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Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by Utah-Jay, Jan 2, 2014.
Silly newbie question, but can a VFR PPL use autopilot?
Yes. Many do.
But now I am curious why you think such use was prohibited?
I can only guess a primary instructor who said "Oh, I don't let my students use the autopilot" or something similar.
No, just curious as to safety for a VFR PPL and autopilot.
I'm really just reading and watching (learning), currently not training.
Thanks for your quick responses.
I would love to start training again, but really have no mission beyond wanting to fly. If/when my work becomes US based, that will change.
Suffice it to say, I'm enjoying learning from the ground at this time.
Many instructors don't want students using GPS and Autopilots so as not to be a crutch for skills (navigation and aircraft handling) in their primary instruction. My wife was told NO GPS (we didn't have an autopilot at point). The plane had an old VOR-DME RNAV system and i had taught my wife how to look up destination airport RNAV coords and put them in the system. She did that with the instructor and got a NO RNAV restriction as well.
If you're going to fly a plane with an AP, you have to know some minimal stuff (how to preflight it and make sure it's off). A few minutes reading the manual in the plane.
CFI' also want students and low time pilots to get the feel of flying the plane. Just from a fun standpoint, is it not fun to fly the plane? I can understand on very long flights, just like you would use cruise control on a car, but anything under one hour, why bother.
Hold it straight and level for hours at a time? No, Otto can do that and my skills aren't diminished as a result. If I have a working autopilot, it's engaged once I'm on course towards my destination.
By all means learn how the autopilot works, and how to use it. And then turn it on when you'd rather let it fly.
Can? Depends on whether s/he's been shown how to do it. May? Yes, absolutely -- no regs on point.
Just remember that there can be some very unpleasant surprises lurking in an autopilot, so please do read the pilot's manual on the one in your plane, get with an instructor for training on it, and make sure you really do any required preflight tests on it so you learn about any problems on the ground, not when the world turns upside down around you after you push a button.
If there is an autopilot installed, you should have a brief knowledge of how it works. And you should certainly know how to turn it off or bypass it, because those autopilots can catch you off guard and do weird stuff sometimes. I don't trust mine further than I can throw a cat.
I have a Go Around button on mine that's mounted on the throttle. It's a tiny little button that I'd never really much noticed. Until one day, for no reason, the aircraft started climbing abruptly and the yoke kicked me in the stomach. I first didn't understand what was going on and tried to overpower it, but after a while a realised my right knee must have inadvertently hit the Go Around button. Shut the A/P off and all was fine, but it did scare me.
mine is not working, and I miss it!
Gotta love the cruise control.
Then auto pilot is just the passenger sitting in the right seat!...just like if the dishwasher is broken, you just have her....
...I'll stop now.
No need to stop- I have one of those, too. She is very adept at telling me exactly how she wants the dishes washed...
...no reason during PPL except for your CFI to help you understand how it works. We have a HSI linked up to the Garmin in our Cherokee and you can either enable the autopilot to track the heading bug on the HSI or the GPS track on the Garmin. So, he showed me how to do those things but I never used the autopilot until after I got my PPL - didn't even use it on my XC's...I loved hand flying the plane too much...still do.
Ours doesn't control altitude - heading only...so it's very helpful on longish trips to just dial in the heading and then all you need to keep track of is altitude.
Most definitely VFR pilots can use autopilot. It obviously gets more advantageous in IFR scenarios to lighten the load a little when flying approaches but even then on your IFR checkride your DPE won't let you fly the autopilot - you'll have to do it by hand.
There was a point way back when I was a new pilot with my first airplane that I took pride in being able to hand-fly my Cherokee holding it to +/- 50' altitude and within a half mile or so on centerline of my ground track following a portable GPS for entire X-C legs. Now that I've got a plane with an autopilot, I say screw that nonsense. Let the darn computer fly the plane for me!
There are times when an autopilot is a bad idea. E.g.., moderate or stronger turbulence, especially sinking air with alt hold. The autopilot will fly you into a stall -- it isn't a very good pilot. It will also fly you right into terrain if you let it, and when operating in high mountains, it can be hard to find a straight line that keeps you in rising or level air and off the rocks.
The simpler one or two axis autopilots don't have enough control to keep you coordinated in even very light turbulence and will wallow trying to correct roll and yaw with aileron only. This makes people puke.
I also won't use VS mode in a descent near the ground or climbing at high altitude because managing airspeed is much more important.
Most of the cheaper rentals don't have them, and when they do, they tend to be pretty basic. For the few coupled autopilots, they get turned off every time I deviate from the flight plan -- which is several times per flight (usually for traffic avoidance, especially around departing airliners as they need a lot of space). They also make standard rate turns, which is quite slow VFR.
But there is no rule. And in good conditions, they can do the repetitive parts. But what's the fun in that? You can fly FSX a lot cheaper for a similar experience pushing buttons.
I have hand flown from Boston to Fla VFR. Was no fun but great practice. Pilots should be familiar with the autopilot if available. It can help get them out of trouble. Won't fly an IFR flight without an A/P available.
This has not been my experience. If anything I see the auto pilot gets guys deeper into trouble.
It goes both ways, but what I think he is referring to are accidents where a non-IR rated got into IMC and lost control of the airplane when there was a fully working A/P installed.
autopilot is a requirement for me if I'm flying pax ifr. I know how to use it and am convinced it increases the safety of the flight.
but like any other tool it can be dangerous if used improperly.
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You mean there are other reasons?
you are allowed to use it. for me, almost all of the planes I've flown haven't had them and i think I've only used AP once.
I see your point. But by the time you're 'in trouble' the auto pilot is not going to help.
A flight of mine comes to mind. I was flying with an airline retired FO who, in hind sight, was losing it. Twice we took off VFR to pick up our clearance in the air. His leg and after takeoff he flew with little purpose, meaning our first fix was right and he was turning left. I'd ask where we're going and he'd reply he's VFR and can do what he wants. (then he'd start a turn towards the fix)
The third time we take off from an uncontrolled field IFR. Our clearance is left to a fix climb 2,000. He takes off and starts a turn. As we near the heading we need we also start to capture our altitude. I start to mention we need to stop turning and realize he's not going to level off so I start saying "altitude, altitude".
He realizes he's way behind and calls for the autopilot. Except the AP isn't set up. It's in roll mode (that's from him trying to hand fly AND mash on the AP control panel (not proper procedure). So he's turning through the course, busting our altitude and calling for the autopilot which is commanding a roll to the right despite us needing to come left.
Totally FUBAR. In the end I didn't give him his autopilot and instead told him to get back on altitude and then steered him towards the fix. My name is on the flight plan and I'm not really in the mood to get violated over him.
Afterwards he tried to scold me for not giving him the autopilot when he called for it. He retired for good within a month.
I used to use it all the time when the copilot was asleep and I wanted to go back for a cup of coffee......
I'm the opposite....flew NJ to TX to GA to NJ all without a/p, mostly on an IFR clearance. Have been NJ to FL and back 3 times this year, haven't engaged it yet.
I'm not sure if it's because I have 3 axis trim, but I enjoy getting it all dialed in and holding it. If nothing else, the change in CG from burning fuel in the header tank keeps you constantly aware of the fuel state (the engine only runs off an 11 gallon header tank, you have to xfer fuel via pumps from the left and right tanks to the header). If I had the AP on for long stretches, I would no longer feel those changes in required back pressure.
I know that's very aircraft-specific, but generally speaking, I enjoy knowing precisely what's going on with the airplane by having hand on stick, and haven't found it to be exhausting, even flying 6-7 hours in a day.
During my last career I'd regularly fly 4...5...6 hour XC flights. Most of them VMC but occasionally in the muck. No auto pilot, just trimmed the plane and flew it. Always found it enjoyable, rarely exhausting.
I think I mentioned this in another recent thread, but how well the airplane is rigged makes a huge difference. I've seen some airplanes that would plum wear you out hand flying them any length of time. Other airplanes of the same make/model could be easily flown hands off no problem.
same for me. i enjoy hand flying. the longest trip i did was from new york to north carolina and with a nicely trimmed out plane, it wasn't difficult or exhausting for me. even shooting the approach with 700ish ft ceilings was no problem
I'll trade legs with the autopilot, but I wont go ifr without one unless its a proficiency flight or I'm solo.
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AP is in the MEL. I don't like flying with one inop, but I'm not going to go so far as to say I'd refuse the flight.
oh, I'd substitute a second pilot for an autopilot.
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I was told that if something is installed in the aircraft, and you are on your checkride, you need to know how to use it or flag it INOP. Just remember an autopilot is an aid to the pilot not a substitute. Many have gotten themselves into serious trouble. Same deal with cruise control in your car. If you are not DRIVING, you are just along for the ride. Stuff happens.
I used to fly an Archer with an autopilot. Big orange button on top of the yoke with its sole function was to cancel A/P. I recall a couple of times having to battle with the A/P because it didn't take the cancel well. Fortunately, the off button worked.
I love my AP. I point it where I want to go, get leveled off at altitude, and let her fly. One day I had my needle pointed 180deg from where I wanted to go. It kept trying to turn until I realized my mistake.
And if the off button doesn't work, there is the circuit breaker. If the circuit breaker doesn't work, there is the master switch.
How else are you supposed to take a nap on a long cross country?