Training & Safety: Are You The Best You Can Be?

Well, that is sort of a question that has no good answer. But, maybe this is a good resolution for 2015. And I would like to offer some thoughts that might help you keep such a resolution.

If I told you that you needed to learn a power setting and pitch setting and configuration for every phase of flight, you would think that your work load just increased dramatically. But actually, that knowledge, along with the realization that the trim wheel is your best friend, is going to make your flying so much easier and so much more precise.

When I help pilots transition to a new airplane, the first thing we work on for climbout and cruise is the pitch picture. This sight picture is different for every pilot, and certainly for every airplane. The sight picture differs due to the height of the pilot’s eyes relative to the glare shield, and the way that the cowling slopes away from the windscreen. But this is going to be the first of the airplane’s secrets to determine.

When I first sit myself in a plane that I have not flown before, I consciously look outside and take in a mental picture of the horizon relative to the windscreen. Because that is probably going to be the picture I see when I am at cruise airspeed. And then I ask myself the following settings for takeoff, climb, cruise, descent, and landing:




          Landing gear position

          Flap setting

And for fixed-gear, fixed-prop aircraft, this gets real easy. Prop doesn’t change, gear doesn’t change, and the flaps are generally up except for landings. So we only need to know pitch and power settings that will result in the desired performance for each of phase of flight. And even this is not that bad. You already know most of them.

For takeoff and climbout, the power setting is FULL. You will want to check the pitch picture for three different airspeeds: Vx, Vy and perhaps a cruise-climb airspeed.

For cruise, you will want to look at the performance charts (aw, read the book? – yes). But one thing will pop out at you if you look closely. For a fixed prop, there is probably a small range of power settings that you will use for day in, day out flying. For a Cessna 172M, for example, a common tach range is 2300-2400. Depending on density altitude, this power range provides about a six-knot range in the 102 knot range. If you fly an aircraft with a constant speed prop, you will need to spend a bit more time with the book. But still, you will find the throttle/prop setting that gives you the performance you like for that compromise between fuel burn and TAS.

Knowing the combination of power setting and pitch picture is going to pay big dividends when it comes to the descent and traffic pattern. Again, experiment a bit with the power setting that results in a 500 fpm rate of descent, as well as for a 300 fpm and 1,000 fpm rates. And for those pilots who have landing gear, flaps and speed brakes in their bag of speed reduction tricks, figure out the pitch and power settings that work with these configuration settings.

Once you enter the pattern, establish the airspeed you want for downwind. And then note the pitch and power setting that holds that airspeed. And of course, there will be a different power setting once the gear comes down. But, the benefit of this knowledge is that as you approach your target altitude in the descent from cruise altitude to downwind altitude, you need only to set the throttle to the RPM (or MP) that you have determined works best for you. Then, as the plane levels off, the airspeed will decay to that point. You will probably need to make a small throttle adjustment due to changes in weight and density altitude, but your power setting is going to be close.

Base and final? Same deal. Know the desired power setting and pitch picture, and work from there. Most pilots will say, at this point, “Well every landing is different, so every pitch/power setting will be different. The winds change, sometimes I have to extend my downwind leg for traffic, sometimes I am making a straight-in approach.” Agreed. But if you know the starting point for your pitch and power settings, small changes are easy.

Don’t just practice until you get it right. Practice until you don’t get it wrong


Chris Hope has taught fledgling and experienced pilots for nearly 40 years, mostly in the Kansas City area. Chris holds flight instructor certificates for single engine land and sea airplanes and multi-engine land planes, as well as for instrument training. He holds ground instructor certificates for advanced and instrument training. Chris is an FAA Gold Seal Instructor and a Master Certified Flight Instructor. Chris serves as a member of the FAASTeam in the Kansas City area. His website is

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