Maintaining an Assigned Altitude

After you have leveled the airplane at your assigned altitude, you will have to maintain the proper altitude using pitch, proper heading using roll, and proper airspeed using power.

In level flight, the altimeter is the primary instrument for pitch, since your goal is to maintain a specific altitude. The VSI and attitude indicator then become secondary instruments for pitch.

The heading indicator is primary for roll when maintaining an assigned heading. Secondary roll instruments are the turn coordinator and attitude indicator. This is also the case when flying by radio navigation. The only difference is you assign and correct your heading when you are navigating along your route.


To descend, establish the descent pitch attitude using the attitude indicator and reduce power to the descent power setting. Then use the airspeed indicator as your primary pitch instrument, just as you would in a climb. This is a constant airspeed descent. In a constant airspeed descent, power is fixed at a specific descent power setting, such as idle power.

At times, you will also need to be able to maintain a constant rate of descent. In such a constant rate descent, the vertical speed indicator becomes your primary pitch instrument. In this case, you would vary engine power to maintain the desired airspeed. Secondary instruments for pitch in a constant rate descent are the altimeter and attitude indicator.

Level off from a descent just as you would from a climb. Lead by 10% of your vertical speed. Level the airplane using the attitude indicator. Increase to cruise power, and maintain the new altitude. Don’t forget to adjust your rudder, as necessary.

Constant Rate Climbs

While constant rate climbs are more or less never required outside of the training environment, your instructor may ask you to maintain a constant rate of climb in order to demonstrate you ability and understanding. This is accomplished in the same manner as a constant rate descent. Establish a climb attitude using the attitude indicator and add some power. The vertical speed indicator then becomes your primary pitch instrument, and you vary engine power as necessary to maintain desired airspeed.

Unusual Attitudes

You will be required to demonstrate your ability to recover from unusual attitudes by reference to instruments. When presented with an unusual attitude and asked to recover, first analyze the airplane’s pitch attitude.

The attitude indicator will be right there and might be a great way to instantly recognize the pitch attitude. The problem is, if the airplane is excessively nose up or down, the instrument might be displaying erroneous information. Or, maybe the instrument has failed altogether. A better technique is to use multiple instruments together.

If you are nose up, you should see a nose up indication on the attitude indicator. Your altimeter and VSI should indicate a climb. Your airspeed indicator should show the airplane is slowing down. If you are nose down, the reverse of these indications should be shown.

One you have established your pitch attitude, you can take the required actions to recover. If excessively nose up, simultaneously bring the nose down to the horizon and the engine up to full power. Then, roll wings level.

For a nose low recovery, simultaneously roll wings level and reduce engine power to idle. Then bring the nose up to the horizon. It is important not to try and pitch up until the roll attitude is somewhat close to level, otherwise pulling back on the control wheel could result in a steeper turn, higher rate of descent, and high G-loads.