Becoming a Private Pilot/Steep Turns

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Steep turns are fun, and the aircraft will feel 'in the groove'. They are a great maneuver for learning coordination and getting familiar with the characteristics of any new aircraft. This section discusses steep turns as applied to a light aircraft such as a Cessna 150 or 172.

Background and Theory[edit]

There are a few important concepts to be understood when learning to perform steep turns. Among them is the concept of Load Factor. More specifically, a pilot needs to realize that the load factor increases with the bank angle during a turn. The load factor reaches significant levels during a steep turn and will play a role in increased stalling speeds.

How to perform a Steep Turn[edit]

Before you do a steep turn or any flight maneuver make sure that the area is clear of other aircraft or collision hazards.

To perform a steep turn safely, begin at manuevering speed and at a safe altitude (at least 1500 feet AGL). Manuevering speed may be found in the pilot operating handbook (POH) and should be discussed with your instructor. Speeds higher than manuevering speed may overstress the airframe of the aircraft and should be avoided. Attaining maneuvering speed may require slowing the aircraft down from its normal cruising speed which could mean initially reducing the power setting. It is helpful to pick out a visual reference point in front of you so you may determine when you have completed a 360 degree turn and time the rollout appropriately. Alternatively or additionally you might use a reference heading on your directional gyro if the plane is equipped.

To begin the turn, bank the aircraft smoothly over to 45 degrees. Smoothly coordinate the turn entry with appropriate rudder pressure and maintain a small amount of back pressure to keep the nose from dipping below the horizon. As you pass 30 degrees of bank you will need to add a small amount of power (200 rpm for example) and more back pressure on the yoke. It is important to keep the aircraft from diving or climbing. Use sufficient back pressure to maintain the pitch. At first this can seem like a lot, but you will soon appreciate this and anticipate it. The reason that you add power is because the aircraft speed will drop when back pressure is applied. Insufficient airspeed can contribute to adverse behavior of the aircraft.

During the turn you should feel firmly planted in your seat. Both butt cheeks should feel even seat pressure in a coordinated steep turn! You may notice that when passing a certain bank angle the airplane will feel like it wants to continue to roll over. This is called overbanking tendency. To keep the airplane from rolling over, maintain control with the ailerons. You will in fact be relaxing the pressure on both the ailerons and rudder during the heart of the turn. Ask your instructor to explain and demonstrate for more information.

Begin your rollout prior to seeing your visual reference point. A rule of thumb for timing the rollout is to lead the rollout at half of the bank angle. For a 30 degree turn you would start your rollout 15 degrees prior to reaching the desired heading. When rolling out be aware that the aircraft will want to pitch up. Be ready for it; exit the maneuver nice and smoothly by keeping the nose to the horizon and reducing the power (added earlier) simultaneously.