In Fate is the Hunter, Ernest Gann described setting his airplane on the step after they departed from San Francisco bound for Honolulu in a DC-4A. The first and second officer onboard previously served as pilots in the Navy.
“We pass through ten thousand feet and for a moment steal an additional hundred feet so we can descend back through it. In the doing the ship can be set flying in a slightly nose-down position. Thus, “on the step” we will add better than ten knots to our air speed and also satisfy our sensual appreciation of flight. A mushing airplane, regardless of its speed, becomes a miserable contraption to any dedicated pilot. He absorbs this unhappiness through the seat of his pants. There is no reason to believe this will ever change regardless of aircraft design. A good pilot becomes morose and irritable in spite of what the most modern instruments proclaim unless his ship is “on the step.” He will work endlessly to achieve that delicate angle and for this once and only once will prove the instruments wrong and the hair tips of his sensory powers more honest. When the instruments finally admit additional speed, then the pilot is doubly content, for he has proof that the instruments are not his absolute master and he is not as yet altogether a mechanical man.”
“We slide back down to exactly ten thousand. Snow eases propellers and engines into cruising power. It is a matter of pride that this be done without the average passenger’s becoming aware of any change. We are not being paid to excite their nerves and we are honest workmen.”
“I glance at the fuel flow meters again. The needles are steady. Snow moves the mixture controls into cruising position, one at a time. We are on the step and I am well pleased with the cramped little world over which I am to preside for some twelve hours.”
And, I’ll echo what other pilots have said about Ernest Gann narrative to flying on the step, “I always figured if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.”
Gann, Ernest K., Fate Is the Hunter, A Pilot’s Memoir, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1961, p 331.
AOPA Pilot, “Letters from our May 2016 Issue,” Martin J. Filiatrault, Clarkston, Michigan, July 2016, p.12.