For the Pros - A/P Utilization


Well-Known Member
Hi guys!

Just wondering when you guys usually give it to George. I know it depends on the situation, so I'd appreciate some scenarios (VMC/IMC/tricky SID, etc.). I recently got to jump seat on a pt.135 727 - the guys clicked it on and off at 10,000'.

In addition, how often do you do autolands? Are there still a lot of limitations to them?

I fly the 727 and am pretty much an autopilot on above 10K guy. Am about to go to training on the 757, though, and it's much more of an autopilot on airplane. It will do autolands if you have a CAT3 runway. What impresses me more is it will do a go around on autopilot with the click of a switch and all you have to do is bring up the gear and flaps, then it will fly the missed approach and hold.
For me it depends on fatigue level. Some days when the WX sucks and your on leg 6 of 7 it's on at 600 off at 80. But some days I'll hand fly up to cruise and click it off below 10. Even on some of the short ones I would hand fly the whole flight.
Just wondering when you guys usually give it to George. I know it depends on the situation, so I'd appreciate some scenarios (VMC/IMC/tricky SID, etc.). I recently got to jump seat on a pt.135 727 - the guys clicked it on and off at 10,000'.

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No real rules for me. Like today I flew ATL-GSP and GSP-ATL. ATL had good weather, but GSP was down to 2000 RVR for takeoff. In both cases I hand flew up to 18,000 feet. The only time I really consider the weather "bad" is if there is moderate icing or thunderstorms to circumnavigate and I'll turn it on a lot earlier to ease the load on my non-flying pilot and start working on weather avoidance solutions.

On arrival, I'll leave it on the autopilot until I break out of the clouds. Executing a go-around with the autopilot on is a piece of cake, but if you've got the autopilot off and the non-flying pilot is setting up your flight director, working the radios and working through the procedure, you might overload the poor guy. I should say that when the autopilot is on, the flying pilot sets headings, altitudes, navigation modes, etc. When it's off, the non-flying pilot sets all of the stuff.

Into GSP this evening, We landed on RWY 4 and granted I was coming in pretty 'hot' (fast). I couldn't get the autopilot to match the performance that I wanted out of the aircraft so even though we were IMC, I switched it off, leveled off, threw out the gear and flaps and then rejoined the glideslope.

In addition, how often do you do autolands?

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As few as I can possibly get away with. I've done two in the past two months which is extraordinarily high for me. I think I got away with two in all of 2003. Autolands suck because the computer flies the aircraft differently than a human does and it's a little unnerving sometimes.

Are there still a lot of limitations to them?

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In the -88 we have a max 25 kt headwind limit, 15 kt crosswind limit, and a 10 kt tailwind limit.

It's a lot more than pushing the "autoland" button and watching it do an approach. And it's heavily weighted on FO duties and things happen very quickly. For example, the last 150 feet, I'm probably monitoring six different things, and all have to happen in a certain sequences absolutely perfectly, and if one is out of sequence or one doesn't annunciate correctly, we have to execute a missed approach.

And this all happens within a span of about 4 or 5 seconds. Perhaps MQAAord's husband can elaborate a little about the -88.

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I can't imagine any pilot saying "Oh yay, autoland!"
In the RJ I liked to hand fly, so I usually kept it off until the flight levels. It also chased the speed control in the climb, which was annoying. Kicked it off usually right around 10k on the descent.

The 737, however, was not as much fun to fly, so it was on and off at 1000' pretty much.

I have been trying to hand fly longer on the smaller planes I fly now. I don't want to get too "autopilot dependent."
On departure I like to handfly the airplane at least until I make one level off...this frequently ends up in the range of FL180 to FL230. There are a couple of reasons I do this. First, I like to fly the airplane as there is a measured degree of skill required to smoothly and precisely level the big jet as the thrust and lift vectors reorient themselves from a climb to level flight. A pro pilot will be able to fly this transition while the passengers in the back make no notice of the transition.

Second, I like to feel the trim status of the airplane in level flight. I first check and trim the rudder and then the ailerons. When the flight controls feel coordinated...I switch on the autopilot. This will decrease drag, increase speed and reduce fuel flow.

Upon arrival....on a nice day...I click it off at 10k and do what I enjoy the airplane.
I recently got to jump seat on a pt.135 727 - the guys clicked it on and off at 10,000'.

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I don't think someone is operating a 727 under 135. Perhaps you meant 91, 121, or 125.
Most likely Part 121 Supplemental. Was it a charter operator such as Falcon Air Express or Champion Air?

As for autopilot use: I often hand-fly up to cruise altitude, whether it be 5000' or 17000'. During cruise, particuarly on longer flights (LEX, DSM, DAY) I will click off the autopilot periodically and retrim the aircraft to ensure the autopilot isn't compensating with aileron input. On our aircraft, the autopilot will not operate the roll trim, so we do that manually.

As for descent and landing, I will normally use the autopilot down until approach. Sometimes with weather close to minimums, I will keep it on (coupled approach) to reduce our workload. The reasoning I have for using autopilot for most of the descent is to have more accurate descent planning (vertical speed mode), and it allows easier power management to ride 250 knots which is our Vmo.

For visual approaches, I hand-fly 99% of the time from 10000' or cruise down. Workload is a bit lower, so it eases things up for myself and the captain. Also depends on motivation and if there was a Starbucks available in the morning.
Says Exec-Jet, LLC --- so what part was this flight under?

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Most likely also Part 121 Supplemental. When looking up N-numbers for the registered owner, you will find the actual owner of the aircraft. Many companies lease their aircraft from various companies. In this case, Exec-Jet, LLC. If you look up the N-numbers for the aircraft at my company, you will find them owned by various leasing companies and banks.
Doug or any airline/cargo pilots.

What is your procedure on approach for putting the gear and flaps down and at what altitude do you typically do this at?

Flying Delta and Southwest mostly I see alot of differences in this procedure.

On Southwest most times I see the pilot use the flight spoilers to slow down the plane.

Then right after he retracts them (or shortly after) he puts the gear down with the flaps and slats still fully retracted. Which I think is just odd.

When I fly Delta the pilots slow the plane down with the speed brakes then start putting notches of flaps out it looks like about maybe flaps 25 depending on the type of airplane then they drop the gear.

I remember once I was ina Delta 727 and the pilot flying had 40 degrees of flaps in before he put the gear down it was odd as I had never seen that method before.

Probably not the same outfit as Executive Jets / Netjets. They have BBJs but never saw a 727 in their inventory. Of course I'm probably wrong ...
I cant speak for DL or SW, but for me and those i fly with these things are used as needed, and as their technique desires. This week into DC they kept me up pretty high for traffic then "Cross XYZ at 11,000 and 250 Knots". At the time i was high and had no choice but to go to idle power and throw the boards out. With flaps on landing alot of times in depends on what speeds ATC is asking for. Anything under 200Kts within range of the arrival airport ill ask for flaps 9. But again, alot of it just depends. That same trip we were left on a high downwind and given a visual approach clearance. Flaps 9, start descending, turned base, called gear down flaps 22. Then at 5 mile final (atc gave us 170 until 5 mile) it was slow to 145 and flaps 45.

PS. We do have company profiles that we use for a generic approaches. These profiles work out just fine on ILS approaches as most are alot alike. Visual approaches demand alot more technique and are alot different each time.
Probably not the same outfit as Executive Jets / Netjets. They have BBJs but never saw a 727 in their inventory. Of course I'm probably wrong ...

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You're right - NetJets has BBJs but no 727s.
Because of some recent....ummm...near incidents, at my airline we are supposed to be gear down, flaps set for landing, engines spooled, and otherwise have the aircraft stabilized for landing at 1000 AGL (used to be 500). The idea being that we will recognize the need to go around earlier in the approach and make that decision sooner, rather than later. We are trying to avoid the SWA in a Burbank gas station scenario...

Sometimes when I'm asked to go slow on final, I'll fly the 727 at flaps 25 with the gear up. I can go 140 knots like that. If I'm doing a visual is good weather, sometimes I'll keep the speed up and use the gear to slow down to flap speed. On an ILS with average speeds, I start droping flaps at about 2000 AGL with the goal of being stabilized in the landing configuration at 1000 AGL. Gear would go down at either flaps 5 or 15.

Flaps 30 or 40 with the gear NOT down will give you a very loud, unsilenceable, warning horn to be followed later with the voice saying "to low, flaps"....neither warning is considered good form....
I put the slats/flaps out when I need to add them to allow me to fly slower. I try hard to avoid using them to slow down, as that is very hard on the mechanisms. When I slow down depends on either ATC requirements, or the requirement to be stable by 1000', same as what de said above.

As to A/P useage, our SOP is to have it on from 500' in the MD-11/10, but we can brief to hand fly for longer, and I sometimes hand fly to cruise. On the way down, I don't usually turn it off until cleared for the visual or around the FAF.

I/we operate the MD-11 differently than the 727, etc., due to much higher speeds, etc. The MD-11 is argueably the most challenging commercial jet out there for the pilots.
Usually I'll keep a clean aircraft until about 210 knots where I'll extend the slats, when ATC asks for 180 knots, usually I'll be at flaps 11 or 15. If I've got to 'boogey down' from 10,000 to 3,500 when downwind in ATL, we'll go flaps 23.

But the approach usually begins about 210 knots and slats extend/flaps up. About five miles out from the marker, I'll start slowing to 180 knots with flaps 11. As I capture the glideslope, I'll go flaps 15 to maintain speed and good descent rate. Crossing the marker, I'll bring the speed back to approach speed, ask for 'gear down'. Once we have three green gear indication, I'll ask for flaps 28 and then flaps 40 and ask for the before landing checklist.
The MD-11 is argueably the most challenging commercial jet out there for the pilots.

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Why is this?
I thought flying a heavy MD-90 at 262 knots below 10,000 in a clean config was wacky. Don't the MD-11's regularly do 265 to 280 below 10 when clean?