There are several maneuvers to learn in order to become a private pilot. Turns around a point is the most basic of the ground reference maneuvers.
It is simply a turn flown around some point on the ground. It is common to use a prominent building or intersection of a road as the point.
To perform this maneuver you must first select a point. Choose something that you can easily identify from other things around it. This might be a building that stands out like a barn, water tower, silo, school, etc… You might also choose something natural like a pond, a prominent tree, or another obvious point on the ground. If you choose something large make sure you pick a place on the object that represents the point. So if you choose a school, decide which corner of the school is the actual point you are flying around.
Fly at an altitude of 600 to 1000 AGL. Decide how wide your circle will be as well. The FAA does not provide guidance on this but it is common to fly a circle that is a quarter to half a mile in radius. Imagine the size of a 5000-foot runway with your point at the dead center. You should fly close enough that you will cross over the pavement of each end of the runway as you go around the circle.
Once you know the size of your circle you can begin flying towards an entry point on the circle. This is where the maneuver will begin.
Wind is what makes this maneuver tricky. In order to maintain a circular track, you will need to constantly correct for the wind. When the wind is pushing from directly behind you your groundspeed will be much higher. You will need a steeper bank to get around the turn fast enough.
Conversely, when the wind is directly in front of you, your groundspeed will be low and you will need a shallow bank to avoid turning too quickly.
After flying a full 360-degree circle, resume level flight and exit from the place where you began, continuing on your original heading. This is the end of the turns around a point maneuver.
These should be practiced while turning left and right to get a feel for the view from both sides.
- Looking at the point too much. Most of your time should be spent looking out the front window using the horizon as a reference. This is where other traffic will be (along with radio towers and terrain). Try to spend less than 20% of your time looking at the point, altimeter, or airspeed.
- Ignoring altitude. Glance at your altimeter as you go around the turn and verify that you are on the same altitude you started at. If not, make a gradual change that will bring you back to the right altitude. Then go back to looking outside and remember to check again a few seconds later. Try to make gradual changes instead of large changes. The Private Pilot Airmen certification Standards call for a constant altitude within 100 feet of the altitude you begin at.
- Thinking about the wind too late. Before you enter the turn you should know the wind direction. You can find out ahead of time by interpolating between ATIS and winds aloft reports. You can also look for blowing smoke or flags. Think about what bank angle you expect before you begin.
- Ignoring airspeed. You are turning so you may need to increase power slightly. Start the maneuver from straight and level flight and note your airspeed. If you get too slow or fast make a small change to the power setting and remember to check it again every so often. The Private Pilot Airmen certification Standards call for a constant airspeed within 10 knots of your starting speed.
- Ignoring the point. As you go around the turn keep checking your distance to the point. If you are flying in a circular turn your distance from the point will remain the same. If you are getting closer use shallower turns, and steeper turns if you are getting farther.