Using Work Cycles to Improve Your Flying

When you first climb into a cockpit it can seem a little bit overwhelming; there’s a whole bunch of unfamiliar switches, gauges, screens, and controls that you must somehow learn how to use whilst flying the aircraft, talking on the radio, and trying not to get lost. Even veteran pilots with many flight hours can get task saturated, fall ‘behind’ the aircraft, lose situational awareness, and make mistakes. To help avoid those situations that’s where work cycles come in.

What is a Work Cycle?

Nope, it’s not a bike you ride to work; it’s a sequence of activities and movements which are repeated with little or no variation each time a job is performed. In essence, a work cycle is kind of like a checklist, it functions in a way to remind us of what we need to do or focus on, except it’s more general in its application than checklists. Whether you’re flying straight and level, turning onto final, or working through an emergency situation, work cycles can help you prioritise and process the massive amounts of information available to you in order to achieve your desired outcomes.

Example Work Cycles

You can, and probably will, develop your own work cycles over time as your skills increase. To help you get started though, here are a few that I personally use and teach; try them out and see if they work for you, modify if necessary, and develop your own in areas that I haven’t covered.

General Flying – ALAP: Attitude, Lookout, Attitude, Performance

This is the one I use the most and it has the broadest applications; you can use it during pretty much any aspect of flight when the aircraft is stable e.g. straight and level, climbing, descending, steep turns, etc. Let’s break it down:

  • Attitude – means looking out the front of the aircraft and visually checking that the attitude is correct for the performance you want (remember the performance equation “power + attitude = performance”). If the attitude isn’t correct then correct it using SHT, below.
  • Lookout – even though you might be flying an aircraft with ADS-B In, or you’re using flight following, it’s still very important to keep your eyes out of the cockpit to scan for other traffic, birds, terrain, or anything else that you shouldn’t run into. Your lookout should be broken up so that each loop through the work cycle you scan another part of the sky, prioritising areas when necessary (such as into a turn if you are turning).
  • Attitude – again, because it’s important to fly accurately.
  • Performance – this is where you scan one or several instruments to confirm that you are getting the performance you desire with your current power and attitude setting. During different flight manoeuvres you would prioritise your scan to check the instruments that were most relevant at that time.
ALAP work cycle
The ALAP work cycle

Start with the ALAP work cycle slowly and methodically at first, verbalising each step as you go through it to begin with. Once you get used to using it, it’ll become second nature and you’ll find yourself using it automatically; more importantly though, if you get into a situation where you start to fall behind the aircraft or get overwhelmed, you’ll have this basic work cycle to fall back on and help to get everything under control.

The ALAP work cycle is the basic building block for flying and can also be used during instrument flying by omitting the lookout portion.

Corrections – SHT: Select, Hold, Trim

Since we now have a work cycle for stable flight, we also need one for making adjustments or corrections, and this one is as simple as it sounds:

  • Select – the new attitude for your desired performance.
  • Hold – the attitude.
  • Trim – out the control forces to ‘hands off’.

That may seem super obvious, as it’s probably what you do already; but, by internalising this work cycle it will help you avoid performance flying the aircraft in difficult conditions, reminding you instead to set attitudes and adjust as necessary.

Emergencies – ANCA: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, Administrate

This one is really useful to integrate into your flying, it’ll help you focus and prioritise during emergencies and make sure you don’t miss anything important.

  • Aviate – fly the aircraft! Make sure you have positive control over the aircraft and complete the boldface memory items from the relevant emergency checklist.
  • Navigate – where are you going to go? Turn in a direction appropriate for the emergency e.g. nearest suitable landing area if you have an engine failure.
  • Communicate – transmit MAYDAY or PAN-PAN as necessary (AIM 6-3-1). Declare the nature of your emergency, your intentions, and request assistance if available/needed.
  • Administrate – if you have time, and can safely do so, then review the appropriate emergency checklist to make sure you have completed all items and there’s nothing further you can do.

Final – Aimpoint, Aspect, Airspeed

During final approach it can be easy to get so focused on landing at your selected touchdown point that you become fixated and forget to fly the aircraft. This work cycle will remind you to keep your scan going, and help you avoid having to go-around because you fell behind the aircraft. How I like to use the work cycle is to roll out on finals, run through it once, complete my final checks, then continue using the work cycle until I’m near the flare/roundout.

  • Aimpoint – is it in the right spot in the windshield? Are you lined up with the centreline?
  • Aspect – does the runway aspect appear normal, high, or low? If there’s a visual glide slope indicator, does it indicate that you are on the correct glideslope?
  • Airspeed – are you maintaining the correct airspeed for this approach?

If, at any point during the work cycle, you find that the aimpoint, aspect, or airspeed, are not what you want, make appropriate changes to correct the error, then continue the work cycle. Remember though, don’t chase performance but allow the changes to occur over time by using a correction attitude or heading, then readjusting the attitude/heading to lock that parameter in once it’s corrected.

Wrapping Up

Work cycles are a great tool that can help improve your flying, particularly in tough situations or when you’re learning. If you’ve just started flying then give these work cycles a try, build them into your pre-flight preparation and chair flying, and practice them airborne until they become a habit; you won’t be disappointed.

If you’ve been flying for a while, then you probably already have your own work cycles that you may not be consciously aware of. Have a think about your flying habits and see if you can identify the key actions you do regularly; you can use these to create your own work cycles, or adapt the ones above to fit you.

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