CFI Brief: Steep Turns

Steep turns are a fun and exciting maneuver and right in line with this week’s discussion on load factors. As a student pilot part of your training will include performing steep turns to established standards as outlined in the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards and shown below. Key concepts to be learned are coordination, orientation, division of attention, and control techniques necessary for the execution of maximum performance turns. A steep turn is often performed at or near performance limits so caution must be taken and the pilot should have a complete understanding of aircraft limitations:


  1. Exhibits satisfactory knowledge of the elements related to steep turns.
  2. Establishes the manufacturer’s recommended airspeed or if one is not stated, a safe airspeed not to exceed VA.
  3. Rolls into a coordinated 360° turn; maintains a 45° bank. Performs the task in the opposite direction, as specified by the examiner.
  4. Divides attention between airplane control and orientation.
  5. Maintains the entry altitude ±100 feet; airspeed ±10 knots; bank ±5°; and rolls out on the entry heading ±10°.

To successfully complete steep turns you must first understand the theory and principals behind the maneuver. Take a look at this short excerpt from ASA Virtual Test Prep Flight maneuvers DVD.

Understanding how aerodynamic forces and load factors affect flight characteristics will allow you to successfully complete this maneuver to standards. For example, a common error students tend to make is a failure to maintain altitude +/- 100 feet. If you understand aerodynamic forces and load factors you know that changing bank will directly affect lift. In a steep turn you may need to make small corrections in control inputs to steepen or shallow the bank (remember you have +/- 5° to work with). If your nose drops through the horizon and you notice a descent on the altimeter, decreasing bank angle will allow the airplane to regain some lift. Vice versa, if you see your nose rising above the horizon and note a climb on the altimeter you can increase your bank, taking away from lift.

With the information given you should have no problem answering this sample knowledge test question.

 What force makes an airplane turn?

A. The horizontal component of lift

B. The vertical component of lift

C. Centrifugal force


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