Chapter 3—Basic Flight Maneuvers

Table of Contents
The Four Fundamentals
Effects and Use of the Controls
Feel of the Airplane
Attitude Flying
Integrated Flight Instruction
Straight-and-Level Flight
Trim Control
Level Turns
Climbs and Climbing Turns
    Normal Climb
    Best Rate of Climb
    Best Angle of Climb
Descents and Descending Turns
    Partial Power Descent
    Descent at Minimum Safe Airspeed
Pitch and Power


Best angle of climb (VX) is performed at an airspeed that will produce the most altitude gain in a given distance. Best angle-of climb airspeed (VX) is considerably lower than best rate of climb (VY), and is the airspeed where the most excess thrust is available over that required for level flight. The best angle of climb will result in a steeper climb path, although the airplane will take longer to reach the same altitude than it would at best rate of climb. The best angle of climb, therefore, is used in clearing obstacles after takeoff. [Figure 3-14]

It should be noted that, as altitude increases, the speed for best angle of climb increases, and the speed for best rate of climb decreases. The point at which these two speeds meet is the absolute ceiling of the airplane. [Figure 3-15]

Absolute ceiling

Figure 3-15. Absolute ceiling.

A straight climb is entered by gently increasing pitch attitude to a predetermined level using back-elevator pressure, and simultaneously increasing engine power to the climb power setting. Due to an increase in downwash over the horizontal stabilizer as power is applied, the airplane’s nose will tend to immediately begin to rise of its own accord to an attitude higher than that at which it would stabilize. The pilot must be prepared for this.

Best angle of climb vs. best rate of climb

Figure 3-14. Best angle of climb vs. best rate of climb.

As a climb is started, the airspeed will gradually diminish. This reduction in airspeed is gradual because of the initial momentum of the airplane. The thrust required to maintain straight-and-level flight at a given airspeed is not sufficient to maintain the same airspeed in a climb. Climbing flight requires more power than flying level because of the increased drag caused by gravity acting rearward. Therefore, power must be advanced to a higher power setting to offset the increased drag.

The propeller effects at climb power are a primary factor. This is because airspeed is significantly slower than at cruising speed, and the airplane’s angle of attack is significantly greater. Under these conditions, torque and asymmetrical loading of the propeller will cause the airplane to roll and yaw to the left. To counteract this, the right rudder must be used.

During the early practice of climbs and climbing turns, this may make coordination of the controls seem awkward (left climbing turn holding right rudder), but after a little practice this correction for propeller effects will become instinctive.

Trim is also a very important consideration during a climb. After the climb has been established, the airplane should be trimmed to relieve all pressures from the flight controls. If changes are made in the pitch attitude, power, or airspeed, the airplane should be retrimmed in order to relieve control pressures.

When performing a climb, the power should be advanced to the climb power recommended by the manufacturer. If the airplane is equipped with a controllable- pitch propeller, it will have not only an engine tachometer, but also a manifold pressure gauge. Normally, the flaps and landing gear (if retractable) should be in the retracted position to reduce drag.

As the airplane gains altitude during a climb, the manifold pressure gauge (if equipped) will indicate a loss in manifold pressure (power). This is because the same volume of air going into the engine’s induction system gradually decreases in density as altitude increases. When the volume of air in the manifold decreases, it causes a loss of power. This will occur at the rate of approximately 1-inch of manifold pressure for each 1,000-foot gain in altitude. During prolonged climbs, the throttle must be continually advanced, if constant power is to be maintained.

To enter the climb, simultaneously advance the throttle and apply back-elevator pressure to raise the nose of the airplane to the proper position in relation to the horizon. As power is increased, the airplane’s nose will rise due to increased download on the stabilizer. This is caused by increased slipstream. As the pitch attitude increases and the airspeed decreases, progressively more right rudder must be applied to compensate for propeller effects and to hold a constant heading.

After the climb is established, back-elevator pressure must be maintained to keep the pitch attitude constant. As the airspeed decreases, the elevators will try to return to their neutral or streamlined position, and the airplane’s nose will tend to lower. Nose-up elevator trim should be used to compensate for this so that the pitch attitude can be maintained without holding back- elevator pressure. Throughout the climb, since the power is fixed at the climb power setting, the airspeed is controlled by the use of elevator.

A cross-check of the airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, and the position of the airplane’s nose in relation to the horizon will determine if the pitch attitude is correct. At the same time, a constant heading should be held with the wings level if a straight climb is being performed, or a constant angle of bank and rate of turn if a climbing turn is being performed. [Figure 3-16]

To return to straight-and-level flight from a climb, it is necessary to initiate the level-off at approximately 10 percent of the rate of climb. For example, if the airplane is climbing at 500 feet per minute (f.p.m.), leveling off should start 50 feet below the desired altitude. The nose must be lowered gradually because a loss of altitude will result if the pitch attitude is changed to the level flight position without allowing the airspeed to increase proportionately.

Climb indications

Figure 3-16. Climb indications.

After the airplane is established in level flight at a constant altitude, climb power should be retained temporarily so that the airplane will accelerate to the cruise airspeed more rapidly. When the speed reaches the desired cruise speed, the throttle setting and the propeller control (if equipped) should be set to the cruise power setting and the airplane trimmed. After allowing time for engine temperatures to stabilize, adjust the mixture control as required.

In the performance of climbing turns, the following factors should be considered.

  • With a constant power setting, the same pitch attitude and airspeed cannot be maintained in a bank as in a straight climb due to the increase in the total lift required.
  • The degree of bank should not be too steep. A steep bank significantly decreases the rate of climb. The bank should always remain constant.
  • It is necessary to maintain a constant airspeed and constant rate of turn in both right and left turns. The coordination of all flight controls is a primary factor.
  • At a constant power setting, the airplane will climb at a slightly shallower climb angle because some of the lift is being used to turn the airplane.
  • Attention should be diverted from fixation on the airplane’s nose and divided equally among inside and outside references.

There are two ways to establish a climbing turn. Either establish a straight climb and then turn, or enter the climb and turn simultaneously. Climbing turns should be used when climbing to the local practice area. Climbing turns allow better visual scanning, and it is easier for other pilots to see a turning aircraft.

In any turn, the loss of vertical lift and increased induced drag, due to increased angle of attack, becomes greater as the angle of bank is increased. So shallow turns should be used to maintain an efficient rate of climb.

All the factors that affect the airplane during level (constant altitude) turns will affect it during climbing turns or any other training maneuver. It will be noted that because of the low airspeed, aileron drag (adverse yaw) will have a more prominent effect than it did in straight-and-level flight and more rudder pressure will have to be blended with aileron pressure to keep the airplane in coordinated flight during changes in bank angle. Additional elevator back pressure and trim will also have to be used to compensate for centrifugal force, for the loss of vertical lift, and to keep pitch attitude constant.

During climbing turns, as in any turn, the loss of vertical lift and induced drag due to increased angle of attack becomes greater as the angle of bank is increased, so shallow turns should be used to maintain an efficient rate of climb. If a medium or steep banked turn is used, climb performance will be degraded.

Common errors in the performance of climbs and climbing turns are:

  • Attempting to establish climb pitch attitude by referencing the airspeed indicator, resulting in “chasing” the airspeed.
  • Applying elevator pressure too aggressively, resulting in an excessive climb angle.
  • Applying elevator pressure too aggressively during level-off resulting in negative “G” forces.
  • Inadequate or inappropriate rudder pressure during climbing turns.
  • Allowing the airplane to yaw in straight climbs, usually due to inadequate right rudder pressure.
  • Fixation on the nose during straight climbs, resulting in climbing with one wing low.
  • Failure to initiate a climbing turn properly with use of rudder and elevators, resulting in little turn, but rather a climb with one wing low.
  • Improper coordination resulting in a slip which counteracts the effect of the climb, resulting in little or no altitude gain.
  • Inability to keep pitch and bank attitude constant during climbing turns.
  • Attempting to exceed the airplane’s climb capability.

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Copyright 2012
PED Publication