Day 5 - Lesson 3

Straight and level flight / Climbing / Descending

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Saturday 18th July 2015

It’s been almost two weeks since I last flew, so I was very happy the weather was perfect for flying today. I arrived at the flying school about half an hour before my lesson, Derek was in the air with another student so I bought a drink in the café and watched the planes come and go. A lady with her young son had just finished a trial flight, she was full of beans and excitedly talking about seeing the bridges over the river Severn from the air.

Derek was soon with me, going over what we’d cover in the lesson. We made our way out to the airfield and started the pre-flight checks, we were in G-GFCB again today. The plane was being refuelled so we couldn’t turn any of the electrics on, but we could start the external checks. I felt I was being incredibly slow with these as I cross-referenced everything with my check list. The wings on the PA28 are very low, you have to almost kneel on the tarmac to see the flap and aileron connectors. Derek reminded me to check the belt connecting the propeller to the engine, this isn’t in my check list so I made a mental note to write it in later.

After the external checks were complete we climbed inside the aeroplane and started the internal checks. I was reading through the list completing the actions when it came to the primer, I reached for the control and Derek said that we needed to speak with the tower and ask for permission to start before we did that. Another mental note to annotate my check list later. We tuned into Bristol ATIS to get the weather, then called the tower and were given permission to start. The starter was very temperamental and we both had several tries before the engine started.

We taxied and took off, heading for Cheddar Reservoir again. I was doing a lot more of the flying now, but as it was only my third lesson and I’d had a two week gap since my first two lessons I was feeling pretty overloaded already. We practised straight and level flight at different airspeeds and I started to settle down.

Climbing & Descending

I had already been doing some climbing and descending, so I wasn’t quite sure what the point of doing it as an exercise was. Derek explained that it was less to do with the actual climbing and descending and more to do with with the procedure of starting a climb or descent and levelling off at the desired altitude.

When starting a climb or descent the acronym to use is P-A-T, Power - Attitude - Trim. So, for a climb start by opening up the throttle completely, then adjust the attitude to climb at the best rate, in the PA28 this is achieved by flying at 75 knots. Finally, adjust the trim to take the pressure off the control column and continue climbing until you reach your desired altitude.

Easier said than done! I couldn’t get the plane to steadily climb at 75 knots, I was constantly adjusting the pitch which meant I was never maintaining the correct airspeed. I was also adjusting the trim too much, using it to change my pitch sometimes, which is a big no-no. You are only supposed to use the trim to take pressure off the control column, not to change the aeroplanes attitude.

When coming to the target altitude in a climb I should prepare to level off 100 feet below and start actually levelling off 50 feet below. As we approached the desired altitude Derek said to use the P-A-T acronym again so I pulled back on the throttle. Derek was testing me, he said if we pull back on the throttle while still climbing all we’re going to do is loose speed, we need to use A-P-T when ending a climb, Attitude - Power - Climb. So I applied full power again and pushed the nose forward to end the climb. We started increasing airspeed and when we were back at about 100 knots I could set the power pack to 2,300 RPM and trim for straight an level.

Next we tried descending. Again we use the P-A-T acronym to start the descent, however we must also set the carburettor heat to hot because the reduced fuel flow and colder running engine could cause icing to occur. Then, instead of applying power as we did in the climb we reduce power to 15,000 RPM. Keeping the nose up to fly level while our speed decreases to 70 knots, then adjust attitude for a nose-down pitch to descend at 70 knots which will be at a rate of about 300-400 feet per minute. When at the desired altitude we need to start levelling off at 100 feet above our target. Unlike climbing where we used A-P-T to end a climb, we use the same P-A-T we used to start the descent to level off, so increase power back to the cruise setting of 23,000 RPM and pull the nose up to level off, wait for a our speed to increase back to about 100 knots and trim for straight and level. Finally, set the carburettor heat back to cold.

I spent the remainder of the lesson going over climbs and descents. I think I forgot the carburettor heat every time! I was also chasing the speed by constantly adjusting the pitch when I should have held the nose in the correct attitude and seen what speed we got to before adjusting.

After we landed Derek asked me how I thought the lesson had gone, I told him I felt I needed to practice a lot more as I was struggling to remember everything and was only slowly getting used to the various motor skills needed to fly. Derek offered some friendly words of encouragement by saying that I was a new pilot, so there would be a lot to remember, but he thought I was doing very well and progressing at a good rate. This was comforting to hear and buoyed my spirits.


Below is a 4 minute video showing the start, take off and landing of my lesson. I haven’t bothered with the climbing and descending as you can’t hear much over the engine noise. I am going to buy a digital voice recorder this week and hook it up with an adapter cable I’ve already bought that should record the cockpit audio, so hopefully next lesson the video will be more interesting.