The autopilot is a great tool for pilots. It’s vital for a pilot to fully understand the autopilot in his/her airplane, what it’s there for, and how to work it. We at The Aviator’s Academy see lots of pilots struggling with what button to push or experience confusion when the autopilot is doing something unexpected (for more autopilot learning, check out our Garmin G1000 Proficiency Course on our website at the following link: Garmin G1000 Proficiency Course).
I recognize that most GA pilots fly on the autopilot almost exclusively. However, hand flying is still a vitally important skill to have, especially when things go wrong. Some examples of when it is prudent to hand fly are:
- The Autopilot doesn’t do what the pilot expects, especially in IMC
- The Autopilot shuts off due to turbulence or malfunction
- The PFD (glass panel airplanes)/Attitude Indicator (steam gauge airplanes) quits, which shuts the autopilot off
- The approach button gets engaged late on the autopilot and it doesn’t capture the glide slope
There are many other examples of when it would be prudent to hand fly in addition to the ones above, but hand flying is a skill that has been largely lost in the advent of so many great modern autopilots.
Don’t get me wrong, I use the autopilot most of the time when flying point to point. It’s a great resource, especially when single pilot. And what do you think airline pilots do all the time? They even have Autoland in some of the bigger airliners!
But, hand flying should not be considered abnormal. When I train people, I sprinkle in a few hand flown approaches to make sure my customer’s instrument scan is still safe and they are capable of correctly and safely flying an approach by hand.
One thing that befuddles a lot of pilots when hand flying is the turn anticipation of the GPS. A lot of GPS units anticipate the next leg of the flight plan and tell the pilot to turn prior to the waypoint, which is known as turn anticipation. Pilots are taught to make all turns standard rate turns, but this can lead to rolling out with the course needle not centered if the pilot follows the turn anticipation.
Here’s why. All Garmin and Avidyne GPS units use half standard rate turns for all their calculations. So, when a pilot is hand flying and sees the turn anticipation start counting down, everything ends up centered at the end of the turn if half standard rate is utilized. This will eliminate some frustration when hand flying, causing pilots to roll out on course after a turn instead of off course.