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#169 Creeping Pitch


I don’t know why some people will get so caught up in some perceived causes and yet ignore others of far more importance.

All my liberal friends are extremely concerned about global warming.  All my conservative friends are busy debunking it, while worried about transsexuals using public bathrooms.  All my conspiracy loving friends are totally concerned about the damage that “chemtrails” are doing and are convinced that the world will come to an end as a result.

Neighbors of the Sisters airport (and even some Whuffos who live on it) are terrified that some daredevil pilot will crash into their house, ‘cause you know those pilots are barely in control of their planes…. Hmmm, well they might be right about PART of that!

And while all my friends concern themselves with these issues, they almost all ignore one of the most pressing… over population.  Of course there is another issue of almost equal importance.

 As a teacher of flying, I have seen something that terrifies the crap out of me and which threatens the whole of aviation, especially that of all Acme trained flyers.  Hah!  I’ll bet I have your attention NOW!  The fear I have is well-founded and is of something that I’ve witnessed a vast majority of pilots falling victim to: “Creeping Pitch”!!!

“What is Creeping Pitch”, you ask?  I’ll tell you.

If we have decided that a certain approach speed will give us a certain amount of “float”, which will give us a certain amount of time in which to either hold off our airplane while executing a three-point landing or

begin of end

Maintaining our approach speed gives us lots of time to work on either holding it off or establishing a sink rate.

enable us to establish a nice slow sink rate while doing a wheel landing, then isn’t it important that we maintain that approach speed up until the point when we start using pitch to either hold it in that window or establish that sink rate?  Well, some pilots aren’t doing that!  I dearly love a certain approach speed and have found it to work wonderfully in both the Cessna 140 and the 172.  It’s higher than the Geezer Patrol approves of, but it provides a perfect float time.  It’s slow enough to accommodate a normal length of runway, yet fast enough to give us plenty of time.  It’s 80 miles per hour (Shhhhh, don’t tell the other instructors… they’ll steal this little-known secret and I’ll starve to death!).  But because of the scourge of “creeping pitch”, we’re rarely at that magical 80 by the time we get to “the bottom of the hill”!  Instead, we’re at sixty or less!  Arggghhh.  And you know what’s REALLY diabolical about creeping pitch?  They don’t even know they’re doing it!  Yup, the average pilot will nail that approach speed abeam the numbers when they close their throttle (like they

Chimpunk on final

This Chipmunk is resisting “Creeping Pitch” to spend plenty of time figuring out his time to flare.

should… you DO close your throttle abeam the numbers, DON’T you?).  They’ll have 80 nailed, but something happens during the rest of the approach… somewhere after the turn to base and before the actual flare, the “creeping pitch” phenomenon comes into play and they ever so slightly start raising the nose.  The result of this creeping pitch is that by the time they’ve reached ground affect they are just as slow as those yayhoos at Acme and my little secret had no effect at all!

As a dedicated teacher of flying, I feel the need to figger out what causes Creeping Pitch.  I have some theories:

Fear of the ground, causing involuntary flaring; Remnants of Acme training; Head up butt syndrome; the tired old theory that the airplane must be in a particular attitude for a particular type of landing.  Those are all the causes that I can think of right now.  If I ever figure it out, I’ll present a paper at the next meeting of the Flight Instructor’s Club at the Groundloop Saloon.

I’ll keep you posted…


16 comments to #169 Creeping Pitch

  • Michael Haas

    Do you keep your Cessna 140 at 80 mph all the way through the approach (base & final)? When do you start slowing down? How do you keep from going way down the runway? (I fly a Cessna 120.)

    • brian

      Thanks for the comment/question, Michael. The answer is that I do. However, in the case of your airplane, I’d suggest that you simply experiment and see how much “float you have”. Try increasing your approach speed in relatively small increments. This will make it far less likely to touch down dangerously long on the runway.

  • Bar Eisenhauer

    Very interesting. You remind me of my Dad, Capt. A. L. “Ike” Eisenhauer, That in his 70 year flying and teaching experience, he often dropped little secrets that I paid very close attention to. He was one for constant rate everything, when allowed, or, do what you have to do to find it in that particular airplane and get it on the ground without breaking it. I really like what you are saying. I personally fly a Taylorcraft and a TravelAir Biplane using constant rate turn, speed, descent and approach. Or at least try to. Consistency is practiced every time. Finding the numbers that fit your airplane for that particular day, no two alike, is what keeps me ahead of my flying machine. But then again, there are pecker-matchers out there that think I don’t know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t done so already, could you please tell us “why” we should throttle back abeam the numbers. It might help the young ones. Bar
    P.S. Just put the skies on the T-Craft, waiting for the snow now.

    • brian

      Always great to hear from you. There are a lot of people I’d not like to remind people of, so thanks!

      For those who may not have read “Stick and Rudder”, Langewiesche does describe a very popular technique where the pitch is constantly raised on final so that the speed also constantly decreases, resulting in a much lowered speed at touchdown. In a tailwheel airplane performing a three-point landing, it would be stalling speed. But here’s the reason I preach the closed throttle abeam the numbers. Actually there are a couple. One is that it increases the flier’s skill at accuracy. Two (and they are closely related) it makes virtually every landing a practice for the engine failure that may or may not ever happen. But I pity the poor Acme grad, who has always used power on his approach. When the day that his piston sails out through the cowl actually happens, he is woefully unprepared to accurately land in that tiny little patch available to him. Or, as I say in “Brian’s Flying Book”, that practice can make it much easier for him to land in the driveway of the sewage treatment plant and step out, smelling like a rose.

      Oh, and I have to wear a disguise on those rare occasions that I wander through the Acme Flying School. They don’t think I know what I’m talking about, either!


  • Bob

    Guilty You remind me of my flight instructor ” get the nose down “

  • Jim Locke


    I found your site a couple of weeks ago and have enjoyed reading and watching videos. If I weren’t on the complete opposite side of the country I’d love to fly with you! Well, I’ve been to Idaho a few times (loved it) so maybe I can get out your way some time.

    This article really made me smile! I’m a glider guy, and a fairly new CFIG, so I guess I tend to look at things through the lens of no-engine flying. Maintaining a constant speed–about 1.5 X stall speed rather than 1.3–down final is what I teach. And move the aim point way back so you can have time to plan your landing (stall at touchdown? land with energy to roll out long?) and manage your energy to achieve your goal. As I’ve adopted this and, thus, slowly moved away from the Acme (cool term) approach I’ve noticed my students flying with more confidence and precision.

    I have a tailwheel endorsement but no tailwheel time since, sadly. Just no taildragger rentals ’round here. Though, fingers crossed, that may change and I’ll have a 140 to fly. Can’t wait to try out some of your techniques. I just received your book (like, ten minutes ago) so I’m looking forward to some good reading for the holidays,

    By the way, I see you allow Bar to post here so I figured, hey, anyone is welcome! Y’all have a Merry Christmas!

    – Jim Locke

    • brian

      Not only do I let Bar to post, I just bought the book about his dad! I’m sure he and his entire family will be a bad influence on me! Thanks for writing!

  • Jack Fleetwood

    In my 140, I close the throttle abeam the numbers and hold the nose up until I see 70 mph and trim it up. I rarely use the flaps, they’re not that effective, but I’ll admit I use them on a short field. I used to use 80 mph if I wanted to wheel land, but found 70 works okay for that as well.

    Maybe I’ll have to try 80 to see how it feels! Always up for trying something new.

  • Bar Eisenhauer

    I love you all and enjoy the book (s) There are two now. The third one might be finished by 2020. If I live that long.

  • Bar Eisenhauer

    By the by guys. If you get a moment please check out our new video on the web site or Facebook or We’re quite proud and man it was fun..

  • Jim Plourde

    I love the video, Bar! Wonderful videography of a beautiful area. I live in Nashville now, however, spent several great years living in Yardley. You are blessed!

  • Robey

    Now you share your airspeed secret. November a year ago we exchanged email (“Help Mr Wizard”) where I asked if holding 80 MPH from abeam the threshold all the way to the fence was too fast for a Citabria. You were holding out on me Mr Wizard! To your credit you told me to ignore the airspeed indicator and just go practice. Turns out that 80 MPH is my power off “sweet spot” around the final turn until crossing the threshold.

    I frequently offer the backseat to our club’s tailwheel CFIs. We go somewhere and beat up the pattern. The challenge for each of us on downwind, is to announce either three point or wheel landing (all power off). Based on a sample group of three, they tend to fly close to 80 MPH without knowing it. Maybe it’s because they’re new to flying a continuously turning final (and they’re making theirs look like mine). But when asked they thought they were around 70-75, with the opinion 80 would probably be too fast.

    Happy New Year and Happy Swooping

  • Rob

    As a helicopter flight instructor, I have a theory about “creeping pitch” gained from watching hundreds of students’ autorotations.

    As you descend from 800-1000′ agl when abeam to landing, the horizon actually will creep up on the windscreen. It difficult to notice with the typical descent speeds of a tailwheel aircraft, but very obvious when descending at 2500 fpm in a helicopter.

    Students will often attempt to “follow the horizon” through the descent and end up slowing down.

    Anyways, love the site, great work!

    • brian

      Interesting point! As a former USCG helicopter crewman, I certainly appreciate rotary wing inputs. Let’s not forget them, especially since “Tailwheel Town” is co-located in a “helicopter hotbed. I guess everyone’s subject to “creeping pitch”!

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