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How often does an airline pilot use the rudder pedals during flight? Is it only during takeoff and landing?

I am interested to know the rudder pedal usage time in minutes per average short range flight (A320, Domestic flights, ~1-2 hr flight duration). When on autopilot, the rudder control will be automatic. There are even automatic rudder trim features for most of the commercial aircraft.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm guessing that by "brake pedal unit", you mean the rudder pedal (which often has brake pedals attached to it)? As far as I know, it's never called the brake pedal unit; you may want to edit this question and change "brake pedal unit" to "rudder". $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Jan 3 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ I edited your question to try to make it a little clearer, but if I got it wrong you can just roll back my changes or edit it more yourself. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 4 at 6:08
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Transport category aircraft have a yaw damper that will maintain coordinated flight when the aircraft is in the air unless the flying pilot overrides it with the rudder. It operates even if the autopilot is not in use. The usual procedure is that you take your feet off the rudder pedals as soon as you have lifted off and don't put them back on the rudder pedals until on short final.

The pilot will possibly use the rudder shortly before or going into the landing flare to slip into a crosswind and/or to align the aircraft with the runway if they were flying a crabbed final. However, with most if not all transport category there's nothing wrong with touching down in a crab correctly being flown to correct for a crosswind if desired.

So whether a short range light or a long haul flight, the amount of time in the air that the pilot needs their feet on the rudder pedals is minimal and is in seconds, at most a minute or so.

An exception, of course, is if there is an engine failure, in which case the pilot will use the rudder to counteract the adverse yaw from the asymmetrical thrust.

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The answer varies a lot depending on the type of plane, but ideally, the pilot will manually apply rudder only rarely.

Rudder will be used to coordinate turns and to slip for crosswinds on landing (if not crabbing). Other than that, the rudder should be trimmed so the pilot doesn't need to manually apply it for straight and level flight.

Some small aircraft lack variable rudder trim; if the trim is not correct, they may need to apply rudder throughout the entire flight--and hopefully fix the trim tab before the next flight.

Single-engine planes will need some right rudder input during full power (e.g. takeoff and climb) due to the left-turning tendency. Multi-engine planes don't have that problem, but rudder is very important when dealing with a failed engine--which should be rare outside training.

A three-axie autopilot will apply rudder as needed to keep the plane coordinated. Small planes may have a one- or two-axis autopilot that requires manual coordination. And, of course, autopilot is not used for the entire flight; the pilot will have to use rudder manually during hand-flown portions such as takeoff and landing.

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I am not sure about usage during autopilot, but without autopilot, you always keep your feet on the rudder pedals. Depending on the number of engine, it can have an engine configuration where it bias towards one side (as with one engine in front, for say a Cessna 172). To make a coordinated turn, one need the rudder, and to counteract the wind/drift to keep a straight course. So, pretty much always. There are no rudder trim to my knowledge, as the wind is never constant all along a mission, even if following a straight heading the whole time.

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    $\begingroup$ You are correct that you need rudder in a light aircraft to make a coordinated turn when hand flying. However, you are NOT correct in believing that the rudder is used to counteract the wind/drift to keep a straight course. That is accomplished by flying a straight and level heading that will correct for that part of the wind vector blowing you off course. Thus you will not "pretty much always" be using the rudder. $\endgroup$ – Terry Jan 3 at 5:57
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    $\begingroup$ C172 has a rudder trim tab, but it can't be adjusted in flight. Larger aircraft, like even the C182, do have a pilot rudder trim control. You generally only need to adjust it when changing power levels, to account for variations in left turning tendency. You would still use the rudder pedals to coordinate turns, not trim. Correcting for wind is generally done with a crab at cruise; you would only slip for landing--and some prefer crabbing for that too. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jan 3 at 5:58

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