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I write with my right hand. I can make sort of intelligible scrawls with my left hand, but that is much slower for me.

The airplane I'm training in is a single-engine prop plane with the control stick (not yoke) in the center console, between the seats, rather than directly in front of the pilot. (For those curious, it's an Ikarus C42B. Here and here are some photos of what the interior looks like; your favorite search engine will show you many more, including all kinds of variations to the panel layout.)

Sitting in the left-hand seat, this means that my right hand is operating the control stick, which also has the PTT and trim controls plus the main brake handle. (I typically keep my left hand on the throttle lever, which in this aircraft is between the legs of each pilot. Yes, this means there are two throttle controls and one control stick.)

This combination presents an obvious obstacle when trying to write down things like clearances, as I'll have to either:

  • use my left hand to write, resulting in difficult-to-read scribbles (certainly not ideal), or
  • use my right hand to write, requiring reaching over with my left hand to the control stick (awkward), or
  • use my right hand to write, letting go of the control stick and trusting that the aircraft will fly reasonably straight and level (requires much trust in the aircraft)

Any practical tips on how to handle a situation like this? (Surely I can't be the only person in this situation.)

The aircraft is equipped only for VFR; no autopilot of any kind, no IFR instruments, etc. So I'm only interested in VFR during VMC, but with the possibility of some turbulence and possibly in controlled airspace. (If I somehow manage to end up in IMC, ATC will just have to put up with me until I'm back in VMC...)

Since there seems to be some confusion, here are some examples of the kind of information I'd like to be able to write down:

  • taxi instructions
  • landing instructions, including e.g. runway in use
  • altimeter settings (e.g. QNH value, transition level or transition altitude)
  • frequencies
  • reporting positions and altitudes ("report 3,000 feet climbing", "report BAZ")
  • instructions for where to enter or exit controlled airspace, or where to transition from one controlled airspace to another ("cleared entry via FOO, 2,500 feet or below")
  • transponder codes, especially when assigned a code different from the local default VFR code (1200 in the US, 7000 in Europe, ...)
  • cleared altitude or flight level

There's probably much more that I'm just not thinking of right now. While some of this is in a relatively relaxed environment on the ground, some of it needs to be handled in the air.

One of these days I plan on trying to simply let go of the stick for a few moments (after trimming for level flight) to see how well the plane actually maintains straight and level flight on its own with at most rudder inputs, but other than that, I'm having trouble coming up with ways of actually handling this situation. How do other pilots do it?

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  • $\begingroup$ Of course, if anyone has ideas for appropriate tags to add to this question, by all means feel free. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 9 '18 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ I use to fly this plane, central stick and single, central throttle. One gets used... This is it: imgur.com/2Brb6dJ When I have to write something, I hold the stick with my left hand, and write with my right hand on a pad on the right seat. The throttle stays where it is, because it's a button-lock vernier... $\endgroup$ – xxavier Mar 9 '18 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @xxavier The throttle on this plane doesn't need constant hand-holding either, I just find it's as convenient a spot as any for my left hand when it's not needed for anything else. It's no problem to let go of the throttle to adjust other controls, including things like magnetos during the engine run-up (at which point I'll be holding the brake, which is also on the control stick, because the parking brake isn't powerful enough to prevent movement when the engine is at full whallop). $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 9 '18 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @michaelKjorling - If having the ability to write is crucial for you: 1. Always fly it from the right seat. With a bit of practice switching seats (if you fly several airplanes) is not a problem. 2. Learn and practice trimming skills. Unless there is significant turbulence, if the airplane is trimmed properly you should easily be able to let go of the control stick for enough time to write a clearance without any unreasonable deviation to course or altitude. 3. Get a kneeboard and your right hand will be very close to the control stick and available for writing. $\endgroup$ – 757toga Mar 9 '18 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ use my right hand to write, letting go of the control stick and trusting that the aircraft will fly reasonably straight and level .... a well trimmed aircraft in clear air will fly straight and level. No trust is required. In less than perfect conditions, your first priority is to fly the aircraft not write things down. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Mar 23 '18 at 15:45
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One technique many airline pilots use is to enter letters and numbers on the FMC keypad to use as a reminder for complicated taxi instructions.

“taxi via Hotel, cross 15L, right turn Bravo, hold short Alpha One” could be entered on the keypad as: HX15LB/A1 or possibly H X15L B/A1

There really is no requirement to write down this type of instruction, or any VFR clearance. It is just a reminder and makes for good airmanship.

Many FOs in the right seat seem to use their left hand when entering data in the FMC as it can feel awkward to reach over and punch buttons with your right hand.

In your case you might be able to use an iPad or some other type of electronic device on a knee pad to punch in some “shorthand” with your left hand to help you remember what ATC says.

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  • $\begingroup$ Even using my right hand I've developed a similar short hand writing style that helps when ATC is rattling instructions off as quick as they can talk. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 10 '18 at 3:26
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I finally got a chance to try what I wanted to; obviously, after first discussing it with the instructor on the ground, before we got into the plane.

Having first trimmed for level flight at a safe altitude, I simply let go of the stick altogether. The plane was plenty stable enough that we could probably have flown for a good amount of time like that, with at most small rudder inputs to stay on course.

Obviously, it's more involved in turbulent air (this was on a rather calm day) or while actively maneuvering. This does however give me one preferable option to use when conditions allow, and saves the more complicated variants for those times when they are needed.

Next step at some point is probably to try it with real-life ATC comms, but that's for later.

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