That Pesky Rudder


Whenever I get in an airplane with a pilot for recurrent training, I can assure myself that I will mention rudder usage more than once during the flight.  If it is in a tailwheel (or if the pilot is doing tailwheel training), I’m going to mention the rudder a lot.  How do I know this?  Because basic rudder skills are actually one of the most difficult things to master in flying.

Let’s start simple.  What does the rudder do?  The dictionary definition is it controls the movement about the vertical axis of the airplane.  If you stick a pole down through the CG of the airplane and rotate the airplane around that pole, this is the vertical axis.  Looking at it another way, the rudder moves the airplane’s nose left and right.  Keep this in mind as we move on.


Every pilot thinks about the rudder during the takeoff roll.  Because of the torque effect, the pilot must add right rudder during the takeoff roll to stay on the runway centerline.  Depending on the airplane’s horsepower, more rudder pressure is needed in higher powered airplanes.  The problem usually shows up once the airplane gets in the air.

In the worst situation, after takeoff, the pilot will set both feet on the floor and completely disregard the rudder.  Torque effect and now P-factor are continuing to cause the airplane to yaw left, causing the need for right rudder.  With his feet on the floor, though, the pilot is allowing the airplane to yaw.  It’s not terribly noticeable for him in the front seat, but the back seat passengers (especially in a six seat or larger airplane) are certainly feeling it.

One particular problem spot on the climb is the climbing left turn.  In a climbing left turn, training says to add left rudder since it is a left turn (see below for the reasoning).  But, since the airplane is climbing and therefore experiencing left yawing tendencies due to the aforementioned effects, the pilot needs to continue pressing the right rudder, though the pressure won’t be as much as in a straight climb.  Watch the ball the next time you make a climbing left hand turn and it’ll make a believer out of you.

I find only a handful of pilots are this egregious.  Most pilots have rudder problems in turns and in turbulence.  We’ll tackle turns first.  As we all learned when we first started flying, due to adverse yaw, a pilot must add rudder in the turn’s direction.  Again, this isn’t usually where the problem shows up.  During the rollout is the problem area.

Let’s take a turn to the left.  The pilot rolls in, adding left rudder, arrives at his heading, then begins to roll out with the ailerons.  Left adverse yaw is now being experienced and right rudder is needed to smoothly transition back to level flight.  Need some visual assistance?  Watch the nose the next time you make a turn. If you are working the rudder properly, the nose will pivot on one point in the horizon.  If you aren’t using the rudder properly, the nose will draw a U shape on the horizon.  Try making some turns without rudder, see what it looks like, then use the rudder properly.  You’ll notice a big difference.

Finally, let’s talk turbulence.  As we all know, turbulence in the hot summer afternoon is quite pronounced. When the airplane experiences a bump, it usually doesn’t bounce straight up in the air.  There is usually some kind of rolling motion involved.  As the pilot corrects this rolling motion by moving the ailerons, adverse yaw is experienced (just like rolling into and out of a turn that we talked about above), so rudder is needed.  There isn’t a need to stomp on the rudder or you’ll cause the airplane to severely yaw in the other direction, but rudder pressure is needed.

Final approach is where this gets most pilots.  By controlling the nose and not allowing it to move around on final by using the rudder, this will make your approaches a little more stabilized leading to a more successful landing.

Feeling lost when it comes to the rudder?  Ask your instructor the next time you go fly to do some rudder exercises.  Most instructors don’t emphasize these basic stick and rudder skills which leaves pilots lacking as they move on in their aviation lives.  So make it a point to do some basic rudder work the next time you fly with your instructor.

Night Flying Techniques


We’ve all been there. You’re flying into an unfamiliar airport at night, you’re having difficulty seeing the field, and trouble identifying the runway. Airports can be hard to identify for a variety of reasons, but approaching in darkness only makes it more difficult. Perhaps the airport is located in a densely populated area and the airport lights bleed into the city lights. Maybe the airport that you’re approaching is located amid terrain that obstructs your view.

Situations like these are not uncommon for charter pilots. Just a few evenings ago I was descending IFR into Asheville, NC (KAVL) on a dark night with high overcast and scattered showers. Although the airport was VFR, the surrounding hills made me doubtful that I would be able to see the field in time to safely and comfortably descend for the visual approach that I was expecting.

Fortunately, there are some things we can do to help find our destination and set us up for the approach. Here are a few tricks that I use regularly when I find myself in this position:

  • When flying into an untowered/closed tower airport: Make sure that you have the right lighting frequency. Some airports have pilot-controlled lighting that is operated on a different frequency than the CTAF. If the lights don’t seem to be working, consult your AFD. If the AFD advises that your frequency is correct, double check the NOTAMs to make sure that the lights haven’t been taken out of service.
    • For towered airports: Ask the tower controller to turn up the intensity of the runway lights. This has helped me find the runway countless times. This request can be especially useful at airports that are located in a highly lit area. Controllers are happy to honor this request and will often leave the lights at the bright setting until you advise them that you are ready for them to be turned back to normal intensity.
  • Load an approach: If you are an instrument rated pilot, loading an instrument approach is a great way to get oriented with a runway when you need a little help. You may need to coordinate with the tower or controlling agency if you want to fly the approach, but this has the added bonus of giving the pilot altitudes for terrain/obstacle clearance should there be any hazards present.
  • Use OBS mode: If you are flying an airplane that has equipment capable of doing so, you can use the Omni Bearing Selector (OBS) button to help align you with the runway. If using this strategy, just remember: THIS IS NOT AN INSTRUMENT APPROACH. It will not provide you with obstacle clearance, nor will it line you up directly with the runway.

The pictures below should help clarify how to use the OBS to assist in airport orientation.

Step 1- Have the destination set as the next way point in your flight plan. In the picture below, The GPS is set to navigate direct to KJGG. Press the OBS button (circled in red) to engage the OBS mode.


Step 2- Once OBS is selected, use either the window on the screen (which should come up automatically when you press the button in step 1) or the OBS selec tor on your navigation head to select the inbound radial. In this example, I have selected 310 degrees, the landing runway at KJGG.


Step 3- The GPS now shows an inbound course to the airport of 310 degrees. It appears as a magenta line. The line serves as an excellent aid in airport/ runway orientation. Remember that this will not line you up perfectly with the runway, but it can still be extremely useful in planning a pattern entry or for getting your bearings.


Note: As shown below, If you press the OBS button again, the GPS will return to the navigation as previously set.

1. Ask for vectors to the airport/ runway: If you have VFR flight following or are talking to a tower equipped to provide vectors, asking for them can be a good choice. Although the controllers may not always be able to accommodate your request due to workload or equipment limitations, most will be happy to comply if they are able. Some pilots may feel silly asking for help, but my policy has always been that I’d rather feel silly for asking than look silly for being lost.

In the case of the Asheville flight mentioned in the opening of this article, my solution was to ask the controller fo r direct to the final approach fix of the assigned runway. Upon arriving there, I had no trouble seeing the VASI and was in good position to fly the visual approach. If I had wanted to be positioned a little further out, I could have asked to fly to a different fix or simply asked to be cleared for the approach in lieu of the visual. Just remember to keep your intentions clear when communicating them to the controller.

The best way to approach an airport day or night, familiar or unfamiliar, is with careful preparation. Having lighted landmarks picked out as well as being acquainted with the airport layout will pay off when it comes time to plan your pattern entry or find the airport on a dark night. Use the resources available to you to get you safely to your destination.

Andrew Robinson is a 135 Charter Pilot and flight instructor in Pennsylvania.  He flies Pilatus PC-12s and instructs in Beechcraft Bonanzas.

Avidyne IFD 440 Receives Certification


Avidyne’s plug and play replacement for the Garmin 430, the Avidyne IFD 440, finally received certification from the FAA last week.  The touch screen GPS unit is being marketed as a simple swap out for the Garmin 430.  This release follows up Avidyne’s release last year of the IFD 540, also a plug and play replacement, but for the Garmin 530.

The features and touch screen of the GPS units sound quite nifty, but it will be hard for Avidyne to compete with the GTN 750 and 650 from Garmin.  The unit prices for the IFD 540 and 440 will be less (and installation is simpler), but we will see how the company does.

Avidyne IFD 440

The STC allows for installation in 1,000 makes and models of aircraft, according to the company, so there are a lot of possibilities for installs.

In conjunction, Avidyne also released a new version of it’s software for both GPS units.  According to Avidyne, this will unlock multiple features that enhances the capabilities of both units.

To read more on the IFD 440 and it’s bigger brother, the IFD 540, check out Avidyne’s website.

Inadvertent IMC Entry


I ran across the story about the Korean Air flight that crashed in Guam in the late ’90s the other day.  It was a 747 that hit the side of hill about 3 miles short of the runway, killing most of the people on board.  The flight was at night (arrival time was about 1:30am) and the pilot’s lost sight of the runway on a visual approach due to inadvertent IMC entry.  They didn’t execute a missed approach soon enough, got too low, and crashed.

Korean Air Crash

These were experienced pilots, mind you, who had flown into that airport a number of times. They were experienced enough to know when to execute a go around.  There were several other factors that led up to the crash, but, ultimately, they lost sight of the runway due to inadvertent IMC entry.

To all the VFR pilots out there, what do you do if you accidentally fly into a cloud?  It’s a lot easier to encounter inadvertent IMC at night, simply because you can’t see the clouds in front of you.  It is no less dangerous during the day, either.

So, we’re going back to the basics today.  What really is the best course of action for a VFR pilot when flying into a cloud?  One option (and in my opinion, the best option) is to turn around. Immediately start scanning your instruments, execute a shallow banked 180 degree turn while maintaining altitude, and fly out of the cloud you just flew into.  If you have an autopilot, turn it on immediately and let it do the turn.

What if you were descending or climbing when you encountered the inadvertent IMC?  In this case, just reverse whatever you were just doing.  If you were descending, climb.  If you were climbing, descend.  Caution is needed, though, as climbing or descending when flying on instruments for an inexperienced IFR pilot could lead to a greater chance of disorientation.

One thing that could assist in spotting those clouds at night is turning the cockpit lights down.  This will allow you to see outside a little bit better and start to notice when those ground lights are disappearing.

IMC FlightMost VFR pilots only do instrument flying on flight reviews.  That doesn’t lead to a very high level of proficiency, so go out and grab your instructor and tell him to put you under the hood once a month.  You’ll be a better pilot overall for it.

IFR pilots, taking a note from the Korean Air flight; if you lose sight of the runway on a visual approach, especially at night, go missed and ask for the instrument approach procedure.  Don’t try and duck down below the clouds as there may be a hill or a mountain directly below you.

Flying To Mexico


I took a Piper Malibu to Cabo San Lucas a few weeks back.  This was my second trip flying to Mexico, but the first where I arranged everything.  Cabo is a beautiful place and the MMSL airport is a fabulous facility. For those who haven’t been fying to Mexico before, MMSL is the place to go.  The folks there are extremely helpful and do most of the paperwork for you.  You just have to pass along your information to them.

Mexico Flying

Flying to Mexico and back out is different than flying in the US.  First of all, don’t forget your passport. The authorities on both sides frown upon that.  You’ll probably get sent back to the US (or sent back to Mexico if you are on your return trip).  Your aircraft also needs, Mexican insurance (talk to your US insurance agent) a radio license, and a customs decal.

Second, you’ll have to file an ICAO specific flight plan for flying to Mexico.  This is available on Foreflight now, but I really like’s way of doing it.  I don’t fly internationally enough to remember what everything means, but does a great job of walking pilots through the the different classifications.  It’s almost impossible to get confused.

Third, you have to fill out an eAPIS form.  This has to be done at least 24 hours prior to departure from the US, but it can be done as far in advance as you’d like.  If your departure time changes or your passengers change, you can edit the eAPIS form to bring it current.

Flying to Mexico IFR is a lot simpler than flying VFR.  I have only flown IFR and it is very easy.  I’m already on a flight plan, already squawking a discreet code, and already on radar, so there really isn’t any way I can mess up the ADIZ penetration.  I really recommend going in and out of Mexico IFR instead of VFR.

Once you land in Mexico, you have to close your IFR flight plan.  The tower doesn’t do this for you.  After clearing customs, you’ll have to pay a landing fee and sign your flight plan confirming you have arrived and closing it out.

When departing, you have to file another eAPIS 24 hours in advance.  Wherever you plan on clearing Customs in the US, you’ll need to call the Customs office no less than 1 hour, but not more than 23 hours before arrival.  It’s called an Advanced Notice of Arrival.

You’ll need to fill out a paper flight plan before departing, clear customs again to leave, then away you go.

There are a lot of really fun getaways in Mexico and flying there doesn’t have to be difficult.  When you have the right information, flying to Mexico can be a breeze!