3 Axes (plural of axis)

Learning to fly – to maneuver an aircraft – isn’t hard, once you get it into your head that it’s nothing like a car.

A plane can be a slippery eel. It maddeningly wallows and bobs if you don’t remember it’s got three axes to slither around on. Happily, it has controls to manage all that. It’s all a battle with centrifugal force and the pull of gravity.

Axes. The three are Pitch, Yaw, and Roll.

The Pitch axis – an imaginary line that runs one side to the other through the plane, wingtip to wingtip. The nose goes down, the tail goes up, spinning around on that string. Scary ride.

The yaw axis? Picture the plane skewered on a flag pole, ground to sky, right through the middle. Where it can rotate on the horizontal, around and around, flat spinning parallel to the ground.  You see how pesky that could be?

Roll… the bead on the string line going through the plane front to back. Run amuck on that axis and you’d be like a screw drilling a hole through the sky.

A car is so different.   Your four-wheeled ride moves comfortably about on a flat plane. The ground. No actual roll, pitch, and yaw, the movements on the three axes of the airplane. Well, you can skid any old which-way if you get sloppy. It moves on the straight ahead one, shall we say the pitch axis. Throws you back when you accelerate. Throws you forward when you brake. The car tilts to the side when you turn it, the faster the turn the steeper the tilt. Naturally you lean sideways into that turn – countering that force, the centrifugal force.

You’re used to doing that on the ground – your body is trained. But now you’re not on the ground. In the airplane, a coordinated turn keeps you firmly erect, vertical, to your seat – no leaning. If you’re leaning, you must be slipping. Not good. You can always tell the newbie by the way they sag sideways when the plane turns – the tilted horizon they see cues them to do that. At first, from habit, you do too. But that’s silly. You do not feel any centrifugal force – that is, not if the turn is done right.

“Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate” was the muttered mantra.

Another thing. Your plane won’t back up, like a car. You have to work around that little handicap.

Alert. You’ll have to deal with a lot of “negative transfer”. It can be hilarious, it can be embarrassing. So often in the beginning days, when you’re parking your car say, at the grocery store? Or maybe at the watering hole… (At the “O” Club, Officers Club, military fighter pilots like my old friend “afterburner Art” were ever thumping backs and raising a glass to still being alive, after successfully rolling, pitching and yawing – dog-fighting – around the sky.)

So here you’re coming in for the “landing juice” (post-flight nip) to celebrate – or to settle your rattled nerves. Or scarf a burger, if food is your comfort thing. You roll into the parking place, checking outside the car, right and left, to make sure the wingtips will clear whatever is beside you – then give yourself a head-slap. No wings on the car, ninny. And when you fumble for the fuel/air mixture control to choke off your engine, you panic. Where’d it go?? That’s “negative transfer”.

Learning to fly is not easy, but it’s a fine challenge, and it’s fun. You can do it. Probably.