Steering with your feet

I am still struggling with landings! Unfortunately, this looks to be a long process.

20140708-115527-42927303.jpgIn preparation for today’s flight, I got up really early and did some reading as to why student pilots struggle with landings and came upon a few interesting points that I plan to try today with my instructor. After a few hours of reading, it seems that I am not the only one struggling with landings and specifically with landings that float to the left of center-line just before touch down and end up side-loading the left tires and making for a pretty dangerous situation.

What I came away with from reading the trials of several other frustrated students is that it all comes back to rudder control. Technically speaking, rudder pedals pretty amazing pieces of hardware, linked via bungee springs to the nose wheel steering, the disk brakes on the main wheels, and the control surface on the tail of the airplane. So needless to say they are an integral part of the handling of the plane, but learning their true finesse is too easily overlooked by rookies because after all doesn’t the steering wheel steer the plane.

For us old buggers, who have been driving a car for over 25 years, our brain has been conditioned very well that when in control of a moving machine (car, tractor, motorboat, bike) the steering wheel is the only part that does the turning, well unfortunately not so in an airplane. So for those learning aviation along with me, did you know that small planes are steered with the rudder pedals controlled with your feet? I can’t say enough how awkward it is for your brain to be taxing down the runway holding the steering wheel to the left (for cross wind corrections) and turning to the right with ONLY your feet. Talk about yet more brain training! And guess what, it only gets worse when landing because now you are traveling at over 100 km/hr hovering only a few feet above the runway and your steering wheel is basically free wheeling because there is so little air flying over the wings (where air is needed for the ailerons to be effective). Not to mention that once you do touch down, now you need the steering wheel turned hard left into that cross wind and to get back on center-line, you have to steer this vehicle traveling at 100 km/hr with only your toes!

So, now back to this 38 year old dog trying to learn this new trick, what the articles I was reading today pointed out is that duh, steering with your feet is hard work, both brain training and physically. Just think, when is the last time you used your left foot for anything while driving – unless you are using a stick shift – NEVER. So here are all us rookie pilots who have become awesome drivers over the years now have to go back to drivers ed and start all over getting feeling and muscle control back into our left legs so we can steer this new vehicle only with our legs.

In today’s lesson, I am going to have my instructor take the “yoke” for a good portion of the flight and I am going to take the pedals and I am going to steer the plane both in the air and on the ground entirely with my feet while having my hands do other tasks completely unrelated to controlling the plane – probably just fiddling with a pen should do.

Stay tuned, I’ll post an update to this article after today’s flight.

PS. here is a look at the control inputs (yoke and rudder) on a Cessna airplane…


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