Chapter 9—Performance Maneuvers

Table of Contents
Performance Maneuvers
    Steep Turns
    Steep Spiral
    Lazy Eight


The objective of the maneuver is to develop the smoothness, coordination, orientation, division of attention, and control techniques necessary for the execution of maximum performance turns when the airplane is near its performance limits. Smoothness of control use, coordination, and accuracy of execution are the important features of this maneuver.

The steep turn maneuver consists of a turn in either direction, using a bank angle between 45 to 60°. This will cause an overbanking tendency during which maximum turning performance is attained and relatively high load factors are imposed. Because of the high load factors imposed, these turns should be performed at an airspeed that does not exceed the airplane’s design maneuvering speed (VA). The principles of an ordinary steep turn apply, but as a practice maneuver the steep turns should be continued until 360° or 720° of turn have been completed. [Figure 9-1]

Steep turns Figure 9-1. Steep turns.

An airplane’s maximum turning performance is its fastest rate of turn and its shortest radius of turn, which change with both airspeed and angle of bank. Each airplane’s turning performance is limited by the amount of power its engine is developing, its limit load factor (structural strength), and its aerodynamic characteristics.

The limiting load factor determines the maximum bank, which can be maintained without stalling or exceeding the airplane’s structural limitations. In most small planes, the maximum bank has been found to be approximately 50° to 60°.

The pilot should realize the tremendous additional load that is imposed on an airplane as the bank is increased beyond 45°. During a coordinated turn with a 70° bank, a load factor of approximately 3 Gs is placed on the airplane’s structure. Most general aviation type airplanes are stressed for approximately 3.8 Gs.

Regardless of the airspeed or the type of airplanes involved, a given angle of bank in a turn, during which altitude is maintained, will always produce the same load factor. Pilots must be aware that an additional load factor increases the stalling speed at a significant rate—stalling speed increases with the square root of the load factor. For example, a light plane that stalls at 60 knots in level flight will stall at nearly 85 knots in a 60° bank. The pilot’s understanding and observance of this fact is an indispensable safety precaution for the performance of all maneuvers requiring turns.

Before starting the steep turn, the pilot should ensure that the area is clear of other air traffic since the rate of turn will be quite rapid. After establishing the manufacturer’s recommended entry speed or the design maneuvering speed, the airplane should be smoothly rolled into a selected bank angle between 45 to 60°. As the turn is being established, back-elevator pressure should be smoothly increased to increase the angle of attack. This provides the additional wing lift required to compensate for the increasing load factor.

After the selected bank angle has been reached, the pilot will find that considerable force is required on the elevator control to hold the airplane in level flight—to maintain altitude. Because of this increase in the force applied to the elevators, the load factor increases rapidly as the bank is increased. Additional back-elevator pressure increases the angle of attack, which results in an increase in drag. Consequently, power must be added to maintain the entry altitude and airspeed.

Eventually, as the bank approaches the airplane’s maximum angle, the maximum performance or structural limit is being reached. If this limit is exceeded, the airplane will be subjected to excessive structural loads, and will lose altitude, or stall. The limit load factor must not be exceeded, to prevent structural damage.

During the turn, the pilot should not stare at any one object. To maintain altitude, as well as orientation, requires an awareness of the relative position of the nose, the horizon, the wings, and the amount of bank. The pilot who references the aircraft’s turn by watching only the nose will have difficulty holding altitude constant; on the other hand, the pilot who watches the nose, the horizon, and the wings can usually hold altitude within a few feet. If the altitude begins to increase, or decrease, relaxing or increasing the back-elevator pressure will be required as appropriate. This may also require a power adjustment to maintain the selected airspeed. A small increase or decrease of 1 to 3° of bank angle may be used to control small altitude deviations. All bank angle changes should be done with coordinated use of aileron and rudder.

The rollout from the turn should be timed so that the wings reach level flight when the airplane is exactly on the heading from which the maneuver was started. While the recovery is being made, back-elevator pressure is gradually released and power reduced, as necessary, to maintain the altitude and airspeed.

Common errors in the performance of steep turns are:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area.
  • Excessive pitch change during entry or recovery.
  • Attempts to start recovery prematurely.
  • Failure to stop the turn on a precise heading.
  • Excessive rudder during recovery, resulting in skidding.
  • Inadequate power management.
  • Inadequate airspeed control.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Gaining altitude in right turns and/or losing altitude in left turns.
  • Failure to maintain constant bank angle.
  • Disorientation.
  • Attempting to perform the maneuver by instrument reference rather than visual reference.
  • Failure to scan for other traffic during the maneuver.

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PED Publication