Steep Turns At Low Altitude

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RedAndWhiteBaron
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Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by RedAndWhiteBaron »

A couple of recent discussions here have started me wondering about this - I have realized that I am genuinely afraid of making steep (let's say, more than 30°) turns at low altitudes, and moreso at low airspeeds. As a student pilot, this is crucially important to my progress. I really need to overcome this fear.

Don't get me wrong - at cruise, I am not scared to make an extremely steep and aggressive turn - I know I have sufficient altitude and speed to recover if I make a mistake that sends me plummeting towards Earth. But while I have plenty of energy to recover if I do that flying 120 knots at 5000', I don't have that margin of error flying 70 knots at 300'. This has become a concern to me in the just-solo stage of my training.

This doesn't compute for me. I learned how to fly in gliders (and earned my license). Before I was allowed to solo I had to demonstrate a 75° slipping turn to final from let's say 700'AGL, to 300' AGL (which by the way was not easy to even establish, let alone maintain), and I had no problem with it after a couple of attempts. But now, with an engine to save me from my mistakes, I am somehow afraid of it. My turns when flying circuits are gentle - too gentle. I just seem to have this fear that the plane will inexplicably fall out of the sky at a steep bank angle and low speed, even if I know, scientifically, that it won't. And yes, I have read the PoH.

It's not specifically that I originally trained in gliders, although I think that is important somehow - but I can't explain why.

It's that I seem to be afraid - genuinely afraid - of making steep turns when dealing with low altitude and airspeed. I just feel like the aircraft will fall out of the sky at any moment, and I can't seem to shake that feeling.

I'm wondering if anyone else has overcome this, or taught someone who has.
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ahramin
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by ahramin »

Should be easy to overcome. If you are afraid of steep turns at low altitude and airspeed, go spend a bunch of time practicing steep turns at high altitude and low airspeed. Start at your approach speed and do a bunch of 30° and 45° bank turns at 5000', then slow 5 knots and do a bunch of 30° bank turns, then slow a further 5 knots and do a bunch of 30° bank turns, continue until the plane shakes and then falls out of the sky. Recover smoothly and then practice some more at a slightly higher speed. I would hope that once you've done a bunch of steep turns at a much slower speed than your approach speed, you will be comfortable at your approach speed.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by RedAndWhiteBaron »

Not easy to overcome. This is all very easy while doing upper air work - it's not so easy when you're 200 feet from the ground.

I did neglect to mention - I had an incipient spin "incident" on one of my first solo flights, and it nearly killed me, had it not been for the training I had. Nothing worthy of a cadors, and nothing that anyone on the ground would have even noticed, but enough that I still dwell on it, 25 years later. Every once in a while I think back to that moment, and realize how close I came to being a red stain on that airfield. There's certainly some PTSD there.

I have suggested the same thing to my instructor. ahramin - do some aggressive slips at altitude. Not just "show me a slip" slips, but "put the fucking rudder to the fucking floor and make this fucking fucker fall out of the fucking sky - NO, PULL UP, HARD! YOU AIN'T FALLING FAST ENOUGH YET!!!" slips (please excuse my language). Give me five thousand feet of error margin and I think I can do that.

Maybe do some slow flight and hover at the slow edge of the envelope? I dunno but I do think I need to better understand the feel of a small plane with low energy. Totally cool with pushing it until I fall out of the sky - I trust my instructor.

I'm training in a Grob 115 BTW - it doesn't shake much - it's a damned slippery aircraft. Not a lot of warning aside from the stall horn.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by Pilotdaddy »

As you know, I had also trained at the island. I was also deathly scared of putting in more than 20 degrees or so bank in the circuit because I was (wrongly) brainwashed by some YouTube videos that a steep base to final turn equates into a deadly spin each and every time.

Do you feel this way at other airports? Funny enough, I have no trouble with low altitude steep turns over at Lindsay or Oshawa. However, now training back at the island, some of the initial fears of falling out of the sky has come back a bit. I think, for me, it's the sight picture of water being under me that gets me a bit timid doing steep turns in the circuit.

As you mentioned already, you know the plane isn't going anywhere so it's probably all mental at this point. With continued practice and exposure, it should feel 'nornal' at some point.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by photofly »

just "show me a slip" slips, but "put the fucking rudder to the fucking floor and make this fucking fucker fall out of the fucking sky - NO, PULL UP, HARD! YOU AIN'T FALLING FAST ENOUGH YET!!!" slips (please excuse my language). Give me five thousand feet of error margin and I think I can do that.
If you’re performing a slip to lose height you should be doing it with full rudder deflection. If you’re not comfortable with that, then more practice with your instructor is probably wise.

Slips don’t involve pulling up hard. They typically involve lowering the nose slightly, to maintain adequate airspeed. Again, something to review with your instructor.

Slips also don’t involve falling :)
This has become a concern to me in the just-solo stage of my training.
Thats probably the most significant part of your post. I don’t think many students in this stage are entirely comfortable with manoeuvring like slipping turns in the circuit. Nor would you expect them to be. There’s a lot more skill and practice to come, for you. Give it time.

I'm training in a Grob 115 BTW - it doesn't shake much - it's a damned slippery aircraft. Not a lot of warning aside from the stall horn.
Ahramin means the symptoms of an actual stall. The shake will come after the stall horn. Again, more practice with an instructor.

Finally, in your posts you are commingling two different manoeuvres: a steep turn, and a slipping turn. Both involve significant bank, but have different load factors and different characteristics if the speed gets too low. You should distinguish them in your head, and work on both.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by Bede »

Sorry, but maybe I missed something. Why are you even contemplating doing steep turns at low altitudes at low speed as a student pilot? Seems like a recipe for disaster.

I've only ever done steep turns at low altitude years ago when I was doing wildlife surveys.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by photofly »

It's worth pointing out that a coordinated 35° bank is officially a "steep turn", and when correctly done base-to-final could easily be described as "at a low altitude and at a low airspeed" by some. I hope we are not going to hear "student pilots must be forbidden to use more than x degrees of bank in the circuit".
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by CpnCrunch »

It sounds like your fear is perfectly rational.

Generally there is no need for more than about 35 degrees of bank in the circuit. While it's safe to do a 45 degree turn at low level if you have sufficient airspeed, you generally shouldn't be going that fast in the circuit unless you've already screwed something up, or you've deliberately planned it.

All I'm saying is, there isn't any *need* for non-gentle turns in the circuit. You can do them if you plan them properly, but it certainly isn't necessary, and your passengers will prefer it if you don't do that
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by shamrock104 »

I agree, no real need for anything beyond 30 degrees in the Circuit. I have had situations on gusty days in the circuit where anything more than say 30 degrees in a turn would have been uncomfortable for me at such low altitudes. During initial training if you request a 30 degree banked turn from a student they often deviate to either a steeper turn or less so I try and teach the bank angle early on.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by digits_ »

Isn't a Grob 115 an aerobatic airplane? Why don't you go out with an instructor you trust and fly some aerobatics? You'll see more of the behaviour of the airplane at 'extreme' angles of attack and how it behaves at the edge of stalls and spins.

There's hardly ever a need to do steep turns low level, but you shouldn't be afraid of them either. Steep turns in itself are not a hazard, it all depends on how many g's you pull. Some more advanced aerobatics, preferably flying yourself, might show you that.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by Cessna 180 »

If it makes you feel any better, pipeline patrol planes, usually a Cessna 172, are put into 60-degree level bank turns every day at altitudes as low as 300'. Now I'm not suggesting a student pilot or any inexperienced pilot perform these, but it gives you some general sense that they're possible and safe when correctly executed.

The key as with any maneuver is to stay coordinated. Keeping the ball centered is very important in any phase of flight (save for situations where you're intentionally uncoordinated such as an engine failure in a twin, or a slip).
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by TT1900 »

Lots of good advice in here.

I’ll second the suggestion of some aerobatic training if you are able. It will both demonstrate the true limits of the aircraft and build confidence in your ability to control the aircraft at and beyond those limits. Primary among these skills will be airspeed awareness.

My own suggestion is that you work-up to it. Nobody learns “aggressive” flying near the surface and anyone with intelligence is rightfully respectful of low altitude environments. If you’re currently comfortable at 5000’, next time step down to 4800’. Keep gradually decreasing altitude until you find yourself slightly uneasy and remain there until comfortable. Then step down again. Maybe it takes a month, maybe a year, maybe never; it doesn’t really matter, it’s all for personal development and enjoyment.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by digits_ »

For what it's worth: the closer you are to the ground, the easier it is to judge your attitude by looking outside. At 200 AGL you'll rarely lose altitude unintentionally if you focus on it.

This is obviously not encouragement to go fly low level steep turns just to try it out, but something to keep in mind. Just because you might lose 300 ft during a steep turn at 5000 ft, doesn't mean you'll lose 300 ft during a steep turn at 200 ft.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by RedAndWhiteBaron »

digits_ wrote: Wed Oct 21, 2020 8:22 am Isn't a Grob 115 an aerobatic airplane? Why don't you go out with an instructor you trust and fly some aerobatics? You'll see more of the behaviour of the airplane at 'extreme' angles of attack and how it behaves at the edge of stalls and spins.

There's hardly ever a need to do steep turns low level, but you shouldn't be afraid of them either. Steep turns in itself are not a hazard, it all depends on how many g's you pull. Some more advanced aerobatics, preferably flying yourself, might show you that.
The aircraft in question is utility category, approved for lazy eights, chandelles, steep turns, intentional spins, +4.4G, and -1.76G. Not aerobatics. I do agree that some aerobatic training would help - but it's hard to find that here.
photofly wrote: Wed Oct 21, 2020 3:52 am If you’re performing a slip to lose height you should be doing it with full rudder deflection.
Interesting - that's not how I was taught originally - but that question is best left for another thread.
TT1900 wrote: Wed Oct 21, 2020 10:35 am If you’re currently comfortable at 5000’, next time step down to 4800’
I'm comfortable with steep turns so long as I have sufficient altitude to recover from a stall.

Thanks - lots of good advice in here.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by 455tt »

I personally knew a 3,000+ hour pilot that lost his life in a low altitude steep turn. He was a wonderful person and a highly skilled pilot.

So I would urge all pilots here to be really, really cautious with low altitude steep turns and if you are afraid of doing them, all the better.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by TalkingPie »

Admittedly my training was done around flat fields, but 30 degrees of bank seems like enough to me for an inexperienced pilot at circuit height or below. Unless you're avoiding terrain, is there a reason to be planning your circuits with steeper turns than that? Is it possible that something in your expectations/habits is based on your glider experience that doesn't directly transfer over to powered flight? I'm with the others who say that unnecessarily doing steep turns a few hundred feet above the ground with limited experience seems like a perfectly reasonable fear to me.

I'm also a little fuzzy on what your goals are regarding slipping turns, especially at low altitude. The only good reasons for slips I know of at this stage of flight training are a forward slip to lose speed/altitude quickly on final (correctly described above as a full rudder, drop the nose operation), or a sideslip to align with the runway on landing. A slipping turn sounds counterproductive to me, especially at low altitude in the circuit; personally I spend a good amount of mental energy trying to make sure I stay coordinated.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by rookiepilot »

Stall - Spin accidents in the pattern are a real thing, and certainly worthy of being wary of of.

Like other posters, I have rarely found the need to bank over 30 degrees in the pattern.

It's helpful to study accidents. Many come from a combination of too slow a speed, uncoordinated turn, too steep a bank, and PULLING the nose up. Let it drop to unload the wing....

EDIT: --- On Base to Final turns, with a strong, gusty tailwind on base...... ---I'm real careful when getting blown towards final with 25 knots of "help" ---- :mrgreen: --- the powerful illusions can lead to an unrecoverable error....
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Last edited by rookiepilot on Thu Oct 22, 2020 7:55 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by rxl »

Maybe the “fear” that you have now as opposed to your earlier glider flying experience stems from the fact that you are simply older and wiser?
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by RedAndWhiteBaron »

TalkingPie wrote: Wed Oct 21, 2020 3:51 pm Is it possible that something in your expectations/habits is based on your glider experience that doesn't directly transfer over to powered flight?
<snip>
The only good reasons for slips I know of at this stage of flight training are a forward slip to lose speed/altitude quickly on final (correctly described above as a full rudder, drop the nose operation), or a sideslip to align with the runway on landing.
The question in fact was precipitated by a full rudder slipping turn to final during a simulated flap failure, and furthermore upon review, I've found that I simply bank too shallow in the circuit, especially turning base to final. Perhaps I'm overthinking things and this will just work its way out of me as I progress.

It is entirely possible (quite likely, I think) that something in my previous training doesn't carry over. It's also possible that I remember incorrectly - it was a long time ago. In a way it's like riding a bike - in that, you can't forget some things even if you want to.
rookiepilot wrote: Thu Oct 22, 2020 6:19 am It's helpful to study accidents. Many come from a combination of too slow a speed, uncoordinated turn, too steep a bank, and PULLING the nose up.
I do actually. Perhaps too much. A not insignificant proportion of fatal accidents on approach are caused by a spin while turning base to final, especially among inexperienced pilots. An accidental spin at 300'AGL is, generally, a fatal mistake.
rxl wrote: Thu Oct 22, 2020 6:48 am Maybe the “fear” that you have now as opposed to your earlier glider flying experience stems from the fact that you are simply older and wiser?
The thought had crossed my mind as well. 20 years have certainly made a difference in my driving habits at least. But the reality is that while I'm older now, I'm not really that much wiser.

I did forget to mention - I did once nearly spin turning base to final - a sudden wing drop that I was able to correct for. It was a long time ago, but it's not something easily forgotten.
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Re: Steep Turns At Low Altitude

Post by GoinVertical »

When I instructed I taught my students that I didn't want to see more than 15 degrees AoB during a climbing turn, and never more than 30 degrees AoB in the circuit.

There's no need, certainly during the pre-solo phase, for steep turns below the upper-airwork floor. If you can't make it onto final with a 30 degree banked turn, go around and try again.

I'd say practise doing some simulated base to final turns at altitude, configured, descending at 500 fpm, and ensuring you hold 30 degrees. If you are not loading up the wing by trying to maintain altitude, the increase in AoA, and thus risk of stall, is really not much at all.

Most of the accidents you read about, and probably what you experienced in the glider world, is caused by loading up the wing, by trying to arrest the descent while turning. If you roll into the turn, don't apply any back pressure, keep that wing unloaded, it won't bite you unless you are actually going too slow.
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