S Turns

S-turns are a ground reference maneuver in which you fly in an “S” shape along a straight line on the ground. Usually, a road is used as the line.

S-turns are commonly thought of as their own maneuver, but if you think of them as half turns-around-a-point then it is easier to integrate the skills you’ve already learned into this maneuver.

To start, find a long straight road or train track and fly to one end of it at 600-1000 feet AGL.  As in the image below, you will plan to enter with a tailwind so fly away from the road and get in position to approach for the first turn.

Important: Almost every student tries to fly over the reference points, however, just like turns-around-a-point, the goal is to fly around the reference points chosen. In the image below, the intersection is the reference for the first turn, and unfortunately, no reference is shown for the 2nd turn….but you would fly around where the words “Wings level” are printed.

As with all ground reference maneuvers: 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.

As you get around the turn and you are about to cross the road again, you need to be ready to go directly into the next turn. Look for your reference point quickly and roll into the next turn. You should choose something about a quarter of a mile away.

Continue these turns as far as you can. As with everything, practice is the key to getting this right.

Don’t forget the whole point of the maneuver, which is to manage your rate of turn so that your path over the ground is circular. Your distance from the reference point should be constant.

Source: FAA Airplane Flying Handbook

Common Mistakes

  • Flying over the reference point instead of around the reference point.
  • Losing altitude, which is commonly caused by a lack of planning. Get the plane set up and trimmed out at your altitude ahead of time for an easier maneuver.
  • No clearing turns…. don’t forget these