Straight and Level Flight.
This sounds so simple that most pilots don’t even give it a second thought. I bet a lot of pilots even skipped this
section because they think they have it licked. Good for you for not passing it up - because this is actually the most important
maneuver of all. Flying straight and level is not easy, and it is the block from which every maneuver is built. If your line
is not right, the following maneuver will also be flawed. A lot of guys will spend whole seasons wondering why their loops
never track right, when the whole problem is that they never have their wings level when they start the loop…or any
other maneuver for that matter.
The hardest part of the line is keeping your wings level. This is difficult because you are standing lower than the plane,
so the perspective you see is from the bottom. To make it even worse, the angle you see changes as the plane gets closer,
passes center, and then gets farther away. Most new pilots just set their bank so they are sighting down the wing and think
they are level. They are actually in a bank towards themselves, though. The plane is in a gently turn towards the pilot. When
you go to make a pull into a maneuver, not only are your wings cocked, but you also are flying a crooked line to boot!
Fortunately, you have two things going for you. First, our planes are stable, so they want to fly level. All you have to
do is set the plane there and don‘t fight it once it is. Second, most lines begin off to one side, so you are able to
see a good bit of the front of the plane. You are able to match the wings to the ground. Now, don’t ham fist the stick
and add bank as it flies closer on the line. If it is trimmed, it will stay level and straight.
Every new season I will frequently fly as much as a half tank of gas each flight doing nothing but flying lines. Level
into a vertical, then pull a humpty-bump right back to a level line. It helps me get my perspective back. While I do it, I
am very conscious about the ground track. At the end of my line am I still the same spacing as when it started? If the plane
moved closer, then I am banking into myself. If it got farther, then I am overcompensating and banking away. When you pull
the vertical line, you get immediate confirmation of your bank. If your pull to vertical leans to the right, then you had
right bank before you started. Note it…and then fix it on your next pass. Line practice is NEVER time wasted! It is
the one practice maneuver you can fly that will improve ALL of your other maneuvers! Take the time to work on it.
When flying in a strong wind, it helps to fly faster. More speed reduces the amount of wind corrections you need. This
is because your speed relative to the wind speed will be greater. For a headwind or tailwind, you will need no wind correction.
Just remember that any maneuver flown into the wind will necessarily need to be flow slower, and any maneuver flown downwind
will have to be flown faster.
For a crosswind, point the plane into the wind until the ground track goes straight along the box. This does NOT mean you
will be banked into the wind! The wings will be level, but the heading will be into the wind. The flight path will be straight
down the box. Of course, the stronger the wind in relation to your flight speed, the more angle the heading will be into the
wind. This is called crabbing. The concept is easy, but the practice takes a while to get your perspective down visually.
Once again, the best way is to practice it on a windy day.
Use just enough control throw on your low pattern rate to pull a comfortable loop, but not much more. This will make your
stick less sensitive when flying lines.
Use 20% to 25% expo to also reduce stick sensitivity on your lines. If you need more than that, you are probably running
to much control throw.
If you are unable to make very subtle, almost imperceptible corrections and/or your inverted lines bounce all over the
sky, you need to reduce control throw or increase the expo. Another option is to increase your stick spring tension - if your
radio’s tension is not adjustable, this option involves shortening the spring length…which is a nother whole topic.
Barely touching the stick is enough to correct a flight path…keep that in mind and do not overcorrect.
Trim your plane properly, and then leave it alone. You should not be afraid to take your hands completely off the sticks
and have it fly perfectly straight. Your plane will do it…just don’t mess it up by adding inadvertent pressure
to the stick! I usually let my plane fly itself on lines, and only gently touch the stick to correct any deviation due to
turbulence. That makes corrections very slow, so the judges aren’t keyed to abrupt movements that flag a downgrade.
Do not add back pressure anticipating a maneuver. If you have to do a snap roll and find yourself climbing into it - then
you are flying to low for your skill level. Fly the line higher, and keep your fingers off the sticks until you are ready
Flying your sequence farther out accomplishes two beneficial things. First, your angle of perspective viewing the plane
is better, so there is less tendency to bank towards yourself. Second, if your ground track is angled, deviations are less
noticeable to the judges. If you fly on the 100’ dead line, it is very obvious to the judge if the plane tracked closer
or farther away.
Rudder is your secret weapon when flying a level line. Say you pull out of a hammerhead a little crooked, so now your line
is cocked to one side. If you use bank to fix it, the judges will see you bank once to start the correction turn, and then
again to straighten back out. Two hits! The better way is to gently hold a little rudder pressure till the plane straightens
out. It is invisible to the judges, since the wings stay level the whole time.
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