Dynamic Flight Maneuvers: Stop, Look, Remember

By Scott Spangler on December 11th, 2023

Given the traffic seen on my daily stroll around town, except for the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh late summer interlude, the sky over Omro seems to be a no-fly zone. When the wind is right, I’ll see a regional jet whining its way north to Appleton International, and there’s the occasional business jet or turboprop on its way to Wittman Field, roughly 10 miles to the east. But when I hear a piston engine, I stop and look. If I’m lucky, like I was last week, it is a Cessna 172 from the Fox Valley Tech program out practicing maneuvers and other essential stick and rudder skills. On this day the lesson was clearly stalls and slow flight.

Rooted at a standstill in the middle of the sidewalk, I watched and heard the pilot work though the roster of approach and departure loss of lift attitudes, and after each of them, the Cessna recovered smoothly with no wah-wah of uncertain power changes. The Cessna demonstrated the same sure smoothness as it eased into slow flight, extended full flaps, and then slowly retracted them with little or no apparent loss of altitude. With the lesson apparently over, the Cessna and I turned east for our respective homes.

As the Cessna diminished to a muter pinpoint, I wondered if the pilot enjoyed the rewards of the practice of dynamic flight, the skillful manipulation of the flight controls and go-lever to achieve the desired three-dimensional goal. I hope so. Never a hundred-dollar hamburger guy, my most rewarding flights focused on perfecting the fundamental flight skills. And to challenge myself, I would combine a series of maneuvers and aim for predetermined goals with a plus-or-minus nothing deviation from the appropriate altitude or speed.

One of my favorite combinations was appending the slow flight flap exercise to the end of a chandelle. A climbing 180-degree turn introduced during my education for a commercial pilot certificate, it requires precision control that is more challenging than it at first seems. You enter the maneuver at a predetermined heading and airspeed. Rolling into a turn (left or right) starts the maneuver, gently banking to—and maintain—30°.

At the same time, you smoothy apply full power and increase pitch to control airspeed, with the goal being just shy of the critical angle of attack. I relied on the tenor range of the Cessna’s stall warning. The bass note told me I was getting close, and the soprano stridently told me I’d gone too far. Halfway through the 180° heading change (a predetermined plus-or-minus goal calculated on my entry heading) the challenge changes, from holding a constant bank while increasing pitch to maintaining the stall warning’s tenor pitch while gradually rolling out of the bank that exactly opposite of my entry heading.

Because I was already at the critical angle of attack at full power, slowly adding full Cessna barndoors without stalling really challenged the seat of my pants and visual scan, and it was a good way to practice recovering from stalls, as well. Success depends on smooth and precise inputs. More importantly (to me, at least), it was fun, as striving to be better usually is. Scott Spangler, Editor

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