• Ratty's Ramblings - Slow Flight

    Ratty's Ramblings

    Ratty's Ramblings

    By Ian Radcliffe

    I've been doing this flightsim thing a long time. I got started in 1984, with subLOGIC Flight Simulator II for the Commodore 64. Crude as it seems now, it captured perfectly the Piper Cherokee 180 I knew so well, and I was hooked. Since then, sims have come a long way. From a little piece of Illinois, we now have an entire planet to explore, with accurate topography, real-world weather, air traffic and ATC, and incredibly realistic aircraft.

    On the day I got my pilot's license, my chief flight instructor told me: "Congratulations. You now have a license to learn." I took that to heart, and carried that attitude over to flight simulation, so that my last 35 years of simming have been not only a heck of a lot of fun but also an ongoing exploration of the intricacies of flight. I've learned a lot; perhaps some of what I've discovered can make the simming experience even richer for you.

    Flying Slow

    Flying is mostly about going fast. You have to reach almost highway speeds to get even a small aircraft off the ground. But there are occasions when being able to fly slowly is desirable. It can allow you to adjust spacing on approach to avoid a go-around; and with all the fantastic scenery we have nowadays it's great for sightseeing. The most obvious case, of course, is when landing. Recently, one aviation writer suggested that excess speed was to blame in two-thirds of real-world general aviation landing accidents in the US. I'm not surprised; I've sat at the approach end of the St. Maarten runway on Steam multiplayer and watched the arrivals.

    Landing at or near the aircraft's slowest speed has a number of advantages. It's safer, means less wear on the gear and brakes, eliminates bounces and, perhaps most importantly in a simulation, minimizes the landing roll. Skillful slow flying allows you to fly the airplane all the way down to the runway and turn your arrivals into touchdowns.

    So I wonder why more people don't fly more slowly. Is it that there's something unnerving about the low end of the speed range? After all, there lie the dreaded stall, and the spin. We treat them as things to be avoided rather than mastered.

    Slow flying was one of the most enjoyable parts of my flight training. Back in the day we did actual stalls and actual spins so, with those out of the way, stooging about at the low end of the envelope was not the unnerving exercise it might otherwise have been. Experiencing stalls taught me to recognize and avoid them, confident that even if I did stall I could recover.

    When you get a new airplane, it's good practice to perform a familiarization flight. During that flight, it's worth getting to know the aircraft's slow-flying characteristics and experiment with combinations of flaps, power and gear. But first, since we are blessed with the ideal device with which to explore stall behavior, let's go fall out of the sky a few times to get stalls out of the way.

    Briefly: if you increase the angle between the wing and the airflow (the angle of attack) beyond a certain point, the otherwise smooth flow is disrupted and the wing stops producing lift. The plane falls out of the sky. How it falls varies from type to type, and even between individual airplanes of the same type. The appropriate aircraft for the exercise? Anything you like, but if you haven't stalled an airplane before, I'd recommend something in the Cessna 172 class. I'll be speaking at that level; if you're flying a 747 your experience may vary.

    Climb to 5,000 feet above ground level and establish the airplane in level flight at a low power setting. Once you're established, retard the throttle slowly while easing back on the stick. Maintain your altitude by checking the vertical speed indicator.

    As the plane slows, keep the wings level by applying opposite RUDDER; lowering the aileron to lift a wing increases the wing's angle of attack and can induce a premature stall or spin.

    Reduce the throttle to idle, and keep back pressure on the stick until it's all the way back. With luck, depending on what you're flying, before the actual stall you'll experience gentle buffeting and/or the stall warning will beep/light up. Spare a glance at the airspeed indicator; that's a good number to know.

    Now, the exciting bit.

    There are a few airplanes that at this point will enter a stable, nose high, parachute-like descent, usually because they have leading edge slats that help maintain a smooth airflow over the wing, or because the elevator travel is deliberately limited to preclude reaching a stalling angle of attack. Most aircraft will drop their noses, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. At the far end of the spectrum, you might see violent pitch change or a dramatic snap roll.

    After the plane has stalled, the first thing to do is stop pulling on the stick; release the back pressure on the stick, even push forward if the plane is reluctant to exit the stall. Then apply power and pull back carefully on the stick; pulling too hard or too soon can cause a secondary stall. Make sure that you don't hit redline RPM, or overspeed the airplane. Climb back up and do it again.

    If you finished up in a spin, all is not lost. Release the back pressure, then figure out which way you're going round and apply opposite rudder until the rotation stops. Then recover as from a straight ahead stall.

    There are some caveats to remember when flying slow. As already mentioned, use opposite rudder to pick up a wing that drops. The controls become sloppy, so expect to make larger control movements than usual. Variable or gusty winds are a consideration when judging how close to the stall you should go. Turns and power settings change the situation; in many aircraft a power-on stall is a very different experience from the benign nod you get with power at idle.

    After you get comfortable with stalls in a clean configuration, experiment with various combinations of gear and flaps. When you're comfortable with flying on the edge of a stall with gear and flaps extended you're ready to take on those short strips you've been avoiding.

    Ratty's Rambles

    For a couple of years I've been coming up with flight plans for our group of weekend fliers. We're generally in GA aircraft or warbirds, and the flights are timed at about two hours apiece.

    Here's an interesting one. I happened across one of the longest and deepest river valleys in Europe, cut by the river Tara in northern Montenegro, one of those parts of the world most of us probably never go. If you're into canyon running, this one is a beaut. Or you can fly the route at altitude and take in some spectacular scenery. At 214 nautical miles, it takes about an hour and a half in a single-engine retractable.

    Take off from Podgorica, LYPG, capital city of Montenegro, and follow the valley of the Moraca river northwards about 25 miles to where the valley divides. Turn right to 034 degrees and fly to the NDB, and town, of Mojkovak.

    From Mojkovak, a heading of 293 will take you to the mouth of the Tara river valley. Follow the valley northwest, and on to Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzegovina. From Sarajevo, fly heading 236 for 19 miles to Lake Jablanica and the town of Konjic. Turn left to 163 and, after 68 miles, land at Dubrovnik, Croatia, LDDU.

    Skyvector.com chart:

    Skyvector chart

    View chart at skyvector.com


    9 Comments
    1. vflight2's Avatar
      vflight2 -
      Good stuff brings back some great memories; cant wait for the next article.
      ~Doc~
    1. graaant's Avatar
      graaant -
      Informative, engaging, beautifully clear, thanks!
    1. lnuss's Avatar
      lnuss -
      A lot of good material that is well covered here. I do have a couple of relatively minor nitpicks, mostly with phraseology, rather than with the actual facts, though the first one below is a sim problem, not something in real aircraft. My comments below come from things I've learned in years of instructing, mostly about how people behave and how they react to certain phrases.

      "since we are blessed with the ideal device with which to explore stall behavior"

      I'd note that many FS aircraft don't do stalls well, and quite a number have characteristics, especially in slow flight, that would never be allowed (or in some cases physically possible) in real aircraft. But as long as you're not quite at the brink of the stall most will do fairly well. Most won't spin either.

      "Then apply power and pull back carefully on the stick;"

      To minimize ham-fistedness, I'd suggest you "add back pressure" rather than "pull back on the stick" since the former phrase tends to make people think of yanking, rather than adding pressure only to the point needed, leading to overcontrol.

      "The plane falls out of the sky."

      This phrase will scare people in real life, so since the aircraft doesn't completely lose lift in a stall, though it no longer has enough lift to maintain altitude and attitude, and it's not really falling (though it is a relatively rapid descent) like a rock would fall, I'd suggest a slightly different wording, keeping in mind that the nose drop is the aircraft trying to regain flying speed.

      All in all, a fine article -- thanks.
    1. ianhr's Avatar
      ianhr -
      Quote Originally Posted by lnuss View Post
      A lot of good material that is well covered here. I do have a couple of relatively minor nitpicks, mostly with phraseology, rather than with the actual facts, though the first one below is a sim problem, not something in real aircraft. My comments below come from things I've learned in years of instructing, mostly about how people behave and how they react to certain phrases.

      "since we are blessed with the ideal device with which to explore stall behavior"

      I'd note that many FS aircraft don't do stalls well, and quite a number have characteristics, especially in slow flight, that would never be allowed (or in some cases physically possible) in real aircraft. But as long as you're not quite at the brink of the stall most will do fairly well. Most won't spin either.

      "Then apply power and pull back carefully on the stick;"

      To minimize ham-fistedness, I'd suggest you "add back pressure" rather than "pull back on the stick" since the former phrase tends to make people think of yanking, rather than adding pressure only to the point needed, leading to overcontrol.

      "The plane falls out of the sky."

      This phrase will scare people in real life, so since the aircraft doesn't completely lose lift in a stall, though it no longer has enough lift to maintain altitude and attitude, and it's not really falling (though it is a relatively rapid descent) like a rock would fall, I'd suggest a slightly different wording, keeping in mind that the nose drop is the aircraft trying to regain flying speed.

      All in all, a fine article -- thanks.
      Thanks, Larry, that means a lot. I fly A2A aircraft most of the time, and forget the others don't all stall (and spin) like those. That deserved a mention. "Add back pressure" is a definite improvement. And "The plane falls out of the sky" was intended as humorous hyperbole - which I guess just missed the mark.
    1. Binou's Avatar
      Binou -
      Very few freeware addons stall, by the way...Even FS basic aircraft. I hope the next FSX will improve this very important issue.
    1. Markg55's Avatar
      Markg55 -
      AH good Ol FS-2 on the C-64. Halfway between KISP and KMVY....Loading.....Loading.....Loading.
      Alas it is where I got bitten on Flight Simulation.

      Great article on flying slow and stall/spin recovery.
    1. lnuss's Avatar
      lnuss -
      Quote Originally Posted by ianhr View Post
      Thanks, Larry, that means a lot. I fly A2A aircraft most of the time, and forget the others don't all stall (and spin) like those. That deserved a mention. "Add back pressure" is a definite improvement. And "The plane falls out of the sky" was intended as humorous hyperbole - which I guess just missed the mark.
      Yes, there are a few payware (maybe even a freeware or two) that have much improved behavior over the "norm," and a friend of mine had a passion for making FS aircraft behave much like real ones, so I've been fortunate to have slips and spins in many of my FS aircraft.

      Sorry I missed the humor, though -- guess I was in the wrong frame of mind to catch that.

      But thanks for such a well thought out article Ian -- not many folks will share that type of info (too few even know a lot of that), so it's great to see someone do so.
    1. shermank's Avatar
      shermank -
      Good info and I agree about A2A when it comes to simulated realism. I do not have a PPL, but I do.have more than 20 hours in my training logbook in a Cessna 152,. The A2A 182 I fly on p3d feels as close to real as any sim.plane I have ever flown. BTW, like you, I started on the C64 back in thee mid 1980s, we have come a long way

      Sherm
    1. Mac6737's Avatar
      Mac6737 -
      I doubt I will ever be a real pilot, but I took the Tara River Valley cruise described here. Remarkably beautiful and fun to fly with the sim set to the current date (I have P3D, Orbx and Rex). Perhaps it's my imagination, but the scenery here seemed more realistic than in most areas, or perhaps owing to the winterscape and the juxtaposition of cultivated fields and wilderness.

      BTW, I had FS2 on an Apple IIc in the late 1980s, and I have the computer, monitor and the original FS software packed up in plastic peanuts in the garage. Surely worth countless thousands today . . . .
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