Lighten Up!

Here’s a quick tip to make your flying a lot smoother: lighten your grip on the controls. I find a lot of pilots I fly with have a death grip on the yoke, and that has a couple of negative effects. The most noticeable thing is that their control of the airplane tends to be pretty abrupt and jerky. They even sometimes move the ailerons and elevator when they turn their head or shift in their seat. Another side effect of having a tight grip on the controls is that it tends to make the pilot a bit more tense. I’ve seen the tension from the hand on the controls transfer up to the shoulders, neck and sometimes it seems even to the brain.

Of course its hard to fly with a light touch if the airplane is out of trim. The trim wheel is your friend: it helps to hold the elevator where you want it. When the airplane is out of trim, then the pilot is working much harder than he should be because he has to hold the elevator where he wants it rather than letting the trim system do its job. Not having the airplane trimmed is often what causes people to grip the controls too tightly.

Next time you are flying, try relaxing your grip on the control yoke. It doesn’t take more than a couple of fingers on the yoke to guide the airplane where you want it. Check that the airplane is in trim by letting go of the control yoke completely every once in a while. If the nose suddenly drops or climbs, then you weren’t in trim. Remember to put the elevator where you want it, and use the trim wheel to take the pressure off the controls. Do not “fly the trim wheel” by trying to make your control change on the trim wheel instead of on the elevator.

One of my flight instructors told me that control yokes come from the factory perfectly smooth and the molded finger grips on the controls are the result of pilots squeezing them too tightly. I’m not sure if that’s true, but the story helps me remember to fly with a light touch and to keep the airplane in trim.

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