To be a proficient pilot, one needs to develop a new skill set. Pilots must overcome their conditioned responses developed as a result of driving an automobile, often called muscle memory, and develop a new set of flying-conditioned responses. One of the most important is this: the rudder is there to put and keep the aircraft’s nose where you want it. Read that again: the rudder is there to put and keep the nose of the aircraft where you want it. The ailerons are there to bank the aircraft. These are not one and the same.

Using the ailerons in an attempt to steer the aircraft is at best sloppy flying, and at worst, dangerous. A dangerous scenario can occur during crosswind landings. This can present itself in a couple of ways, both of which could easily result in the aircraft being blown off the runway if crosswinds are strong. The first scenario can occur in transition from crab to slip. On final, in a crab, the nose of the aircraft is offset from the runway centerline into the wind. Many pilots erroneously use ailerons and enter a turn away from the wind to align the nose with the runway centerline. This raises the upwind wing and will result in the aircraft being blown downwind. The correct technique is to pull the nose of the aircraft in alignment with rudder, then bank into the wind to the extent required to offset wind drift.

The second scenario occurs during flare. Assuming the aircraft is in alignment with the runway in a side slip offsetting the crosswind drift, when the nose comes up during round-off and flare, gyroscopic precession will cause the nose to turn left. The engine and propeller act as a very large gyroscope. Pushing a gyroscope upwards results in a left deflection. Pilots often try to correct for this by steering with the ailerons, raising the left wing. If the crosswind is from the left, this will result in the aircraft being blown downwind, as it was in the crab-to-slip example. This is a common scenario in which an instructor would find themselves assisting or taking over a landing. The rudder is there to put and keep the nose where you want it. In the flare, if the nose moves to the left, apply right rudder to the extent necessary to put and keep the aircraft’s nose where you want it to be!

How do we develop rudder as a conditioned response?

Anyone who has taken an introductory flight lesson with me recently knows that most of the lesson is flown with hands off the yoke. The reason for this is to introduce the use of the rudder, trim, and how power affects flight. A simple drill can make you more rudder-aware.

Start at cruise power and trimmed for straight-and-level flight, then sit on your hands and fly the aircraft with your feet. It is simpler than it seems. Press left to go left, press right to go right. The yaw induced by rudder deflection pulls the inside wing back slightly and pushes the outside wing forward slightly. This reduces lift on the inside wing and increases lift on the outside, causing the aircraft to bank into the turn.

Practice flying with your feet. Start with straight and level, adding opposite rudder when a wing drops. Progress to turns, keeping the bank angle about 15 degrees or so. Practice using rudder only for straight and level flight and turns until using your feet becomes automatic (i.e., a conditioned response). Then go back to using rudder and ailerons in coordination.

Pilots have the voices of their instructors forever in their minds. You undoubtedly heard your flight instructor in the back of your head during your first solo? CFIs are no exception to this. In my case, I have been privileged to fly with a number of excellent instructors. One of the better ones was Scott Capener, my flight instructor for instrument, commercial, and flight instructor. His voice often comes to my mind as I teach: “Lead a turn with your feet,” and “Rolling out of a turn is simply starting a turn in the opposite direction.” Keep this in mind while practicing with rudder only and with rudder and aileron.

Another of Scott Capener’s sayings was, “A landing is just a transition from flying to taxiing… the closer you are to the runway, the closer you are to taxiing.” What this translates to is use rudder more on final and ailerons less. Many pilots revert to “steering” with ailerons on final, rather than using rudder to put and keep the nose of the aircraft where they want it. If you tend to wander on final, try using rudder to keep the aircraft’s nose straight and aileron to keep the wings level, assuming that winds are down the runway or calm.

In summary, many pilots overuse aileron and underuse rudder. This is caused by the conditioned reflex of steering, developed by years of driving a car. To become more rudder-aware, pilots need to develop a new set of conditioned responses based on the correct use of the rudder. Practicing flying with rudder alone will develop the required conditioned response necessary to stop driving the aircraft and start flying it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richard Morey was born into an aviation family. He is the third generation to operate the family FBO and flight school, Morey Airplane Company at Middleton Municipal Airport – Morey Field (C29). Among Richard’s diverse roles include charter pilot, flight instructor, and airport manager. He holds an ATP, CFII, MEII, and is an Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic (A&P) with Inspection Authorization (IA). Richard has been an active flight instructor since 1991 with over 15,000 hours instructing, and almost 19,000 hours total time. Of his many roles, flight instruction is by far his favorite! Comments are welcomed via email at Rich@moreyairport.com or by telephone at 608-836-1711. (www.MoreyAirport.com).

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.

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