February 2000Flying Safe

Instrument Training

Coordination Exercises You Should Master


Flying The Vertical S

Training patterns are used to teach the flight-control coordination, planning, and execution techniques that are required for instrument approaches and missed approaches. With today's abundance of instrument approaches and the proliferation of flight simulators, many of the early patterns have become obsolete. The Vertical S, however, is still invaluable for developing your instrument scan and elevator-throttle coordination. All pilots will benefit from flying the constant-airspeed Vertical S, but if you are a VFR-only pilot, you should fly this maneuver using a combination of visual and instrument references.

The Vertical S is a series of constant-heading climbs and descents with no level flight segments. Fly it first as a constant-airspeed maneuver. When you've mastered that, fly it as a constant-rate maneuver, using 500-foot-per-minute climbs and descents. Instrument students should fly both versions with and without the attitude indicator.

The maneuver starts with a 1,000-foot climb and descent, as shown in the illustration. Each succeeding climb is decreased by 200 feet, and the maneuver is completed after the final 200-foot climb and descent. As climb duration decreases, maintaining airspeed and hitting the target altitudes become more difficult unless you are the master of attitude and power-a goal that can't be reached unless you have mastered elevator-throttle coordination.

During your initial 1,000-foot climb, note the power setting and pitch attitude that are required to maintain the assigned airspeed, and think about your transition to the descent. You should use the 10-percent level-off rule. If you are climbing at 700 feet per minute, start your transition to the descent when you're 70 feet below the target altitude. During the 1,000-foot descent, again note the power setting and pitch attitude that are required to maintain the assigned airspeed. Again, use the 10 percent level-off rule as you transition to the next climb.

You now know the attitudes and power settings that are required for the constant-airspeed Vertical S. The attitudes and power settings will be different for the constant-rate Vertical S because those climbs and descents are at 500 fpm, and you will lead your target altitudes by 50 feet.

At each transition point, the most common error is airspeed fixation. To solve that problem, your instructor should cover the airspeed indicator when you start the transition and uncover it when you establish a stabilized climb or descent. If you make the attitude and power changes at the proper rate, airspeed will not change. The smoothness of the transition and your ability to maintain airspeed are more important than hitting the exact altitude.

When you must transition into the next climb or descent with the airspeed indicator covered, you are forced to think about attitude and power. Don't become obsessed with precision. If you concentrate on the primary instruments-the instruments that show the numbers that have been assigned-the maneuver becomes difficult to master. You will soon learn that the "numbers" are your third scanning priority. Attitude and power are first, and the airplane's trend of movement as depicted by the turn coordinator and vertical speed indicator is second.

As you fly this maneuver, note your hand movements. If your throttle hand moves, your yoke hand moves in the opposite direction. Throttle forward, yoke aft, and vice versa. For excellent performance, you will need to establish the target attitude and power setting simultaneously.

Most pilots think of holding patterns and instrument approaches as the keys to instrument proficiency. I place more importance on coordination maneuvers. If your ability to coordinate the elevator and throttle deteriorate, you will not be happy with other instrument flying tasks. Warm up with the Vertical S and see what a difference it makes.


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