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Attitude Instrument Flying—Primary and Supporting Method

by Flight Learnings

in Attitude Instrument Flying - Electronic Flight Display

The second method for performing attitude instrument flight is a direct extension of the control/power method. By utilizing the primary and supporting flight instruments in conjunction with the control and power  instruments, the pilot can precisely maintain aircraft attitude. This method utilizes the same instruments as the control/power method; however, it focuses more on the instruments that depict the most accurate indication for the aspect of the aircraft attitude being controlled. The four key elements (pitch, bank, roll, and trim) are discussed in detail.

Similar to the control/power method, all changes to aircraft attitude need to be made using the attitude indicator and the power instruments (tachometer, manifold pressure gauge, etc.). The following explains how each component of the aircraft attitude is monitored for performance.

Pitch Control

The pitch of the aircraft refers to the angle between the longitudinal axis of the aircraft and the natural horizon. When flying in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), the natural horizon is unavailable for reference and an artificial horizon is utilized in its place. [Figure 6-30] The only instrument capable of depicting the aircraft attitude is the attitude indicator displayed on the PFD. The attitude and heading reference system (AHRS) is the engine that drives the attitude display. The AHRS unit is capable of precisely tracking minute changes in the pitch, bank, and yaw axes, thereby making the PFD very accurate and reliable. The AHRS unit determines the angle between the aircraft’s longitudinal axis and the horizon line on initialization. There is no need or means for the pilot to adjust the position of the yellow chevron, which represents the nose of the aircraft.

Figure 6-30. Pitch of the aircraft.

Figure 6-30. Pitch of the aircraft.

Straight-and-Level Flight

In straight-and-level flight, the pilot maintains a constant altitude, airspeed and, for the most part, heading for extended periods of time. To achieve this, the three primary instruments that need to be referenced in order to maintain these three variables are the altitude, airspeed, and heading indicators.

Primary Pitch

When the pilot is maintaining a constant altitude, the primary instrument for pitch is the altimeter. As long as the aircraft maintains a constant airspeed and pitch attitude, the altitude should remain constant.

Two factors that cause the altitude to deviate are turbulence and momentary distractions. When a deviation occurs, a change in the pitch needs to be made on the attitude indicator. Small deviations require small corrections, while large deviations require larger corrections. Pilots should avoid making large corrections that result in rapid attitude changes, for this may lead to spatial disorientation. Smooth, timely corrections should be made to bring the aircraft back to the desired attitude.

Pay close attention to indications on the PFD. An increase in pitch of 2.5° produces a climb rate of 450 feet per minute (fpm). Small deviations do not require large attitude changes. A rule of thumb for correcting altitude deviations is to establish a change rate of twice the altitude deviation, not to exceed 500 fpm. For example, if the aircraft is off altitude by 40 feet, 2 × 40 = 80 feet, so a descent of approximately 100 fpm allows the aircraft to return to the desired altitude in a controlled, timely fashion.

In addition to the primary instrument, there are also supporting instruments that assist the pilot in cross-checking the pitch attitude. The supporting instruments indicate trend, but they do not indicate precise attitude indications. Three instruments (vertical speed, airspeed, and altitude trend tape) indicate when the pitch attitude has changed and that the altitude is changing. [Figure 6-31] When the altitude is constant, the VSI and altitude trend tape are not shown on the PFD. When these two trend indicators are displayed, the pilot is made aware that the pitch attitude of the aircraft has changed and may need adjustment. Notice in Figure 6-31 that the aircraft is descending at a rate of 500 fpm.

Figure 6-31. Supporting instruments.

Figure 6-31. Supporting instruments.

The instrument cross-check necessitates utilizing these supporting instruments to better manage altitude control. The VSI and trend tape provide the pilot with information regarding the direction and rate of altitude deviations. The pilot is thus able to make corrections to the pitch attitude before a large deviation in altitude occurs. The airspeed indicator depicts an increase if the pitch attitude is lowered. Conversely, when the pitch attitude increases, the pilot should note a decrease in the airspeed.

Primary Bank

When flying in IMC, pilots maintain preplanned or assigned headings. With this in mind, the primary instrument for bank angle is the heading indicator. Heading changes are displayed instantaneously. The heading indicator is the only instrument that displays the current magnetic heading, provided that it is matched to the magnetic compass with all deviation adjustments accounted for. [Figure 6-32]

Figure 6-32. Primary bank.

Figure 6-32. Primary bank.

There are supporting instruments associated with bank as well. The turn rate trend indicator shows the pilot when the aircraft is changing heading. The magnetic compass is also useful for maintaining a heading; however, it is influenced by several errors in various phases of flight.

Primary Yaw

The slip/skid indicator is the primary instrument for yaw. It is the only instrument that can indicate if the aircraft is moving through the air with the longitudinal axis of the aircraft aligned with the relative wind.

Primary Power

The primary power instrument for straight-and-level flight is the airspeed indicator. The main focus of power is to maintain a desired airspeed during level flight. No other instrument delivers instantaneous indication.

Learning the primary and supporting instruments for each variable is the key to successfully mastering attitude instrument flying. At no point does the primary and supporting method devalue the importance of the attitude indicator or the power instruments. All instruments (control, performance, primary, and supporting) must be utilized collectively.

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