I fly occasionally on a pretty short route on a turboprop (DHC-8). When the airplane descends for landing, I can look through the window and see the ground below getting closer over time. However I can't really tell what the pilots do to achieve that. I know that turns make you lose altitude, but it's very clear to me when the airplane makes a turn, so let's count that one out. So we're basically left with:
- Slight nose-down attitude
- Reduction of engine power
- Combination of both
The reason I'm asking this is that during descent I do get this sensation of going down. However, during that time I cannot really see what the pilot did to achieve it. The nose-down attitude might be too minor for me to actually notice (I do not notice a slight nose-up cruising attitude to be honest). I hear a slight reduction in engine power a few times during a descent, but the feeling of going down and the audible noise reduction are separated in time. Is it that it takes time for an airplane to reduce speed (and as a result, descend) when you reduce engine power?
One additional question: I guess that with all the electronics in the cockpit pilots just set a target altitude or rate of descent, and then the airplane systems apply the correct measures to achieve this. How does the airplane know how much to reduce engine power and/or pitch to achieve this exact rate of descent?