Low and Slow

Nothing is better and more fun than flying low and slow across the country.  Particularly in an airplane with an engine that turns at a low rpm in cruise.  It gives an all new meaning to the term “cross-county.”  Hit this link, http://vintageflying.com/, or the hyperlink in the blog roll to the right – all the way at the bottom of the list – to check out what flying low and slow is all about.

Typically, we fly because we have to get somewhere fairly quickly. In the haste of getting there, many have forgotten the joy of the journey; because we are travelling so fast, somehow the beauty of the countryside slowly slipping beneath our wings is a pleasure for which we have little time.

Most often, pilots file for altitudes so high they and their passengers have little inclination to look out the window.  The airplane is so high above the ground the details of the land are lost in the haze.  While the plane flies more efficiently “way up there,” sitting inside an aluminum container is just no fun, compared to flying an airplane with an open window so close to the ground you can smell the odors of the earth.

In the course of teaching young pilots how to fly, we have moved away from the idea of flying for the sake of flying.  Now, it is all about speed.  The more the better.  I have a love-hate relationship with the movie Top Gun, but that’s a completely different blog.

With more horsepower young pilots have also realized finesse is no longer required, they can fly with less grace, skill, and elegance.  If they get into a bad situation for a lack of their aeronautical knowledge or skill, they can power out of it with the airplane’s oversized engine.  Essentially, they have learned to use power as a crutch, rather than as a tool.

In the “old days” when most airplanes had small engines and flew slower than 85 KIAS, pilots had to learn how to “fly the wing.”  Out of necessity, they were very careful to avoid pitching too high and they were always mindful of the angle-of-attack, particularly the critical angle-of-attack.

The other consequence of high horsepower engines is higher fuel flows and increased operational costs.  In pilot training, the higher airspeeds result in lengthy cross-country flights.  The student still must meet the flight time requirement, but with larger and more powerful aircraft, the distance increases with the higher groundspeeds.

Basically, today’s student pilots are missing some very important aviation lessons. The most critical lesson they lack is flying the wing.

They are also missing something else: the fun and joy of watching the ground pass slowly underneath.


© 2010 J. Clark

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