Good Hands

The Art of Good Touch

The artful pilot will often be referred to as having “good hands.” An aircraft is equipped with three flight control elements. The rudder is controlled by rudder pedals on the floor in front of each pilot and they control, obviously, the rudder. It is located at the rear end of the airplane; much like a rudder on a boat except an airplane rudder sticks up in the air while in a boat it is in the water. Both have the same effect on directional control. Ailerons are on each wing tip, left and right, and when deflected by rotating the control wheel in the cockpit, they will bank the aircraft to the left or to the right.

There is some coordination required when manipulating the ailerons and rudder simultaneously to accomplish what is called coordinated flight. Some pilots are naturals and some learn it by experience. A few never get it and could be referred as being ham fisted. Fortunately, for those, the yaw damper was developed. It isn’t much help though when landing in a crosswind where the rubber literally meets the road. Swept wing aircraft had the proclivity to enter a Dutch-roll and the yaw damper solved the problem. It was a huge issue early on in flying jet aircraft with the introduction of swept wings.

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Pushing the control column either forward or aft will control the elevators. They are located aft near the rudder and when pushed forward will raise the tail pitching the nose of the aircraft downward. The reverse is true for pulling the control wheel column back thus pitching the nose upward.

Early in my airline career I had the luck to fly with a Captain that possessed a very soft touch when manipulating aircraft flight controls. He was truly like an artist with a brush in his hands and treated the airplane like it was his only child and, as if his life depended on it; which of course it did.’ What he possessed was finesse in the manipulation of the controls. It didn’t matter whether he was on the ground or in the air; he was totally focused on his passengers comfort.

Captain Finesse’s touch was also featured in other areas of his life. He liked to share the many exploits he had using “his kit” as he referred to it. He was never without “his kit” (within his kitbag) he liked to say; meaning in his flight-bag. While cruising along one sunny afternoon, high above the Rocky Mountains, he decided to share its contents with me. From his bag he pulled out a pouch neatly folded and tied together with a leather shoelace; the kind you would use to lace on a boot. It was quite long and took him awhile to unroll and unfold. Within the pouch were several different colored candles, some leather straps and bracelets along with a few more of the laces. As he referred to his various combinations of paraphernalia he would say, “Sacramento likes this one and Oklahoma City prefers these,” always referring to his obvious paramours as cities on our flight schedules.

I didn’t learn much about his techniques with his kit back then, he didn’t share, but I always found his stories interesting and colorful. The man could really fly an airplane the way it was designed to be flown; for the pleasure and comfort of his passengers. I’m sure he had really great hands when it came to his other peccadilloes, and I’m certain their pleasure and comfort were equally important.