fly better steep turns

Are you having trouble with consistency when practicing steep turns? (Ie; maintaining bank attitude and altitude?) Here’s the sequence I recommend, with #4 being the item you’re probably not doing right now:

1. Make clearing turns (of course!)

2. Note your starting heading, and identify a prominent outside landmark on that heading you can recognize later for rollout.

3. Roll PROMPTLY into the steep turn using the attitude indicator to establish your 45° bank, and “center the ball” with rudder. (IMPORTANT: Add back pressure as you roll through 30°.) Now look outside and you can see the 45° angle between the horizon and the cowl, as well as the proper pitch attitude. I recommend using outside reference for the turn, while scanning the altimeter and heading indicator periodically to back up what you’re seeing outside.

4. Okay, here’s the secret. Once established in the turn, MAKE ONLY PITCH CHANGES by pushing or pulling; DO NOT TURN THE YOKE LEFT OR RIGHT (except as necessary to correct for turbulence) NOR UNNECESSARILY MOVE THE RUDDER. This is important because every time you change bank angle, you’re changing the amount of back pressure required to maintain altitude. Turning the yoke while established in the turn creates the need for pitch adjustment, in addition to the need to correct the bank angle. You’ve now got two variables working at the same time, and you’re all too familiar with the result — oscillating all over the sky! So again, once established in the turn, ADJUST PITCH to maintain altitude, and DO NOT TURN THE YOKE. Apply this technique, and you’ll be delighted at how much easier the whole maneuver is.

5. When you see your landmark coming up on the horizon, check the heading indicator, and begin a prompt rollout 20-25°* before reaching your desired heading. IMPORTANT: Return to normal pitch attitude as you roll through 30° toward level.

Voila! Perfect steep turn! ©2009 Gregory N. Brown

  • The rule of thumb for rollouts is to start leveling the wings at ½ your bank angle. Since half of a 45° bank is 22.5°, that’s how many degrees before the desired heading to begin rollout. For a 60° bank, begin your rollout 30° before reaching the desired heading.

14 thoughts on “fly better steep turns

  1. Step 4a. To correct for slips or skids (you want to keep that ball in the middle, after all) use your rudder pedals. Step on the ball to get it back to the middle and coordinate your turn.

    We glider pilots get lots of steep turn practice while thermalling.

    1. Hey Dan, I’ve updated the post. Thanks for catching this! When I originally wrote this it was just about limiting changes in the steep turn to pitch. However when I expanded it into steps I obviously left out one the most important parts. So again, thanks! BTW Jean and I are both glider pilots too – originally flew 2.22, 1.26, and L-13 near Lafayette, IN. I see you’re at FermiLab. My brother-in-law did research there before moving to Bell Labs.

  2. Have my commercial multi in the next few days and my steep turns have been questionable. Sometimes they’re spot on…the last couple flights they were all over the place. So I’m going to give this a shot…sure beats watching the altimeter go up and down as well as my patience. Thanks!

    1. Hi Layla,
      This really works. Just set your mind to 1) roll promptly to your bank angle, 2) increase back pressure rolling through 30 degrees (and relieve it at 30 degrees rolling out), and 3) MOST IMPORTANTLY, once in the turn make pitch changes only, as if you were flying level. (I find it helpful to fly with both hands while in the turn-for some reason it helps me focus on making pitch changes only.) Will you have time to practice before your checkride? Write me back and let me know your experience. And best of success on your checkride! Greg

  3. Got my first steep turns lesson coming up next week, will keep this in mind 🙂 Thanks!

  4. Works great. Thanks. My impression is that the amount of strength to apply to the pullback is the scary thing.

    1. Hi Nick,
      I like to use two hands once established in the turn to get better leverage. For some reason that also helps me limit control inputs to pitch alone. Greg

      1. Hi,
        It’s like the slight pressure on both rudder pedal to keep a course I guess. My instructor doesn’t like when I use both hands. He says that this hand will have lots of tings to do later… I get his point.

  5. I have my Multi-commercial stage check today and these darn turns have been killing me. I will try and keep this in mind. Thanks

  6. Hey, thanks for posting! I just started working on my commercial multi and having a heck of a time w/steep turns. After reading this it’s pretty obvious I have been changing my bank angle too much, resulting in being all over the place. Looking forward to trying to correct this on Saturday!

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