Saturday, 20 November 2010

It's not a yoke

I flew a Cessna Skycatcher recently. It got me thinking about the different types of controls used in light aircraft. I guess the most common is either the yoke or stick, although even here here are variations on the theme. Beechcraft for example had their throw-over yoke that featured a central pedestal with one yoke that could be used on either side while the simple joystick could either be one single stick per side, or a common arrangement with two sticks a la Robin or even Robinson for that matter. Then there's the sidestick, commonly found in aircraft like the Cirrus. It falls nicely to hand and moves for and aft and rolls left and right, sort of like a yoke that has been positioned to one side. The Eclipse and the Corvalis, nee Columbia, also have a sidestick, but rather than the Cirrus arrangement they are more like a real stick that has been positioned to the side, they too are good, although the control forces are higher. If you can track down the in-cockpit video of Sean Tucker doing aerobatics in the Columbia you'll see him, awkwardly, using two hands on the stick. Then there's the Skycatcher. It has a grip that resembles a control column, but it is placed where you'd expect a yoke, pitch control is achieved by moving the stick in and out, but roll control is achieved by sliding the stick left and right rather than it pivoting at the base.

Happily, in use all of the control arrangements work well, and all of them are pretty easy to get used to. Most pilots will convert in minutes without thinking.

Is there a superior configuration? Not really, although I guess everyone from engineers, to test pilots, designers and weekend renters will all have their favourites. There is one anomaly though, is it just me or does everyone think that Maules should have sticks instead of yokes?

AOPA Summit 2010 Long Beach, California

I've been to pretty much every AOPA Expo for the last fifteen years (it's only been called AOPA Summit for the last two), and sadly 2010's event was the smallest I can remember.

It's not entirely AOPA's fault, the GA market is going through some pretty lean times right now, but nonetheless exhibitors were thinner on the ground than normal. Most of the big names were there, but a few were missing, or had a reduced presence. The opening sessions, always a great start to the day providing both information and a sense of community have gone, and this year they were replaced by 'AOPA live' an event that is logically better, but that somehow misses the mark.

At the same time there's a little anti AOPA vibe going on in some quarters. Both of the big US online news sites, ANN and Avweb, ran less than positive stories about AOPA, and I heard more than a few members grumbling about the rise in membership fees and the $250 ticket price for the closing banquet (no, I didn't go).

It's a shame, AOPA does a HUGE amount of positive work for GA and thanks to its size, AOPA US makes a significant contribution to IAOPA, so wherever we fly in the world we benefit from having not just a strong local AOPA, but a strong US AOPA.

Next year's event will take place in Hartford Connecticut from 22 to 24 of September, much earlier than usual in order to benefit from the 'fall colors'


Anyone who has flown in the US will know just how easy it is, but talking about it over here, particularly with regulators, usually just elicits a roll of the eyes or a comment about how Europe is different for one reason or another.

I did a bit of US flying recently that showed, once again, that they just do General Aviation better than anywhere else.

Approaching Emporia Kansas (KEMP) I called Flight Service on 122.3 and filed an IFR flight plan from Emporia to Clermont County in Ohio (I69). When it came to working out the route, I just asked for DCT. The leg would be something like 560nm.

Taking off from Emporia (which, like almost all airports is open 24hrs a day with pilot-operated lights and self-service fuel) I called Kansas City Center and asked to pick up our IFR clearance, which was "Cleared dct I69, climb and maintain etc. etc."

I've just had a look at a similar length route in Europe, EGBJ to LFMD, and after a few minutes of playing around with the excellent Eurofpl I've got as far as


I'm sure I'd get there eventually, but it could hardly be called simple, and there's no way in the world that any acceptable or flown route would be anything like direct.

Still, things are different here…

Just managed to find a route that works thanks to the Excellent FlightPlanPro


It carries a 10% route length overhead, although the route actually flown would undoubtedly be different, and probably shorter.