Steep Turns

One of my favorite maneuvers when conducting a flight review is the steep turn. This innocuous looking maneuver provides a window into a pilot’s stick and rudder skill that allows me to quickly find areas of deficiency where the pilot being reviewed might need more work.

Please remember that the flight review is not a test and my goal is not to fail anybody. Rather, I want to find areas where the pilot is out of practice and try to give them a boost!

The steep turn requires a combination of just about all of the basic flying skills in one maneuver. It requires a pilot to: Continue reading “Steep Turns”

Cruising Altitude

When flying anywhere you need to climb, cruise, and then descend. But you must comply with the rules and fly at certain predetermined altitudes.

The Rules: Neodd and Sweven

When you are flying above 3000 feet AGL you must fly at an even-numbered thousand feet if you are traveling west. That is what sweven means. If you are traveling directly South, or on any Westerly heading then fly on the even-numbered thousands.

Conversely, if you are traveling East or directly North, fly at an odd thousand (neodd).

For IFR flights to the East you will fly at 5000 or 7000 or 9000 feet, etc….

For VFR flights you must be 500 feet above these altitudes. So a VFR flight to the West would cruise at 4500 or 6500 or 8500 feet, etc….

These rules are for cruising altitude, meaning that if you are flying up above 3000 to practice an emergency descent then you can just climb to whatever altitude you want.

Why is this rule in place?

This rule is a bit of a compromise between safety and simplicity.

When two planes approach head-on their closure speed, the speed at which they are approaching each other, is very high. Even a relatively slow 152 will approach another 152 at around 180 knots TAS if they are head-on. For faster planes like an arrow traveling at 150 knots the closure speed is 300 knots!

It is safer to fly at these altitudes because VFR planes flying East will always be 1000 feet vertically separated from VFR planes flying West. Furthermore, they will be separated by 500 feet from all IFR traffic.

This is great, but there is a problem! What if planes approach nearly head-on but both traveling East? One of them could be traveling 010 degrees (which is East of North) and the other could be flying at 170 (which is East of South).

This is where the compromise comes in. The rule could split the compass into 4 segments but then it would be more complicated and difficult to remember.

Always stay vigilant looking for traffic that might be climbing/descending, not following the rules, or might be at a near head-on angle.

Are you on a Collision Course?

When an aircraft approaches you head-on, you are on a collision course. When you are following directly behind a slower plane, you are on a collision course. In these cases, it’s easy to tell that you are on this collision course and you can quickly decide to correct by turning to the right.

But what if another plane approaches at an angle? How can you quickly determine if you will collide or not?

Luckily there is an easy way to figure this out immediately!

Ask yourself,  is the other plane moving across my window? Look at the other plane and which part of your window it is in.

  • If it is not moving then you are on a collision course
  • If it is moving forwards then it will pass in front of you
  • If it is moving backward then it will pass behind you

Note: “Forwards” means that the plane appears to be traveling across your windscreen in its forward direction. “Backwards” means that the plane is moving across your windscreen towards its tail (although in reality it is obviously still going forwards).

You must decide in each situation how to handle it. A good rule of thumb I use is to give way and pass behind the other plane if it only requires a small course correction. This works in most cases and it tends to be safer because the pilot in the other plane may not see you.

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