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COPA Corner: In Sync Climb Recovery

by Alexander Burton. This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of COPA Flight magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”– Zig Ziglar

One of the most basic and yet illusive skills we learn as pilots is to climb to a specified altitude, level off, and maintain the altitude.

As flight instructors and pilot examiners, we see this skill in all its various forms on pre-solo check rides, private pilot, commercial pilot, multi-engine pilot and instrument pilot flight tests and check rides. Indeed, I’ve watched it in my own performance.

On my last instrument check ride, while climbing, turning, switching frequencies and glancing, oh so briefly, down at the SID plate, I blew right through my assigned altitude, gaining an unwanted, extra 80 ft before pushing the nose down and recovering in a fairly undignified manner.

I suspect climb recovery is not one of those skills we, as instructors, teach extremely well. Somehow, many of us seem to think that a 15 second lesson including the acronym APT (attitude, power, trim) does the job. Apparently, not quite as well as we might hope.

Whether you fly “on the gauges”, as my friend Todd would say,1 or while looking outside enjoying the miracle of flight as the good lord intended, learning to recover properly from a climb is actually a fairly complex manoeuvre and understanding the process and the inherent dynamics pays off in the long term.

For those pilots who have mastered this basic skill to a state of consistent excellence: good for you. For the rest of us mortals, a little review of this complex process can’t hurt and might just do some good.

Right off the bat, an airplane climbs on excess thrust: climb is the result of the propulsion system producing more thrust than that required for level flight at a given airspeed. Every airspeed—we could say every angle of attack—requires a given amount of thrust for level flight. If we provide more thrust, the airplane climbs; if we reduce the thrust below that which is required, the airplane descends.2

Most typical training aircraft climb at a lower airspeed than they will normally be flown in cruise. The C-172, for example, might achieve Vy at sea level at around 75 KIAS, cruise climb at around 80-85 KIAS, and would cruise at around 100 KIAS.

The C-172 simply does not have enough power to do much climbing at 100 KIAS. So, when leveling off, recovering, from a climb, we are changing attitude, airspeed and power all in a short period of time. Each of these changes produces some interesting dynamics, all of which must be controlled successfully for the climb recovery to look simple, feel smooth, and appear to be “under control”.

So, let’s explore.

A couple of basic techniques can be helpful in achieving success in a smooth, controlled climb recovery and they won’t hurt the rest of our flying a bit: holding the controls in the correct manner and trimming the aircraft properly.

I have often wondered whether the bumpy parts on the back side of the control yoke or stick are the result of pilots using the classic death grip to hold the controls. I may well have been a contributor to that problem on several of the airplanes I have flown at one time or another. The problem with holding the control yoke or stick with an overly firm grip is that sensitivity is lost.

The tighter you hold the yoke or stick, the less clearly you are able to feel what the airplane is doing and the less sensitivity you have to maintaining positive yet gentle control of the flight path.

While the airplane may require a slightly firmer grip when manoeuvring than that used in cruise, refrain as much as possible from gripping the controls as though they were trying to escape with your last nickel. “Firm, positive, yet gentle” is the key phrase to keep in mind. Maintain your sensitivity to the flying machine’s subtle messages.

Many experienced pilots recommend what might be termed a “pulsing grip” which involves holding the controls gently but firmly, then consciously relaxing your grip for a second or two to monitor the aircraft’s behaviour. If it remains stable in the flight condition you are seeking, well and good. If it expresses an opinion about changing altitude, attitude or heading, an adjustment to trim is called for. Keep repeating your pulsing grip throughout the flight and adjust trim, as required, whenever required.

Trimming the airplane for the attitude you want and need is one of the really critical skills in all aspects of flying. The untrimmed airplane develops an opinion which may well differ from yours. An improperly trimmed flying machine will fight you every inch of the way and make life much more difficult than necessary.

Properly trimming a flying machine allows the controls to become essentially neutral and ready to accept small control inputs from the pilot, as required.

Proper trimming is not achieved as a one-time solution. It is an ongoing process. Any change, even minor, in the ambient environmental conditions—temperature, air density, vertical wind currents, humidity—all affect the airplane’s interaction with its environment and will require appropriate adjustments in trim.

The changing weight of the aircraft as it burns fuel, any shift in weights—a passenger shifting in his or her seat, for example—or any changes in power setting, will also require slight adjustments to trim setting.

Your gentle touch on the control yoke or stick will transmit the airplane’s need for readjusting trim if your fingers are light and easy on the yoke or stick.

Adjusting trim following any change in the correct order is also helpful. Elevator trim is adjusted first to set the basic attitude for the flight condition you want to achieve. Next, adjust the rudder trim, if so equipped, and finally, adjust aileron trim, if so equipped.

Remember to release your grip on the control yoke or stick following each adjustment to test how well you have achieved your goal of the perfectly trimmed airplane.

If your machine is not equipped with aileron and rudder trim—most light training aircraft are not—and it refuses to fly straight and level when left to its own devices after being properly trimmed, it may have developed some rigging issues which can, perhaps, become a discussion item between you and your favourite aircraft mechanic.

Sometimes, a slight tweak to the aileron activation rods, the adjustments for strut tension, or the fixed trim tab on the rudder can do wonders.

Some years back, I spent something like three months tweaking the adjustment of the strut tension on a little Citabria I owned until I was finally happy to find she would fly hands-off. It was worth the effort.

So, here we are in a nice, controlled, stable climb at, perhaps, 80 KIAS with a nose up angle of around 6º, coming up to our specified altitude and getting ready to recover smoothly. Remember, changes in attitude, altitude and power all require some lead time to execute properly.

Our machine has momentum and would like to continue doing what it is doing; like most of us, it will resist change. It is our job, as the brains of the outfit, to manage that change with the least disruption possible.

The basic rule of thumb for recovery is to “lead” our inputs so change is smooth and controlled. We would like to level off, recover from the climb, at exactly the altitude we have been assigned or intend. For recovery from either a climb or a descent, 10 percent of our rate of climb (ROC) normally works very well. If we are climbing at 500 ft/min, a pretty standard ROC for underpowered training aircraft, we will want to initiate our recovery from the climb about 50 ft before reaching our intended altitude. For IFR training, a standard call might be, “100 below” which gets us alerted to begin the process.

The recovery process requires that pitch angle, attitude and power setting all change in a unified and coordinated manner. Synchronizing all these changes is the tricky part, but it can be done, remembering throughout the procedure that changes to each of these three components will produce unwanted yaw tendencies which we will also want to anticipate and control.

Fifty ft below our intended altitude, we initiate the recovery process by lowering the nose half our angle of climb, in this case 3º. The vertical speed of the airplane will quickly begin to decay, but the lag in our vertical speed indicator (VSI) will not really show this change right away. Our airspeed will begin to increase. As soon as the airspeed begins to increase, we will want to adjust our trim setting to help keep the nose down where we want it, and we can anticipate a slight yaw to the left caused by gyroscopic precession—changing the spatial orientation of the propeller much like the yaw experienced when lifting the tail of a conventional gear aircraft on takeoff—which we will compensate for with a touch of right rudder.3

At 25 ft below our intended altitude, we can lower the nose another 1.5º, again half the nose up angle, adjust that trim again to keep the nose where we want it and anticipate the slight yaw tendency. Airspeed will be increasing and our rate of climb will be decreasing.

As we approach our intended altitude, our airspeed should be approaching cruise speed and our rate of climb should be approaching zero. As we reach altitude, we lower the nose to a zero climb angle and smoothly reduce power, as required, to our desired cruise power setting, remembering to anticipate and control any tendencies to yaw that may arise; a reduction in power will have the tendency to produce a slight yaw to the right as slipstream is decreased, requiring a touch of left rudder to maintain heading.

Here we are, so let’s get this puppy trimmed correctly to maintain our new altitude and airspeed.

The short version: attitude, trim; attitude, trim; attitude, trim; attitude, power, trim. What could be simpler?

Whether you fly with reference inside or outside, learning to execute a smooth, controlled climb recovery can make life so much easier and increase both your satisfaction in a job well done and bring smiles to those riding with you.

Alexander Burton is a Class I Instructor, Pilot Examiner and a regular contributor to several aviation publications both in Canada and in the USA. He is currently Base Manager for Selair Pilots’ Association in cooperation with Selkirk College, operating their satellite base in beautiful Abbotsford, BC (CYXX). He can be contacted at:

Decorative line

1 Todd Pezer,

2 For those interested in these things, the relationship between thrust and climb is: Sin (climb angle) = (Thrust – Drag)/Weight.

3 Cool video on gyroscopic precession


You and the National Search and Rescue Program

by Captain Jean Houde, Aeronautical Coordinator, JRCC Trenton

It is a statistical inevitability that flying activity in Canada increases as we slowly leave winter behind. Since gravity defying hobbies inherently involve some risk, an overview of Canada’s National Search and Rescue Program (NSP) may be of interest.

An integral part of this program is the work done by the joint rescue coordination centres (JRCC). This article covers the role of the JRCCs and their search and rescue (SAR) mandate, and offers tips on what you can do to help them provide you with a quicker SAR response.

In 1986, the Government of Canada directed the establishment of the NSP. The NSP is a co-operative effort by federal, provincial and municipal governments along with other SAR organizations. As part of this program, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) have been federally mandated to provide a SAR response for all aeronautical and maritime (Great Lakes and coastal waters) incidents within the Canadian Area of Responsibility.

To deal with Canada’s vast geography, the country has been divided into three Search and Rescue Regions (SRR), each with their own JRCC responsible for coordinating all SAR responses for incidents within their respective region. Each JRCC is staffed 24/7 with seasoned RCAF and CCG personnel who have significant SAR experience and work jointly to prosecute SAR incident responses. The JRCCs are directly linked to SAR crews and squadrons in key parts of the country who employ aircraft and vessels along with other equipment to carry out their missions so that others may live.

Canadian Search and Rescue Regions

As an example of the scale of operations in Canada, JRCC Trenton handled 3 064 incidents in 2012 within its SRR in an area of over 18 million km2.

The RCAF has two primary SAR squadrons within the Trenton SRR: 424 Squadron flying CC-130 Hercules fixed-wing aircraft and CH-146 Griffon helicopters in Trenton, and 435 Squadron flying CC-130 Hercules aircraft in Winnipeg. Both these squadrons are fully trained in SAR and maintain a primary SAR standby posture 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

SAR response posture is immediate at all times, and the crew that is on standby must aim to be airborne as rapidly as possible when they receive the call to action. During evenings and weekends, squadrons are on a 2-hr SAR posture as personnel are not required to be on base during these times. Nevertheless, the objective is for crews to get flying as quickly as possible and generally they succeed in launching well before the 2-hr mark.

Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., crews are mandated to be on base in order to maintain a heightened 30-min posture as this timeframe represents the period during which most survivable incidents occur.

RCAF aircraft that launch from primary SAR squadrons have search and rescue technicians (SARTech) on board who are capable of penetrating an incident scene by parachuting from an aircraft or being hoisted down from a helicopter. These SARTechs, highly visible in their orange flight suits, are trained to act as the first responders to immediately assist those in peril and provide advanced trauma care. The CC-130 Hercules can dispatch supplies, clothing, food, radio equipment, life rafts, survival kits and pumps. It can also drop flares for night illumination. Equipped with significant fuel reserves, this aircraft can remain airborne for up to 14 hr, allowing it to reach all corners of the Trenton SRR.

Although there are only two primary SAR squadrons within the Trenton SRR, additional aircraft from the RCAF and other federal departments can be tasked to support an ongoing SAR case. In addition, volunteer aviation and marine organizations such as the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) and the Coast Guard Auxiliary contribute greatly to providing qualified search crews for SAR cases that involve extensive search areas.

Through close coordination, Canada’s other JRCCs will often lend their primary SAR resources to support a SAR incident in another SRR. Commercial charter companies are also available to assist in responding to remote parts of the country. So despite the immense area, multiple resources are scattered throughout the land.

Aeronautical alerts usually come in the form of overdue aircraft, airborne emergencies, reported forced landings and emergency locator transmitter (ELT) activations. Most false alarms are resolved with a combination of sleuthing and phone calls but often the launching of valuable SAR assets is required to investigate the ELT source.

In ideal conditions, when an ELT is activated, it can be quickly identified with an accurate position and owner contact information. What this means for flying enthusiasts is that whenever an ELT is activated, rescue coordinators are working on it as a SAR case. Phone calls are made during the initial investigation stage, persons related to the event are questioned and interviewed, search plans are created, crews are briefed and SAR aircraft are launched.

It is therefore important that, in the event of an accidental ELT activation, the nearest air traffic control service be contacted immediately to prevent a SAR response from escalating unnecessarily. 

As many readers know, the 406 MHz ELTs are now the accepted standard as they offer greater capabilities than their predecessor. 

The older 121.5 MHz models are now limited in their effectiveness, and this can create challenges for the SAR system. As satellites no longer monitor this frequency, only high flyers and local air traffic control agencies are made aware of an active ELT transmission. This information is then passed along to the nearest JRCC. This represents a problem as no accurate position is available and the lack of owner information to confirm the activation could result in a delayed SAR response.

Updating your ELT to a 406 MHz model is the best option for ensuring your aircraft is optimally locatable. These newer beacons are also significantly less likely to trigger false callouts. 

If updating to a 406 MHz model is not feasible, some precautions can be taken to ensure proper care and maintenance of an ELT to help reduce SAR response times. Tips can include listening to 121.5 MHz before shutting down your aircraft, or if you are in distress and your ELT is activated, leave it on until positive communication is established with a SAR unit. Make a point of closing your flight plan within an hour from your planned arrival time and notify ATC of any changes to your flight plan. Always be proactive with flight following by communicating with ATC and FSSs along your intended route.

The NSP is comprised of many dedicated men and women with extensive SAR backgrounds who work around the clock in the JRCCs and at response units across the country. 

Fundamentally, everyone has a role to play when it comes to preventing SAR or ensuring they can be rescued. Provided that your aircraft is well maintained, rescues have the greatest odds of success when notification time is quick and probability of survival is high. In most cases, travellers equipped with sufficient survival gear stand the best chance of being rescued.

Canada’s SAR system is among the best in the world and crews with the RCAF, CCG and other partners train continuously in all elements and environments to save lives.  Delivering service for incidents across 25 million km2 is no small task, but Canada’s dedicated professionals and volunteers remain committed and ready to respond whenever and wherever they may be called.

Do You See It? The Provision of Traffic Information by Air Traffic Services

by Bob Scott, ATC inspector, NAV CANADA


The provision of traffic information to pilots by air traffic controllers and flight service specialists is a key element in ensuring safety in busy airspace, particularly where there is a mix of VFR and IFR operations.

Unlike air traffic control separation, the goal of the provision of traffic information is to increase a pilot’s awareness of the position and intentions of other aircraft relative to their own operation to aid with collision avoidance.

Often however, controllers and specialists are not always certain whether that service is achieving its intended purpose. One reason is a lack of clear confirmation from pilots indicating that the traffic is in sight. Additionally, pilots may not always be certain as to when traffic information service is being provided or to what extent they need to keep a lookout themselves.

Traffic information service is provided at the following locations and under the following circumstances:

  • at airports with a flight service station (FSS) where an airport advisory service is provided;
  • at aerodromes where a remote aerodrome advisory service (RAAS) is being provided;
  • to VFR flights within Class C airspace and upon request conflict resolution. IFR flights will be provided traffic information with respect to any relevant VFR flights, and when required, conflict resolution between IFR aircraft and VFR aircraft that are radar identified;
  • to aircraft within Class D airspace. Workload permitting, conflict resolution is provided between VFR and IFR aircraft, and upon request between VFR aircraft; and
  • when operating in Class E airspace where radar coverage exists, VFR flights with transponder-equipped aircraft may request radar traffic information. ATC will provide this information, workload permitting. However it is important to remember that ATC may not be aware of all aircraft in the area and pilots are responsible for maintaining a visual lookout outside the cockpit at all times.

The provision of traffic information involves point outs of relevant known or observed traffic which may be in such proximity to your aircraft’s position or intended route of flight to warrant your attention. In a radar environment, it is generally provided by referring to the clock position and will include such information as the direction of flight and the type of aircraft and altitude if known.


Often, air traffic services will hear back from the pilot “Alpha Bravo Charlie with the traffic” leaving it unclear to the air traffic service provider whether the pilot in fact has the traffic in sight.

If you do not see the aircraft referred to in a traffic advisory, it is important that you let air traffic services know. A more correct acknowledgement would be “Traffic in sight” or “Looking for the traffic”.

We understand that view from the cockpit can be limited, and the line-of-sight angle might not always allow you to see the other aircraft and, particularly in a terminal environment, it can be a busy time in the cockpit.

If an air traffic controller or flight service specialist knows you do not have the traffic in sight they will continue to provide traffic updates until visual separation is established or no longer required. If they incorrectly believe you have the traffic in sight however, they may assume visual separation has been established. This can result in an unsafe situation.  

Precision in responding when traffic information is passed is critical to ensuring a safe operating environment for all aircraft. Do not hesitate to advise air traffic services if you don’t see the other aircraft initially, or, if you lose sight of it.

Worth Watching—Again! Nav Canada’s “The First Defence: Effective Air Traffic Services-Pilot Communication” Video

Voice communication between pilots and Air Traffic Services (ATS) personnel is a critical safety link in the ATS system. As part of the effort to increase awareness of the risks associated with non-standard communication, the Air Traffic Services-Pilot Communications Working Group produced this excellent video as part of the “First Defence” awareness campaign. It’s time well spent!

2012 David Charles Abramson Memorial (DCAM) Flight Instructor Safety Award

The recipient of the 2012 DCAM Flight Instructor Safety Award is Paul Harris, manager of flight operations at the Pacific Flying Club, Vancouver, B.C. The award was presented to Mr. Harris by award co-founder Rikki Abramson on November 14, 2012, at the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) Annual General Meeting and Tradeshow in Vancouver, B.C.

Mr. Harris, considered an innovator in the field of flight instruction, has accumulated over 12 000 hours of flying experience in over 20 years. His greatest contribution to aviation safety is the next generation of flight instructors that he has trained. Paul strongly believes in cultivating leadership skills in his students. He also firmly believes that the safest pilot is the one who has been trained to the highest possible standard of discipline. He always directs his efforts to the task of properly training the people who will teach others to fly.

Left to right: Wayne Gouveia (ATAC Board of Directors), Paul Harris and Rikki Abramson.
Left to right: Wayne Gouveia (ATAC Board of Directors),
Paul Harris and Rikki Abramson.

Two deserving nominees were also recognized for their professionalism: Patrick Lafleur, chief flight instructor at Passport-Helico, Que., and Chris Walsh, director of training and manager of corporate safety and quality at Moncton Flight College, N.B.

The annual DCAM Award promotes flight safety by recognizing exceptional flight instructors in Canada and has brought recognition and awareness to the flight instructor community. The recognition of excellence within this segment of our industry raises safety awareness, which will hopefully be passed on for many years to come.

The deadline for nominations for the 2013 award is September 13, 2013. For details, please visit

TC AIM Snapshot: High Intensity Runway Operations (HIRO)

Several of Canada’s airports rank among North America’s busiest in total aircraft movements. HIRO, as a concept, have evolved from procedures developed by high density terminals in North America and Europe. It is intended to increase operational efficiency and maximize the capacity at those airports where it is employed through the use of disciplined procedures applied by both pilots and air traffic controllers. HIRO is intended to minimize the occurrence of overshoots that result from slow-rolling and/or slow-clearing aircraft and offers the prospective of reducing delays overall, both on the ground and in the air. In its fullest application, HIRO enables ATC to apply minimum spacing to aircraft on final approach to achieve maximum runway utilization.

The tactical objective of HIRO is to minimize runway occupancy times (ROT) for both arriving and departing aircraft, consistent with both safety and passenger comfort. Effective participation in HIRO results when the pilot of an arriving aircraft exits the runway expeditiously, allowing the following arriving aircraft to cross the threshold with a minimum time interval. In the case of an arrival and a subsequent departure, the arriving pilot clears the runway in a minimum ROT, permitting a departure before the next arrival crosses the threshold. The air traffic controller’s objective in HIRO is to optimize approach spacing. This can be best achieved when pilots reach and adhere to assigned speeds as soon as practicable.

(Ref: Transport Canada Aeronautical Information Manual (TC AIM), Section RAC 4.4.10)

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