Unified Flying Theory

Unified Flying Theory

Unified Flying Theory

To unveil the elusive aeronautical “Theory of Everything,” strive to be an artist and a technician in your flying.

I made my traditional Christmas Eve flight with my father-in-law Jerry, a non-pilot but lifelong motor sports enthusiast. The skies were clear and cool, although hazier than I expected (maybe 20 miles flight visibility, less than normal in winter over central Kansas), and the winds were calm to the point there was no obvious preferred runway (a real rarity in Kansas). My wife’s father had a blast, and I had fun too, fighting corrosion by warming up the oil (the engine’s) and staving off rust (mine).

On final I called out airspeeds, alignment and glidepath to myself as I always do, pulling the power to idle, easing back on the elevator, and pressing just a little extra rudder at just the right time. The wheels rolled onto the pavement so smoothly it was hard to tell when flying ended and taxiing began. It was like easing into a pool when the water temperature is exactly the same as the air temperature – it’s hard to tell you’ve transitioned at all.

It’s not bragging if you honestly say, “that doesn’t happen often,” and mean it. Everything just came together. My landing reflected a lifetime of practice, of mistakes from which I learned, and the confluence of my currency, my fatigue state, the airplane, the weather and a little luck.

I hope you find yourself making this kind of landing now and then also. Getting close to this near-perfection is more common than it used to be. But it is never guaranteed. As soon as I let my currency slide, or I get tired, if the winds get whirly or I fly a different airplane (even the same make and model), and most importantly if I stop thinking I have to work hard every time to achieve it, this level of performance becomes elusive and unattainable.

So, as we were rolling out and I told Jerry “that doesn’t happen often,” he replied, “Well, you’ve got to read the wind and the machine.” I do not know if I have ever put it quite this way, but his words prompted me to respond: “In the last 100 feet flying stops being science, and becomes an art.”

Science and Artistry

I probably come across as a very mechanical, methodical pilot. I’m very scientific, very technical in the way I fly. But that’s only part of the truth. I truly love flying airplanes well, and helping others fly their airplanes well, too. Although you can fly an airplane acceptably and safely “by the numbers,” to fly it well you have to adapt to the variables, to detect, measure, respond to and measure your responses by feel, artistically. You must use “the numbers” as a predictable starting point – they get you maybe 85 percent of the way there – then modify your inputs to get from that solid-B report card to A-level, 90 percent or 95 percent or 98 percent flying. If it all comes together, maybe, just maybe, you’ll occasionally attain that elusive 100 percent, A++ grade.

Prolific aviation columnist Michael Maya Charles is known for his “Artful Flying” philosophy. Michael says that his contacts with pilots of all types of aircraft and experience levels have caused him to “connect the dots between what great pilots do and the similar process a great basketball player like Michael Jordan might engage in, which is the very same process a cellist like Yo Yo Ma or Pablo Cassals might employ to become the amazing musician that brings tears of joy to our eyes when they play.” In his book Artful Flying Michael writes:

Art is the pursuit of the possible, and requires that you be fully vested, fully engaged in what you do.

Michael asks a question:

The aviation world is flush with technicians; artists are few. Artist or technician: which do you want to be?

Sometimes everything just comes together for a textbook perfect landing, reflecting a lifetime of practice and the confluence of currency, fatigue state, the airplane, the weather and a little luck.

Putting it Together

Scientists seek a Unified Field Theory (a phrase coined by Albert Einstein) that expresses all the variables of energy, mass, atomic force, electromagnetic force and gravity in a single, “elegant” field or mathematical equation. Sometimes this elusive explanation for the entire functioning of the universe is called The Theory of Everything, a framework of physics that may or may not be described by a single mathematical formula.

I tend toward the technical; that last paragraph proves it. But I’m also an artist, or at least I’m trying to be. I’m looking for a Unified Flying Theory, an aeronautical Theory of Everything, in the way I fly. I know I won’t ever get there, and if I get close it won’t be for long…because the variables are always changing. But I’m working on it, all of the time.

Ask yourself if you are primarily technical in the way you fly, doing things by procedure or by the book; or if you are mainly an artist, flying by feel. Resolve to explore the “other side” to become an A-level pilot in normal operations and in unusual-for-you operations, and any abnormal or emergency situation you’re unlucky enough to face.

If you’re an Artist-Pilot, devote time to:

Reviewing your airplane’s operating handbooks or
manuals;

Incorporating use of simple checklists in all phases of flight;

Memorizing and practicing the critical steps of emer—–gency procedures;

Developing a deep understanding of the aircraft’s systems, their operations and how you operate them;

Practicing the maneuvers required on the Practical Test for the pilot certificate and ratings you hold, ensuring you can still fly them at least as well as you did on the day you passed each checkride;

Taking dual instruction on the maneuvers and standards of the next level of pilot certificate or rating above that you already hold (Commercial if you’re a Private Pilot; ATP if you are instrument rated, etc.) to learn new maneuvers and adhere to a higher level of precision than you’ve been held to this point; and

Flying with an instructor who specializes in your aircraft type, to learn tips and tricks for flying it predictably “by the numbers.”

If you’re a Technician-Pilot, design a plan for the coming year that includes:

Adding a new flying experience, such as a tailwheel endorsement, sailplane flight, seaplane training, complex or multiengine training, or mountain flying, even if you don’t plan to pursue a checkride or plan to fly that type of aircraft or operation again. Immersing yourself in a learning mode, you will invariably find something new that you can apply to the type of flying you do do;

Taking spin training or intro-ductory aerobatic flight, in an
appropriate aircraft with a qual-i-fied instructor;

Making a long VFR cross-country flight, if you routinely fly IFR;

Using your technical bent to develop a deep understanding of the aircraft’s systems, their operations and how you operate them;

Developing cockpit flows to use in conjunction with checklists;

Practicing the maneuvers required on the Practical Test for the pilot certificate and ratings you hold, ensuring you can still fly them at least as well as you did on the day you passed each checkride;

Taking dual instruction on the maneuvers and standards of the next level of pilot certificate or rating above that you already hold (Commercial if you’re a Private Pilot; ATP if you are an instrument-rated pilot, etc.) to learn new maneuvers and adhere to a higher level of precision than you’ve been held to this point; and

Flying with an instructor you’ve never flown with before, who specializes in your airplane type but who will teach you skills and techniques your usual instructor may have missed.

The goal is to become an A-level pilot by expanding beyond where you are now to where you can be, using the Unified Flying Theory or aeronautical Theory of Everything. Combining artistry and technical expertise is mastery
of flight.

Are you primarily technical in the way you fly, or if you are mainly an artist, flying by feel? Resolve to explore the “other side.”

About the Author

Leave a Reply