Thursday, May 04, 2006

KFS - Trade-offs

To make the airplane go up, pull back. To make it go down, pull back farther.
- - Old aviation saying
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Soaring Mountains: Piloting tips applicable to everyday living
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Slow an airplane down enough, and you'll find yourself in what's called the region of reverse command or, more commonly, "behind the power curve". It's a term we hear and use quite regularly in conversations that have absolutely nothing at all to do with aviation though I'd hazard a guess that most folks don't actually know what it really means.

A pilot will usually begin any explanation of the phenomenon by explaining first that all planes have a minimum flight speed. They need that airflow over the wings or they become very expensive rocks.

Flying very close to that minimum flight speed, pitch controls airspeed and power controls altitude rather than the other way around. The slower the airplane is flying, the more we find that we need more and more power just to maintain altitude until finally, there's no more power to give and the airplane begins to settle toward earth at a pretty good clip, even as the nose is pointed up in a climbing attitude!

All flight students spend some time learning about minimum slow flight and flying behind the power curve. They practice learning to spot the trouble signs and how to get themselves out of the predicament it poses - hopefully before the airplane stalls. When you've given it all the power you can and you still can't maintain altitude, there's nothing left for it but to trade altitude for speed of one kind or another - hopefully the kind you can use. And hopefully you've left yourself enough altitude to spare.

While the realities of flying behind the power curve and the solution for extricating oneself from that situation may be counterintuitive at first, it's only one of many aspects of flying that fit into that category so no wonder there's so much drill and practice in flying. It's important to get these things right and not just leave it to an instinct that may be inaccurate under certain circumstances.

There's a lot about life and business too that can be cast as "trading altitude for speed" and the best solutions in such situations can be equally counterintuitive. Sometimes we're simply trying too hard and things work better if we relax a bit. Sometimes we have to give in order to get. Sometimes we have to listen better in order to communicate better. It's just too bad we don't drill on these everyday aspects of our lives as much as pilots drill on flying skills. The impact is at least as great, even if it's not always as obvious or spectacular (link not recommended if you harbor any flying fears).

If you've had thoughts about how you recognize if you're operating behind the power curve or have questions about how that metaphor might (or might not apply) in a given situation, send them to me at and we'll see if we can't get you flying straight and level again.

What trade-offs are necessary to begin making progress again?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.