Steep Turns

For purposes of instrument flight training in conventional airplanes, any turn greater than a standard rate is considered steep. [Figure 7-36] The exact angle of bank at which a normal turn becomes steep is unimportant. What is important is learning to control the airplane with bank attitudes in excess of those normally used on instruments. Practicing steep turns will not only increase proficiency in the basic instrument flying skills, but also enable smooth, quick, and confident reactions to unexpected abnormal flight attitudes under instrument flight conditions.

Figure 7-36. Steep left turn.

Figure 7-36. Steep left turn.

Pronounced changes occur in the effects of aerodynamic forces on aircraft control at progressively greater bank attitudes. Skill in cross-check, interpretation, and control is increasingly necessary in proportion to the amount of these changes, though the techniques for entering, maintaining, and recovering from the turn are the same in principle for steep turns as for shallower turns.


Enter a steep turn in the same way as a shallower turn, but prepare to cross-check rapidly as the turn steepens. Because of the greatly reduced vertical lift component, pitch control is usually the most difficult aspect of this maneuver. Unless immediately noted and corrected with a pitch increase, the loss of vertical lift results in rapid movement of the altimeter, vertical speed, and airspeed needles. The faster the rate of bank change, the more suddenly the lift changes occur. If a cross-check is fast enough to note the immediate need for pitch changes, smooth, steady back-elevator pressure will maintain constant altitude. However, overbanking to excessively steep angles without adjusting pitch as the bank changes occur requires increasingly stronger elevator pressure. The loss of vertical lift and increase in wing loading finally reach a point at which further application of back-elevator pressure tightens the turn without raising the nose.

How does a pilot recognize overbanking and low pitch attitude? What should a pilot do to correct them? If a rapid downward movement of the altimeter needle or vertical speed needle, together with an increase in airspeed, is observed despite application of back elevator pressure, the airplane is in a diving spiral. [Figure 7-37] Immediately shallow the bank with smooth and coordinated aileron and rudder pressures, hold or slightly relax elevator pressure, and increase the crosscheck of the attitude indicator, altimeter, and VSI. Reduce power if the airspeed increase is rapid. When the vertical speed trends upward, the altimeter needle moves slower as the vertical lift increases. When the elevator is effective in raising the nose, hold the bank attitude shown on the attitude indicator and adjust elevator control pressures smoothly for the nose-high attitude appropriate to the bank maintained. If pitch control is consistently late on entries to steep turns, rollout immediately to straight-and-level flight and analyze possible errors. Practice shallower turns initially and learn the attitude changes and control responses required, then increase the banks as a quicker and more accurate cross-check and control techniques are developed.

Figure 7-37. Diving spiral.

Figure 7-37. Diving spiral.

The power necessary to maintain constant airspeed increases as the bank and drag increase. With practice, the power settings appropriate to specific bank attitudes are learned, and adjustments can be made without undue attention to airspeed and power instruments. During training in steep turns, as in any other maneuver, attend to the most important tasks first. Keep the pitch attitude relatively constant, and more time can be devoted to cross-check and instrument interpretation.

During recovery from steep turns to straight-and-level flight, elevator and power control must be coordinated with bank control in proportion to the changes in aerodynamic forces. Back elevator pressures must be released and power decreased. The common errors associated with steep turns are the same as those discussed later in this section. Remember, errors are more exaggerated, more difficult to correct, and more difficult to analyze unless rates of entry and recovery are consistent with the level of proficiency in the three basic instrument flying skills.


Climbing and Descending Turns

To execute climbing and descending turns, combine the technique used in straight climbs and descents with the various turn techniques. The aerodynamic factors affecting lift and power control must be considered in determining power settings, and the rate of cross-check and interpretation must be increased to enable control of bank as well as pitch changes.

Change of Airspeed During Turns

Changing airspeed during turns is an effective maneuver for increasing proficiency in all three basic instrument skills. Since the maneuver involves simultaneous changes in all components of control, proper execution requires rapid cross-check and interpretation as well as smooth control. Proficiency in the maneuver also contributes to confidence in the instruments during attitude and power changes involved in more complex maneuvers. Pitch and power control techniques are the same as those used during changes in airspeed in straight-and-level flight.

The angle of bank necessary for a given rate of turn is proportional to the true airspeed. Since the turns are executed at a standard rate, the angle of bank must be varied in direct proportion to the airspeed change in order to maintain a constant rate of turn. During a reduction of airspeed, decrease the angle of bank and increase the pitch attitude to maintain altitude and a standard rate turn.

The altimeter and turn coordinator indications should remain constant throughout the turn. The altimeter is primary for pitch control and the miniature aircraft of the turn coordinator is primary for bank control. The manifold pressure gauge (or tachometer) is primary for power control while the airspeed is changing. As the airspeed approaches the new indication, the ASI becomes primary for power control.

Two methods of changing airspeed in turns may be used. In the first method, airspeed is changed after the turn is established. [Figure 7-38] In the second method, the airspeed change is initiated simultaneously with the turn entry. The first method is easier, but regardless of the method used, the rate of crosscheck must be increased as power is reduced. As the airplane decelerates, check the altimeter and VSI for necessary pitch changes and the bank instruments for required bank changes.

Figure 7-38. Change of airspeed during turn.

Figure 7-38. Change of airspeed during turn.

If the miniature aircraft of the turn coordinator indicates a deviation from the desired deflection, adjust the bank. Adjust pitch attitude to maintain altitude. When approaching the desired airspeed, pitch attitude becomes primary for power control and the manifold pressure gauge (or tachometer) is adjusted to maintain the desired airspeed. Trim is important throughout the maneuver to relieve control pressures.

Until control technique is very smooth, frequent cross-check of the attitude indicator is essential to prevent overcontrolling and to provide approximate bank angles appropriate to the changing airspeeds.

Flight Literacy Recommends

William Kershner's Instrument Flight Manual - Everything you need to know to obtain an FAA instrument rating, or a great refresher for existing instrument pilots. Covered subjects include airplane performance and basic instrument flying, navigation and communications, clearances, planning IFR flight, and carrying out the instrument flight itself from preflight, takeoff and departure, en route, through to the approach and landing phases.