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How To Avoid Over-Controlling Your Plane

Have you ever seen someone do this? Have you done it yourself?

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It's called over-controlling, and it happens when pilots begin reacting to their own control inputs, instead of reacting only to externally-caused changes in pitch, roll, and bank. But what does that mean?

When you take off or land, you should fly the aircraft with minimal control inputs. In a perfect world, you'd take off, trim the controls, let go, and never touch them again. At least until you need to turn, or climb/descend at a different speed.

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Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. Updrafts, downdrafts, gusts of winds, and changes in configuration mean that we're constantly adjusting controls to match a desired flight path. What happens when you exceed the required inputs? You have to correct for your mistakes.

When these mistakes start to occur in patterns, you're over-controlling, and setting yourself up for pilot-induced oscillations.

Gusty Crosswind Landings

On windy days with a large gusts, pilot induced oscillations tend to occur as the aircraft gets closer and closer to touchdown. Pilots have a tendency to correct for windy conditions by adding strong left/right, left/right aileron inputs for extended periods of time.

By moving the controls back and forth, you're attempting to fly a stable approach with the wings level. But instead of small corrections, you begin to fight your own large corrections, repeatedly.

Not only does this destabilize the approach, it simply makes it harder to touch down smoothly. And, if you have passengers that can see what's going on, it doesn't give them a lot of confidence to see you wrestling the airplane to the ground.

How To Fix It

On final approach, relatively few control inputs should be necessary to remain on glidepath and on centerline.

When corrections are made, they should be small. And when you make them, try to use fingertip pressure on the yoke or stick. When you grip the yoke tightly, you tend to over-control the aircraft, and introduce unwanted oscillations.

If a gust changes your attitude, use a small, light correction to bring your aircraft back to landing attitude.

If you find yourself swinging the controls up-down or side-to-side repeatedly, keep relaxing your grip on the control wheel. Allow yourself to find the correction angle, re-trim if you need to, and let the airplane fly itself.

It's a strategy that applies to almost all takeoffs, landings, and maneuvers.

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It Takes Practice

If you find yourself over-controlling the aircraft, relax your grip, and visualize where the controls should be in order for the plane to fly itself. With some practice, you'll find it's much easier to use a few small corrections, rather than a lot of large repeated corrections that lead to over-controlling your aircraft.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and commercial pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He holds multi-engine and instrument ratings, and is an aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.

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