Maneuvering Speed Part 1: Avoiding Structural Failure

What is Maneuvering Speed?

In general, it is a speed at which it is safe to maneuver the airplane. Once you exceed this speed you could damage the aircraft by using full control deflections.

There is a lot more to it though. Maneuvering speed is really about the wing and doesn’t apply to the other control surfaces, like the rudder. Unless you are in an aerobatic aircraft, flight below maneuvering speed doesn’t mean you can do anything to the plane and the structure can take it.

In a light aircraft, the load on the wing is the most significant and that is what we will focus on.

An airplane wing is being bent upwards while in flight by the force of lift. When this force is too great, the structure will fail and the wing will bend or break. This is one of the very few things that can go wrong in a plane that has no solution for recovery. Sure, some planes have a parachute, and there have been cases of planes landing with one wing, but for most light aircraft there will be no way to maintain any kind of control.

Luckily, the manufacturer has done a lot of work to figure out what kind of stress the plane can take.

If you are in level flight and you pull back abruptly, the force of lift on the wing will increase. If you are flying slowly enough there is less air to provide this lifting force so you will need a higher angle of attack to produce the same amount of lift. As you increase the angle of attack you will approach the critical angle of attack where the wing stalls.

This is the key to maneuvering speed. Below maneuvering speed the wing will stall before the design load limit is reached. If you fly faster than maneuvering speed there is enough airflow to exceed the design limit before the critical angle of attack and stall.

Once you know your maneuvering speed you can simply fly above it in level cruise flight or below it when performing any kind of maneuvers or flying in significant turbulence.

Maneuvering speed is not constant, it is calculated from the airplane’s weight. Go to part 2: Determining Maneuvering Speed for your Plane