Uses of the KAP 140 Autopilot (Part II)

by HPA · October 31, 2011

Hands Off Flying, Part II

By Hank Gibson, CFI, CFII, MEI

Scenario 1: Starting Simple

Jeff had just purchased his new Cessna Skylane, complete with a G1000 and a KAP 140 autopilot. Jeff was not completely comfortable with a G1000, but he had decided to splurge and go for the G1000, 182T NAV III model with a KAP 140 autopilot. He had scheduled some lessons for the following week to become more proficient.

Jeff brought his friend, Nate, along with him to help him fly the airplane home. The two men were based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Jeff bought the plane in Wichita Falls, Texas. Nate owned a G1000 aircraft himself, so he seemed like a logical choice to bring along for Jeff.

The morning dawned bright and clear, a perfect day to fly. Jeff and Nate took off at half past 7 in the morning, climbing into a beautiful, November sky. As they climbed up to 8,000 feet, Jeff showered Nate with questions about the different soft keys, the procedure button, setting up flight plans and so on. Nate was very understanding and patient with Jeff’s questions and was happy to be of help.

After leveling off, Jeff’s eyes fell upon the autopilot. “How does that thing work?” he asked. Here was a problem for Nate, since the Cessna 400 he owned had a Garmin autopilot in it, he was not all that familiar with the KAP 140. “Well, let’s turn it on and play around with it,” he said. So, Jeff pushed the AP button and the autopilot flashed to life. Jeff pushed the HDG button, thinking the autopilot would naturally hold the heading the airplane was currently on. As soon as the HDG flashed active, the plane started turning to the left. Full of alarm, Jeff grabbed the yoke and fought the autopilot’s efforts to turn the airplane. He was flying on an IFR clearance, so a deviation from the route could be a big deal.

Nate, figuring out what was going on, looked at the heading bug on the PFD. It was set for a heading of 240, even though they had been flying 035. Jeff, meanwhile, was cursing the autopilot, wrestling the controls with all his might. Nate reached over and pressed the AP button to turn it off. “Holy cow. Thanks for turning that thing off. It was going crazy!” exclaimed Jeff, while catching his breath.

“Well, not exactly,” replied Nate. “See where your heading bug is set? I’m pretty sure when you turn the heading mode on, the autopilot will turn the airplane to wherever the heading bug is set.”

“Really? Oh. I thought it was defective or something. Huh, that actually makes sense. I think we’ll leave it off for now until I know how to use it better.”

Lesson: Before activating heading mode on the KAP 140, always make sure the heading bug is set properly for the desired heading. The autopilot in HDG mode always turns to the heading the bug is set for.

Scenario 2: NAV Nightmare

Don was happily puffing along in his 172SP NAV III on his long instrument cross country. He and his instructor, Tony, were going to Waco, San Marcos (TX), Austin, then back to Waco. They had completed most of the trip and were headed back to Waco from Austin. Tony had been adamant thus far that Don couldn’t use the autopilot; he had to hand fly all of it. Tony said it made Don a better pilot.

On this leg, though, Tony relented and allowed Don to turn on his KAP 140 autopilot. The two guys started chatting after setting the autopilot on NAV mode to follow the flight plan Don had set in the G1000. The two lost themselves in conversation about the Baylor football team, debating if they could win out and make a good bowl game or not this year. Tony realized he should be doing a little more instructing and asked a very instructor-like question. “Hey, let’s see what radial off the Temple VOR we are on.”

So, Don tuned in the Temple VOR, identified it, and pressed the CDI button to change from GPS to VOR. He centered the VOR needle and all of a sudden the plane started turning left. They were on the 150 radial, but the plane was not continuing to hold the flight plan course from the GPS. For whatever reason, it was starting to follow the VOR needle. “Is that supposed to happen?” asked Don as he stared at his PFD.

Tony shook the cobwebs out of his head and pressed the CDI button twice more to bring the GPS needle back up on the HSI. “Now that I think about it, yes, the NAV mode on the autopilot follows whatever is set in on the HSI. APCH mode does the same thing, it just makes the autopilot more sensitive in approach mode.”

Lesson: When the GPS is in NAV or APCH mode, it will automatically track whatever navigational device is set as the active CDI function on the HSI. Be sure to set the CDI properly before activating NAV or APCH mode.

Closing Tips

A few closing tips for the KAP 140. To set the altimeter on the autopilot, press the BARO button. Always make sure the altimeter is set properly or it will not hold the proper altitude.

When descending or climbing in VS mode, always press the ARM button to arm the altitude to level off at. Otherwise, the autopilot will continue descending right into the ground or climbing until the service ceiling is reached.

Lastly, whenever a dual axis autopilot is installed, the pilot still controls the rudder. Most importantly, don’t become overly reliant on the autopilot!

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

2022.06.09 11.19 Flyhpa 62a27fea7716a


The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

More about Randy here:


Would you like more information?

Send us a message below.

14 + 9 =