As you’ve learned, the slowest flying you will do is when landing your airplane. Slow flight is a challenge for new pilots. There seems to be so much to remember and so little time to remember it. That’s why you’ll learn — and repeatedly practice — the fine art of flying slowly.
Slow flight means keeping control of your aircraft at a speed just above the speed at which it stalls. Check your plane’s operating handbook for the specific airspeed suggested for slow flight maneuvers. Your instructor will know the numbers, too. For many planes it’s 1.2 times the stall speed. For a craft with a stall speed of 39 knots, the slow flight speed is 47 knots (39 X 1.2). If the airspeed indicator measures miles-per-hour (mph), that’s 45 mph to stall and about 52 mph for slow flight.
The purpose of slow flight maneuvers is to illustrate what the controls feel like as the plane approaches its stall speed. Because the craft is flying at a slower speed — meaning less relative wind is flowing over the wings and tail — the controls don’t respond in the same way they do when lots of relative wind goes by. So, naturally, the flight controls require more movement to get the same effect they have when the plane is flown faster.
Here are the typical steps to maneuvering your aircraft in slow flight:
- Apply flaps (if equipped) to reduce the stall speed.
- Pull carburetor heat on (if equipped with it and recommended by the manufacturer).
- Reduce power.
- Reduce airspeed and maintain altitude by applying back pressure on the control yoke or stick.
- Apply rudder pressure as needed to maintain flight coordination.
- As airspeed approaches stall speed, add power to maintain altitude.
- Adjust pitch attitude to control airspeed.
- Apply trim as needed to maintain slow flight with the least back pressure on the yoke or stick.
From this point of slow flight you can practice — gently — various flight maneuvers such as climbs, descents, and turns. Your instructor also will show you how to maintain slow flight with incrementally more flaps (if your plane is equipped with flaps).
Practicing slow flight makes sense. You’re not only learning how controls respond at low speeds, you’re also getting to practice a simulated landing at a safe altitude. If you goof you have a 1,500-plus ft. margin for error.
When performing any practice maneuvers, make clearing turns before you start. That means turning your aircraft left for a 90-degree turn, then right for 90 degrees, checking around you to see what other traffic is nearby. The clearing maneuver also tells other aircraft in the area that you’re going to practice maneuvers and that they should stay clear. During your FAA practical test your flight examiner is apt to flunk you if you don’t remember your clearing turns!