Stop Chasing the Needles!

2 min read

A problem new pilots typically face is over-controlling the airplane.

When tracking a course inbound to a VOR station, the closer the aircraft approaches a VOR station, the more sensitive the CDI becomes. You may try to turn towards the needle abruptly. Doing this is called: "chasing the needles." It will get you off track. It can make you lose control or lose situational awareness. Small corrections are the key here.

As you pass over the VOR, this gets worse. At that point, the needle may quickly move to a full deflection. No heading correction is necessary at all.

"Chasing the needle" could occur while tracking courses, but you should usually use small corrections for other flight parameters, such as airspeed, altitude, or headings.

For example, cruising at 5,000 feet, the pilot might notice the altitude increases slightly, so he abruptly pushes the yoke forward to correct the deviation. He uses a little bit too much force, and the aircraft, previously climbing, starts descending. What does our pilot do? He overcorrects again, in the other direction, and the aircraft climbs. This cycle keeps repeating itself, resulting in altitude deviations and heavy workload, not to mention very uncomfortable passengers. Precision flying is much better. You'll fly more accurately when you make smaller corrections in response to the flight instrument information. Instead of chasing needles, you should make a minor correction, observe the change in the desired parameter, and adjust it slightly. If the correction was not enough, increase it a little. If it was too much, decrease it.

This continuous control-feedback loop will help you fly the aircraft with a very high level of precision and prevent unwanted deviations.

  • I'm not talking here about maneuvers such as stall recovery, where you would need to use more deliberate control input. This is about controlling the aircraft more accurately in normal situations.