View Full Version : How to maintain manual flying skills

11th Feb 2004, 20:02
A hypothetical question which popped into my head whilst reading the "Is manual braking seen as dangerous?" thread which is currently running:

I'm a new First Officer with Bloggs Airways, flying a B737. (Yes, I know I've got a little way to go yet... but I did say the question was hypothetical!) Blogg's SOPs advocate using the automatics as much as possible. I'm a little concerned that my hand flying skills are going to become eroded, after having read lots of comments to this effect on PPRuNe, amongst other things, but there's nothing I can do about it - I have to follow SOPs, and SOPs say that I have to use the automatics.

However, I also own a share in a light single-engine aircraft, say a Piper Arrow. I quite often fly this when I'm not at work, usually for a quick jolly to a nearby airfield for a bacon sandwich, but a couple of times a year I fly on airways to France. I'm quite happy to fly it in IMC (given all the sensible precautions that one should take when flying a non-de-iced single-engine aircraft in IMC, of course).

Then, the "unimaginable" happens one day at work, and the auto-pilot packs up completely.

Would I be better placed to hand-fly the B737 in this situation than one of my colleagues who has the same amount of B737 experience as me, but doesn't fly light aircraft on his day off?

How about if, instead of a PA28R, it was a J3 that I fly on my days off - a purely VFR aircraft which is about as far from a transport jet as it's possible to get?


12th Feb 2004, 10:12
As i mentioned before some Airlines ,at one point ,came out with the directive that 'handflying'should be encouraged in low traffic density areas.Due to the 'poor' flying skills demonstrated in the Sim' with the Autos unavailable.(a320).At one time JAL requiered their 'junior' pilots to Handfly the 767 to an Alt' of 5000'???
Co's pay for the Magic,and want crews to 'know' how to use it.
There comes time though when one must disconnect,now its only in the Sim'..Some Capt's(training )should 'lighten' up and let the Junior people Learn to handle the heavier equipement.:O

Larry in TN
12th Feb 2004, 13:38
I tend to hand fly more in good weather and use automation more as the weather deteriorates.

Of course I fly 30-yr old DC9s so there's not much difference between autoflight and hand flying. :)

Loose rivets
12th Feb 2004, 14:24
I am deeply concerned at the willingness to blindly follow a manual. I have heard all the arguments for so long, but there have to be times in the average career, when native intuition and skill are all we have left to call on. I wondered if I was something of an ageing maverick in this processor driven world, but comparing my early copy of Davis' book, with a recent edition owned by my young F/O, I noticed an almost impassioned plea by this respected man had been added... for what in simplistic terms, was recency in hard, pushing to the edge of the envelope, hand flying. Sadly, I know that there would be little chance of anyone wanting to cough up for the exercise.

12th Feb 2004, 14:35
Interesting point having flown in two companies one that engaged the A/P at 500' and used Cat II and III landings the majority of landings The other where the A/P was not engaged until aircraft clean and in the climb and disengaged when established on the approach.

I am now of the opinion that the latter is the best policy since the man gets to practice those skills that he sits in the seat for and does not become insulated by the use of technology. So when the unimaginable happens which could be a long way off your basic flying skills and that human feel for the aircraft are not rusty

12th Feb 2004, 18:37
Thanks for the input so far, guys. However, no one has attempted to answer my question yet.

Let's not get into the argument about whether we should all hand-fly our airliners or not - this has been done a million times before, and I don't think there's anything new to be added. Loose Rivets makes a good point about "blindly following the manual", but in my hypothetical example, I'm a junior F/O, new to the line, probably flying with a training captain, and not in a position to be able to override my captains' decisions to turn the auto-pilot on, so again it's not relevant to my question.

The question is purely related to whether flying a light aircraft is going to be of any use to me when I need to hand-fly my airliner.



12th Feb 2004, 20:14

I have no doubt flying your PA38 on your days off for a bacon sandwich will be beneficial..and so enjoyable too..
First it keeps your scan going and certainly will give you some more reassurance as your flying skills ability when you need it the most..
I am sure i will miss the unautomated way of flying since i never flew with an autopilot before the type rating..consider yourself lucky to have shares in a single A/C and use it as much you can..
Any chance to get a free ride??:p ;)

Fly safe,


Larry In TN,
Hi there! I bet you fly your old banguerDC9 for Northwest Airlines...
I used to jumpseat with them a lot when i was based in South Dakota..How am i nearly sure you flew Metroliners before that..
The jumpseat is kind of tiny but great if you like to feel part of the flight deck..such a great plane I think..(i would love to fly one one day),Northwest guys would fly it most of the time up to cruising for shorter distances or at least to 10000ft..

Safe flying and thanks again for the jumpseats if you are with northwest..great bunch of guys there..


12th Feb 2004, 21:05
The problem with the hypothesis is that the reality of airliner flying is not quite as narrow as you perceive it to be.

All departures to at least 500 ft and often more, are hand flown. Many of the approaches and landings are also hand flown. In fact so many are hand flown that is usually necessary to keep an eye on maintaining the 6 month currency requirements for Automatic landings .

You will find that the use of flight directors and autopilots (the automatics) are very much part of maintaining an accurate, cost effective, and safe operating environment in airline operations. Unlike most light aircraft flying ,this is a two or three crew operation that requires a very high degree of monitoring and cross checking. In busy environments it is more difficult to undertake this task if the aircraft is being manually flown. Of course not all airports are as busy as others and the opportunity for hand flying the departures and arrivals will often arise. Pilots with upcoming simulator checks will often practice these proceedures on line.

In other flight phases I very much doubt that hand flying an airliner has a great deal of benefit. Not only would you get bored with it quickly, but you would erode the ability to monitor and cross check which are functions important to multi crew and particularly airline flying.

To answer your question, I am sure that flying light aircraft does keep your handling skills sharp. Practice in all aspects of flying including VFR handling and Instrument flight can only be a good thing. However multi crew airline flying is a different beast and it is not really correct to summize that your hand flying skill would necessarily be better than your colleague who does not fly light aircraft on his days off. The failure of the autopilot/s is neither "unthinkable" nor really that much of a problem, other than to increase the workload on the crew. Your hypothosis fails to address the fact that this is a multi crew environment.

13th Feb 2004, 00:49

Thanks very much for that - that's pretty much exactly the kind of reply I was looking for. I find it very interesting that you say: "I am sure that flying light aircraft does keep your handling skills sharp", and then, in the same paragraph, "it is not really correct to summize that your hand flying skill would necessarily be better than your colleague who does not fly light aircraft on his days off", since these two statements are in direct contradiction of each other. That's not intended to be a criticism of your reply, more to point out why I think this is such an interesting topic for further discussion.

I think you've probably hit the nail on the head when you said: "Your hypothosis fails to address the fact that this is a multi crew environment." I have very little understanding of exactly what goes on in a multi-crew cockpit, and I'm sure that M.85's assertion that any instrument flying will keep my scan up to speed is correct, but fails to address all the other things which go on in the pointy end of a transport aircraft.


13th Feb 2004, 03:00

You are welcome. To clear up the confusion and apparent contradiction, I am sure flying light aircraft (frequently enough) does indeed keep your handling skills sharp. I am sure flying gliders or microlight aircraft does as well. However it is not correct to assume that somebody flying heavy aircraft exclusively "necessarily" has worse hand flying skills. Although we are often self critical and bemoan the lack of actual "hand flying" with perhaps some justification, it is still something that happens on a regular basis. For example I haven't touched a light aircraft in over 15 years, but regularly hand fly the aircraft. Indeed into places such as Innsbrucks runway 08 this is something that has to be done with some regularity and accuracy.

Any practice in anything has to be a good thing I suppose, but the fact of the matter is that in airline flying everything happens very much quicker. Before the tyres ever leave terra firma the airliner is probably at a speed a light aircraft would be pushed to achieve at full throttle. Life at this end is heavier, faster and consequently more complex. There may be some similarities, but there are many differences hence your colleagues manual flying skills in an airliner may not be any worse than your own as they relate to this environment.

14th Feb 2004, 01:16
Thanks once again, Bealzebub.


15th Feb 2004, 17:42
As Training Captain and Sim Instructor, I see this problem often. Even high time Captains battle to hand fly raw data approaches on their sim refreshers. Our SOP says that autopilot must be used in actually IMC conditions. This is for obvious reasons.

However, the FD/AP is a system, and just like any other, is subject to failure. We seem to prepare for the V1 cuts up the yingyang, but then lose the basic tools of the trade.

I read a very good article in B/Cal Aviation magazine a while back, titled ‘When go- arounds go bad’. In the article, the crew nearly lost a B757, on a hand flown go-around. The author advocated that, if weather permits, at least 1/3 of approaches be hand flown with FD guidance, and 1/3 be flown raw data.

Must say, sounds like a good idea to me.

15th Feb 2004, 18:41
Guess my dinosaur traits are coming to the fore again ... although I haven't done much flying in the past few years, I used routinely to handfly to TOC and from TOD if the airspace workload wasn't too high .. and the occasional cruise if I was bored. Never a problem with crew monitoring .. the other guy(s) could just as easily watch my efforts as watch what the autopilot was doing. ... and I never got bored handflying ....

I think that the light aircraft bit is not very relevant to the heavy aircraft operation due to the inertia and IFR workload. However, at the end of the day, any handflying is better than none ...

16th Feb 2004, 22:31
I know it's your company SOP's to fully utilise the automatics, but unless they specify the actual altitude at which the autopilot is to be enaged on Take Off and Landing, then really, what's to stop you from hand flying for as long as you like?
What's to stop you requesting non-precision approaches?
What's to stop you from using other modes avail. than the standard modes?
Just a suggestion, but why not run it by the Skipper on your next Take Off or Landing?

16th Feb 2004, 22:36
Backin5,Just a suggestion, but why not run it by the Skipper on your next Take Off or Landing?Um, because it's not a real job, I'm not really a jet pilot, and if, in my hypothetical situation, I did that, then my hypothetical question would be invalid, and there'd be no point in starting this thread? :confused:

:D :D :D

Thanks for your reply, though! ;)


17th Feb 2004, 00:22
Umm, OK, so why not hypothetically run it by your hypothetical Skipper on your next hypothetical Take Off?? :hmm:

All I am getting at is that there are many ways, even in the most restrictive of airline environments, to maintain one's currency.

I don't believe that flying small aircraft on your days off will make you a better hands on heavy jet pilot if the automatics pack it in. I believe a thorough understanding of your aircraft modes, and how to intervene when these automatics "misbehave" will make you a much better pilot when things don't work as planned.

Also, by flying non-precision and visual approaches, and automatics off approaches when able, will keep a heavy jet pilot way more ready for automatics problems on heavy jets than flying around in a light aircraft.

17th Feb 2004, 00:34
Wilco! :D .

Ignition Override
18th Feb 2004, 12:52
Larry-how about on a BC LOC into Grand Forks, ND, in the snow? We are not allowed to use the flight director on any BC. As you might know, the VOR into OMA's 32L might require you to first see the approach lights to 32R.

So few people fly an ILS to near minimums at MKE, MCI, FNT...or ever agree to an NDB to YWG, therefore, the hand-flying skills needed for a non-prec approach can be a shock. At the same time as the briefing, how about a braking-action report from a jet? Never mind TVC!

After eleven days off, our first approach into a given airport might be a non-prec; "GS inop...".:hmm:

Backin 5: can a thorough understanding of automatics be a substitute for hand flying in the VOR (on a 757 it gives you a CDI, just like on a real HSI) mode etc?

20th Feb 2004, 21:46
A decade back in my other life I enjoyed hand flying the 737 for the sheer pleasure of it and the added advantage of keeping up my cross reference skills. As far as I was aware the cabin crew never picked the difference between their pilot doing a bit of hand flying on raw data on a SID - or the aircraft on automatics. I am sure I would have been the first to know if the coffee was spilt.
Then, flying for a German operator one day, I got reported to the chief pilot by the German 500 hour first officer for asking him to carry out a raw data hand-flown ILS in CAVOK somewhere down Spain way.

The chief pilot was a delightful fellow and almost apologetic when he had me in his office. He pointed out that although he thought the first officer's complaint was trivial - nevertheless I should know that in his airline the first officers were not taught to monitor raw data - but only to monitor the FMS inputs and thus autopilot outputs. It was to be autopilot in at 1000 ft after take off and out at 1000 ft on approach. Fair enough I guess - it was his train set.

On my last flight before the dreaded age 60 rule blew me out of the air for life, I was flying somewhere down Italy way on a lovely calm day and decided to hand fly for a little while at 35,000 ft This posed no problem as far as I was concerned after all RAF pilots flew regularly Canberra's at 45,000 ft with no autopilot fitted.

Announcing my intention to the first officer, I was astonished when he said that "in that case I shall put my shoulder harness back on"....

To his ever lasting relief we didn't spin in. He then told me that he had never hand flown the 737 above 5000 feet in his entire one year as a first officer.

In my view and from discussing the subject numerous times over the years, I am convinced that some experienced pilots who decry hand flying as dangerous are in fact secretly afraid that they have lost their handling skills over the years that they have been on autopilot - and rather than admit it, they rubbish those of us who see hand flying and raw data skills as vital attributes to flight safety and good airmanship.

Larry in TN
21st Feb 2004, 12:25
No, I don't fly for NWA, I fly for the airline with the second largest DC9 fleet in the US. (NWA has the largest)

We don't fly into Grand Forks but I did once have to do an NDB approach in actual IMC at KSAT. Seems that the LOC's were down for some reason and the ceiling was about 100' above NDB mins. Winds were strong enough that we were stuck with 12 which only had an NDB with the navaid outages.

23rd Feb 2004, 04:39
Hudson, you've got it in one.;)

24th Feb 2004, 04:22

Why don't you look at:

Safety CRM & QA Forum: "Auto Pilot Use" (I think it started in November 2003).

Certainly I (as one who has always kept my hand-flying skills up to date) and the button pushers had a pretty good discussion.

Ignition Override
24th Feb 2004, 14:40
Back in Five: the main problem with a practice non-prec. approach can be that the plane must be slowed much sooner on downwind or base than with some ILS approaches where Approach Control asks us to maintain about 170 knots to the outer marker, due to traffic. Maybe at a smaller airport.

Our non-prec require us to be at final approach speed about two or three miles from the final approach fix and be ready to do the Landing Checklist by then and call tower, standing by for timing if needed.

No matter how they train us in the sim etc, I tell Approach that we need to switch to Tower a few miles FROM the Final Approach Fix. In the real world, too many important things must happen at once at the FAF-never mind getting a landing clearance and a recent braking action report (if not already-and from a jet) as the other pilot begins hand-flying a 1200 fpm descent while manually setting 52% N1 or so, in the weather! And we can get too rushed making callouts ("Narco at 2830'-minimums at 1280' ") during this time.:ooh: