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"Watch Your Attitude!"


Why? Aircraft operate in a three dimensional environment and movement takes place around one or more of three axes of rotation. To fly safely, you must be aware of your attitude.

Teacher Background
The Three Axes of Rotation and The Movements of Roll, Pitch, and Yaw

Stability, maneuverability, and controllability all refer to movement of the aircraft about one or more of three axes of rotation.

Since an aircraft operates in a three dimensional environment, aircraft movement takes place around one or more of three axes of rotation. They are called the longitudinal, lateral, and vertical axes of flight. The common reference point for the three axes is the airplane's center of gravity (CG) , which is the theoretical point where the entire weight of the airplane is considered to be concentrated. Since all three axes pass through this point, you can say that the airplane always moves about its CG, regardless of which axis is involved. The ailerons, elevator, and rudder create aerodynamic forces which cause the airplane to rotate about the three axes. The simplest way to understand the axes is to think of them as long rods passing through the aircraft where each will intersect the other two. They intersect at the center of gravity. Each of these axes is also perpendicular to the other two.

Longitudinal Axis

When you deflect the ailerons to begin a turn, they create an immediate rolling movement about the longitudinal axis. Since the ailerons always move in opposite directions, the aerodynamic shape of each wing and the associated production of lift is affected differently. Picture the long rod running from nose tip to tail tip, and the roll movement is around that axis. The movement of the wing tips around the longitudinal axis is roll (one wingtip up and one wingtip down).

Lateral Axis

Since the horizontal stabilizer is an airfoil, the action of the elevator (or stabilator) is quite similar to that of an aileron. Essentially, the chord line and effective camber of the stabilizer are changed by deflection of the elevator. Movement of the control wheel fore or aft causes motion about the lateral axis. Typically, this is referred to as an adjustment to pitch, or a change in pitch attitude. This increases or decreases the angle of attack. Picture the long rod running from wingtip to wingtip through the CG and longitudinal axis. The movement around the lateral axis is pitch (nose up or down).

Vertical Axis

When you apply pressure on the rudder pedals, the rudder deflects into the airstream. This produces an aerodynamic force that rotates the airplane about its vertical axis. It turns the nose of the airplane either to the left or right. This is referred to as yawing the airplane. The rudder may be displaced either to the left or right of center, depending on which rudder pedal you depress. Picture the long rod (vertical axis) running from the top of the airplane down through the CG and other two axes. The movement around the vertical axis is yaw (nose left or right).


Finally, the total position of the aircraft relating to its longitudinal axis, its lateral axis, and its vertical axis is considered its attitude.

Example: An aircraft making a climbing left turn, as is often the case to leave the traffic pattern when taking off, may have an attitude of 30 degrees bank (longitude axis), 12 degrees angle of attack (pitch or lateral axis), with 20 degrees left yaw (vertical axis).

Try "Watch Your Attitude!" Project to understand more about the three axes of rotation and their movements, roll, pitch and yaw.

"Watch Your Attitude!" -Activity- Part I

Purpose: To demonstrate the three axes of rotation and the movements (roll, pitch and yaw) of an airplane around those axes.


  • Airplane pattern
  • scissors
  • two straight straws
  • Scotch tape
  • manila folder (used is OK)
  • 1 long skewer or knitting needle # 3
  • Same template as "Make Your Own Glider"
  • Student Activity- "Watch Your Attitude" Demonstration Flight
  • Teachers Key
  • Logbook


  1. Paste the airplane pattern on the folder and cut out the airplane pattern. The top view of an airplane is called the planform.
  2. Tape one straw to the underside of the fuselage running from nose tip to tail tip. Take much care to tape it running perfectly down the entire exact center of the fuselage. Trim off excess straw from both ends. This represents your longitudinal axis.
  3. Turn the airplane over and rest it on a pencil, under the wing, running exactly perpendicular to the straw (your longitudinal axis). Start at the leading edge of the wing and gently nudge the airplane forward and aft until you find the balance point. Mark it carefully with a pencil on the fuselage. Great care must be taken with this step to accurately identify the center of gravity (CG).
  4. Without turning the airplane over, lay the second straw across from wingtip to wingtip through the CG and align it perpendicular to the longitudinal axis. Carefully tape it in place. Check to make sure the straws are perpendicular to each other. Trim tips of straw. The second straw is your lateral axis and it should be running across the top of your airplane with the longitudinal axis running underneath the airplane. In reality they would run through the center of the airplane and intersect each other, but it is too difficult to make a paper model to demonstrate that.
  5. At the point where your two straws intersect, the CG, carefully poke a skewer or #3 knitting needle straight down through. This should be at 90 degree angles to all the straws. This is your vertical axis.

You are now free to move your airplane about its three axes. For demonstration purposes, just do one axis at a time until you become familiar with the movements. Continue on to your "Demonstration Flight".

"Watch Your Attitude!" Demonstration Flight -Activity- Part II

You are working in pairs, taking turns as CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) and as Student Pilot. All pilots record every flight in their Logbook, a small 8" X 5" book in which the page headings are like: Date, Aircraft model, Aircraft Identification Number, Points of Departure and Arrival, Remarks, etc. As a student pilot the "Remarks" is where your CFI enters the lessons you have learned and they sign their full name and CFI Certificate number. You will be provided a Logbook page to use for this lesson. Look for other lessons in which you can get signed off also.

Remember, you are taking turns being CFI and student. CFI's may use any important number as a certificate number. If your student does not do it right, instruct them, and repeat the step. This particular lesson is not actual flight time, but it is just as important, so go ahead and log it. It would be considered part of ground school. Good Luck!

straight and level

  1. First, fly "straight and level". It takes a little practice to be sure you are not climbing or descending. A real airplane would have instruments, but you should get used to looking at the horizon. Let your partner tell you if you look straight and level. If you did it OK then get your partner to sign you off.
  2. To demonstrate roll, slip a long skewer or #3 knitting needle through the longitudinal axis. Rotate the airplane around that axis. The movement is called roll. It is one of the movements used to turn or bank the airplane. Try a 30 degree bank to the left. (Estimate it by using a protractor and put two folder strips at 30 degrees to each other. With your airplane start at straight and level and gently roll to the left to 30 degrees. If you did it OK then get signed off.
  3. Go back to stright and level. Try rolling to the right 60 degrees. Get signed off.
  4. Always go back to straight and level. Try rolling 90 degrees to the right, then left. Get signed off.
  5. Change to the lateral axis and using the same two folder strips, try showing a rate of climb with a 6 degree angle of attack. Get signed off.
  6. Go to a 12 degree angle of attack. Get signed off.
  7. Descend with a negative 12 degree angle of attack. Get signed off.
  8. Change to your vertical axis and yaw 15 degrees to the left. Get Signed off.
  9. Then show the airplane at 15 degrees right yaw.This was a trick! What did you have to be careful of? Get signed off.
  10. Can you be at #1, #3, and #9 at the same time? Why?
  11. Can you be at #2, #6, and #8 at the same time? Why?
  12. On graph papers, set up four separate illustrations of #1, #4, #6, and #9. Your teacher will sign your graphs and logbook.

roll right and left 90 degrees
 12 degrees angle of attack right yaw 15 degrees

Key - "Watch Your Attitude" Demonstration Flight

Teacher Tips - #1-9 is practice and should have students in partnerships to help each other become familiar with seeing aircraft in relationship to horizon. (This is probably the single most important thing a flight student must learn. Eyes out the cockpit instead of on instruments 90% of the time.) Your role should be to monitor this and reinforce what "straight and level" looks like. After each maneuver, return to straight and level.

#2-9 needs a cardboard adjustable angle to use as a guide for putting the aircraft into its attitude. This can be made from a folder, two strips, 1" by 6" is sufficient with strong paper clips to hold them in place. Teacher should demonstrate these against a protractor for the first one, and then how to hold it to set up the aircraft. Arm should be extended straight out at time of assessment. It take a little practice. The partners can either each do them all or take turns doing them. This should be monitored pretty closely at first. Let kids that grasp this right away help others.

  1. Straight and level. Arm extended and steady, wingtips level, fuselage parallel to level surface and horizon. Yaw does not matter at this point.
  2. 30 degree left bank. Using the angle guide, set it at 30 degrees. The longitudinal axis will be the only thing with movement around it. Left wingtip down to form 30 degree angle to straight and level. Right wingtip up 30 degrees. Do not allow any yaw (at this time) and keep fuselage straight and level.
  3. 60 degrees right bank. Remind students to return to straight and level before each maneuver. Using angle guide, set for 60 degrees and then align model with it, moving around the longitudinal axis only.
  4. 90 degrees right bank and then left bank. This is actually the easiest. In reality, it is very seldom done except at high speeds in combat or aerobatics.
    In reality, a coordinated turn requires some yaw, but that would be covered in flight instruction later.
  5. 6 degree angle of attack. Using movement around the lateral axis only, set angle guide to 6 degrees and then use it to set the aircraft pitch. It looks very close to straight and level, but the nose is up slightly and the tail is down slightly. Keep wingtips level.,
  6. 12 degrees angle of attack. Slightly more pitch than 6 degrees.
  7. Negative 12 degrees angle of attack. Remember to return to straight and level before descending. This time nose is down 12 degrees and tail up 12 degrees. Movement is around the lateral axis only.
  8. 15 degrees left yaw. This is where picking checkpoints on the horizon is most important. Pick a distinctive one for straight ahead and put the 0 degree angle guide on it. Open the angle guide to 15 degree left and note the check point on the horizon. Match that movement with the aircraft. Keep wingtips and fuselage level.
  9. 15 degrees right yaw. When moving from #8 to #9, remember to return to straight and level.
  10. NO. You cannot be straight and level and be at any other attitude at the same time.
  11. YES. These roll, pitch and yaw positions are possible all together at the same time. Try it.
  12. See graph paper illustrations.


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