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Chapter 5, Section I | Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers

Chapter 5, Section I

Airplane Basic Flight Maneuvers

Using Analog Instrumentation


Instrument flying techniques differ according to aircraft type, class, performance capability, and instrumentation. Therefore, the procedures and techniques that follow need to be modified to suit individual aircraft. Recommended procedures, performance data, operating limitations, and flight characteristics of a particular aircraft are available in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook/Airplane Flight Manual (POH/AFM) for study before practicing the flight maneuvers.

The flight maneuvers discussed here in Chapter 5-I assume the use of a single-engine, propeller-driven small airplane with retractable gear and flaps and a panel with instruments representative of those discussed earlier in Chapter 3, Flight Instruments. With the exception of the instrument takeoff, all of the maneuvers can be performed on “partial panel,” with the attitude gyro and heading indicator covered or inoperative.

Straight-and-Level Flight

Pitch Control

The pitch attitude of an airplane is the angle between the longitudinal axis of the airplane and the actual horizon. In level flight, the pitch attitude varies with airspeed and load. For training purposes, the latter factor can normally be disregarded in small airplanes. At a constant airspeed, there is only one specific pitch attitude for level flight. At slow cruise speeds, the level flight attitude is nose high with indications as in Figure 5-1; at fast cruise speeds, the level-flight attitude is nose low. [Figure 5-2] Figure 5-3 shows the indications for the attitude at normal cruise speeds. The instruments used to determine the pitch attitude of the aircraft are the attitude indicator, the altimeter, the vertical speed indicator (VSI), and the airspeed indicator (ASI).

Figure 5-1. Pitch Attitude and Airspeed in Level Flight, Slow Cruise Speed.

Figure 5-2. Pitch Attitude and Airspeed in Level Flight, Fast Cruise Speed.

Figure 5-3. Pitch Attitude and Airspeed in Level Flight, Normal Cruise Speed.

Attitude Indicator

The attitude indicator gives the direct indication of pitch attitude. The desired pitch attitude is gained by using the elevator control to raise or lower the miniature aircraft in relation to the horizon bar. This corresponds to the way pitch attitude is adjusted in visual flight by raising or lowering the nose of the airplane in relation to the natural horizon. However, unless the airspeed is constant, and until the level flight attitude for that airspeed has been identified and established, there is no way to know whether level flight as indicated on the attitude indicator is resulting in level flight as shown on the altimeter, VSI, and ASI. If the miniature aircraft of the attitude indicator is properly adjusted on the ground before takeoff, it shows approximately level flight at normal cruise speed when the pilot completes the level off from a climb. If further adjustment of the miniature aircraft is necessary, the other pitch instruments must be used to maintain level flight while the adjustment is made. 

Figure 5-4. Pitch Correction for Level Flight, One-Half Bar Width.

Figure 5-5. Pitch Correction for Level Flight, One Bar Width.

To practice pitch control for level flight using only the attitude indicator, use the following exercise. Restrict the displacement of the horizon bar to a one-half bar width, a bar width up or down, then a one-and-one-half bar width. One-half, one, and one-and-one-half bar width nose-high attitudes are shown in Figures 5-4, 5-5, and 5-6.

Figure 5-6. Pitch Correction for Level Flight, One-and-One-Half Bar Width.

An instructor pilot can demonstrate these normal pitch corrections and compare the indications on the attitude indicator with the airplane’s position to the natural horizon.

Pitch attitude changes for corrections to level flight by reference to instruments are much smaller than those commonly used for visual flight. With the airplane correctly trimmed for level flight, the elevator displacement and the control pressures necessary to effect these standard pitch changes are usually very slight. The following are a few helpful hints to help determine how much elevator control pressure is required.

First, a tight grip on the controls makes it difficult to feel control pressure changes. Relaxing and learning to control the aircraft usually takes considerable conscious effort during the early stages of instrument training.

Second, make smooth and small pitch changes with positive pressure. With practice, a pilot can make these small pitch corrections up or down, “freezing” (holding constant) the one-half, full, and one-and-one-half bar widths on the attitude indicator.

Third, with the airplane properly trimmed for level flight, momentarily release all pressure on the elevator control when becoming aware of tenseness. This is a reminder that the airplane is stable; except under turbulent conditions, it will maintain level flight if left alone. Even when no control change is called for, it will be difficult to resist the impulse to move the controls. This may be one of the most difficult initial training problems in instrument flight.


At constant power, any deviation from level flight (except in turbulent air) is the result of a pitch change. Therefore, the altimeter gives an indirect indication of the pitch attitude in level flight, assuming constant power. Since the altitude should remain constant when the airplane is in level flight, any deviation from the desired altitude signals the need for a pitch change. If the aircraft is gaining altitude, the nose must be lowered. [Figures 5-7 and 5-8]

Figure 5-7. Using the Altimeter for Pitch Interpretation, a High Altitude Means a Nose-High Pitch Attitude.

Figure 5-8. Pitch Correction Following Altitude Increase—Lower Nose to Correct Altitude Error.

The rate of movement of the altimeter needle is as important as its direction of movement in maintaining level flight without the use of the attitude indicator. An excessive pitch deviation from level flight results in a relatively rapid change of altitude; a slight pitch deviation causes a slow change. Thus, if the altimeter needle moves rapidly clockwise, assume a considerable nose-high deviation from level flight attitude. Conversely, if the needle moves slowly counterclockwise to indicate a slightly nose-low attitude, assume that the pitch correction necessary to regain the desired altitude is small. As the altimeter is added to the attitude indicator in a cross-check, a pilot will learn to recognize the rate of movement of the altimeter needle for a given pitch change as shown on the attitude indicator.

To practice precision control of pitch in an airplane without an attitude indicator, make small pitch changes by visual reference to the natural horizon, and note the rate of movement of the altimeter. Note what amount of pitch change gives the slowest steady rate of change on the altimeter. Then practice small pitch corrections by accurately interpreting and controlling the rate of needle movement.

An instructor pilot can demonstrate an excessive nose-down deviation (indicated by rapid movement of the altimeter needle) and then, as an example, show the result of improper corrective technique. The normal impulse is to make a large pitch correction in a hurry, but this inevitably leads to overcontrolling. The needle slows down, then reverses direction, and finally indicates an excessive nose-high deviation. The result is tension on the controls, erratic control response, and increasingly extreme control movements. The correct technique, which is slower and smoother, will return the airplane to the desired attitude more quickly, with positive control and no confusion.

When a pitch error is detected, corrective action should be taken promptly, but with light control pressures and two distinct changes of attitude: (1) a change of attitude to stop the needle movement and (2) a change of attitude to return to the desired altitude.

When the altimeter indicates an altitude deviation, apply just enough elevator pressure to decrease the rate of needle movement. If it slows down abruptly, ease off some of the pressure until the needle continues to move, but ease off slowly. Slow needle movement means the airplane attitude is close to level flight. Add slightly more corrective pressure to stop the direction of needle movement. At this point level flight is achieved; a reversal of needle movement means the aircraft has passed through it. Relax control pressures carefully, continuing to cross-check since changing airspeed will cause changes in the effectiveness of a given control pressure. Next, adjust the pitch attitude with elevator pressure for the rate of change of altimeter needle movement that is correlated with normal pitch corrections, and return to the desired altitude.

Figure 5-9. Altitude Error, Less Than 100 Feet.

Figure 5-10. Pitch Correction, Less Than 100 Feet—One-Half Bar Low to Correct Altitude Error.

As a rule of thumb, for errors of less than 100 feet, use a half bar width correction. [Figures 5-9 and 5-10] For errors in excess of 100 feet, use an initial full bar width correction. [Figures 5-11 and 5-12] Practice predetermined altitude changes using the altimeter alone, then in combination with the attitude indicator.

Figure 5-11. Altitude Error, Greater Than 100 Feet.

Figure 5-12. Pitch Correction, Greater Than 100 Feet—One Bar Correction Initially.

Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI)

The VSI, like the altimeter, gives an indirect indication of pitch attitude and is both a trend and a rate instrument. As a trend instrument, it shows immediately the initial vertical movement of the airplane, which disregarding turbulence can be considered a reflection of pitch change. To maintain level flight, use the VSI in conjunction with the altimeter and attitude indicator. Note any positive or negative trend of the needle from zero and apply a very light corrective elevator pressure. As the needle returns to zero, relax the corrective pressure. If control pressures have been smooth and light, the needle reacts immediately and slowly, and the altimeter shows little or no change of altitude. As a rate instrument, the VSI requires consideration of lag characteristics.

Lag refers to the delay involved before the needle attains a stable indication following a pitch change. Lag is directly proportional to the speed and magnitude of a pitch change. If a slow, smooth pitch change is initiated, the needle moves with minimum lag to a point of deflection corresponding to the extent of the pitch change, and then stabilizes as the aerodynamic forces are balanced in the climb or descent. A large and abrupt pitch change produces erratic needle movement, a reverse indication, and introduces greater time delay (lag) before the needle stabilizes. Pilots are cautioned not to chase the needle when flight through turbulent conditions produces erratic needle movements. The apparent lag in airspeed indications with pitch changes varies greatly among different airplanes and is due to the time required for the airplane to accelerate or decelerate when the pitch attitude is changed. There is no appreciable lag due to the construction or operation of the instrument. Small pitch changes, smoothly executed, result in an immediate change of airspeed.

When using the VSI as a rate instrument and combining it with the altimeter and attitude indicator to maintain level flight, a pilot should know that the amount the altimeter needle moves from the desired altitude governs the rate which should be used to return to that altitude. A rule of thumb is to make an attitude change that will result in a vertical-speed rate approximately double the error in altitude. For example, if altitude is off by 100 feet, the rate of return to the desired altitude should be approximately 200 feet per minute (fpm). If it is off by more than 100 feet, the correction should be correspondingly greater, but should never exceed the optimum rate of climb or descent for the airplane at a given airspeed and configuration.

A deviation of more than 200 fpm from the desired rate of return is considered overcontrolling. For example, if attempting to change altitude by 200 feet, a rate in excess of 400 fpm indicates overcontrolling.

When returning to an altitude, the VSI is the primary pitch instrument. Occasionally, the VSI is slightly out of calibration and may indicate a climb or descent when the airplane is in level flight. If the instrument cannot be adjusted, take the error into consideration when using it for pitch control. For example, if the needle indicates a descent of 200 fpm while in level flight, use this indication as the zero position.

Airspeed Indicator (ASI)

The ASI presents an indirect indication of the pitch attitude. In non-turbulent conditions with a constant power setting and pitch attitude, airspeed remains constant. [Figure 5-13] As the pitch attitude lowers, airspeed increases, and the nose should be raised. [Figure 5-14] As the pitch attitude rises, airspeed decreases, and the nose should be lowered. [Figure 5-15] A rapid change in airspeed indicates a large pitch change, and a slow change of airspeed indicates a small pitch change.

Figure 5-13. Constant Power Plus Constant Pitch Equals Constant Speed.

Figure 5-14. Constant Power Plus Decreased Pitch Equals Increased Airspeed.

Figure 5-15. Constant Power Plus Increased Pitch Equals Decreased Airspeed.

Pitch control in level flight is a question of cross-check and interpretation of the instrument panel for the instrument information that enables a pilot to visualize and control pitch attitude. Regardless of individual differences in cross-check technique, all pilots should use the instruments that give the best information for controlling the airplane in any given maneuver. Pilots should also check the other instruments to aid in maintaining the primary instruments at the desired indication.

As noted previously, the primary instrument is the one that gives the most pertinent information for a particular maneuver. It is usually the one that should be held at a constant indication. Which instrument is primary for pitch control in level flight, for example? This question should be considered in the context of specific airplane, weather conditions, pilot experience, operational conditions, and other factors. Attitude changes must be detected and interpreted instantly for immediate control action in high-performance airplanes. On the other hand, a reasonably proficient instrument pilot in a slower airplane may rely more on the altimeter for primary pitch information, especially if it is determined that too much reliance on the attitude indicator fails to provide the necessary precise attitude information. Whether the pilot decides to regard the altimeter or the attitude indicator as primary depends on which approach will best help control the attitude. In this handbook, the altimeter is normally considered as the primary pitch instrument during level flight.

Bank Control

The bank attitude of an airplane is the angle between the airplane’s wings and the natural horizon. To maintain a straight-and-level flight path, the wings of the airplane are kept level with the horizon (assuming the airplane is in coordinated flight). The instruments used for bank control are the attitude indicator, the heading indicator, and the turn coordinator. Figure 5-16 illustrates coordinated flight. The aircraft is banked left with the attitude indicator and turn coordinator indicating the bank. The heading indicator indicates a left turn by apparent clockwise rotation of the compass card behind the airplane silhouette. 

Figure 5-16. Instruments Used for Bank Control.

Attitude Indicator

The attitude indicator shows any change in bank attitude directly and instantly and is, therefore, a direct indicator. On the standard attitude indicator, the angle of bank is shown pictorially by the relationship of the miniature aircraft to the artificial horizon bar, and by the alignment of the pointer with the banking scale at the top of the instrument. On the face of the standard three-inch instrument, small angles of bank can be difficult to detect by reference to the miniature aircraft, especially if leaning to one side or changing a seating position slightly. The position of the scale pointer is a good check against the apparent miniature aircraft position. Disregarding precession error, small deviations from straight coordinated flight can be readily detected on the scale pointer. The banking index may be graduated as shown in Figure 5-17, or it may be graduated in 30° increments.

The instrument depicted in Figure 5-17 has a scale pointer that moves in the same direction of bank shown by the miniature aircraft. In this case, the aircraft is in a left 15° bank. Precession errors in this instrument are common and predictable, but the obvious advantage of the attitude indicator is an immediate indication of both pitch attitude and bank attitude in a single glance. Even with the precession errors associated with many attitude indicators, the quick attitude presentation requires less visual effort and time for positive control than other flight instruments.

Figure 5-17. Bank Interpretation with the Attitude Indicator.

Heading Indicator

The bank attitude of an aircraft in coordinated flight is shown indirectly on the heading indicator, since banking results in a turn and change in heading. Assuming the same airspeed in both instances, a rapid movement of the heading indicator (azimuth card in a directional gyro) indicates a large angle of bank, whereas slow movement reflects a small angle of bank. Note the rate of movement of the heading indicator and compare it to the attitude indicator’s degrees of bank. The attitude indicator’s precession error makes a precise check of heading information necessary in order to maintain straight flight.

When deviations from straight flight are noted on the heading indicator, correct to the desired heading using a bank angle no greater than the number of degrees to be turned. In any case, limit bank corrections to a bank angle no greater than that required for a standard rate turn. Use of larger bank angles requires a very high level of proficiency, and normally results in overcontrolling and erratic bank control.

Turn Coordinator

The miniature aircraft of the turn coordinator gives an indirect indication of the bank attitude of the airplane. When the miniature aircraft is level, the airplane is in straight flight. When the miniature airplane is aligned with one of the alignment marks and the aircraft is rolling to the left or right the indication represents the roll rate, with the alignment marks indicating a roll of 3° per second in the direction of the miniature aircraft. This can be seen in level flight when a bank is introduced either to the left or the right. The turn coordinator’s indicator will indicate the rolling motion although there is no turn being made. Conversely, a pedal input to the right or left causes the aircraft to turn momentarily about its vertical axis (with no rolling motion) with an indication of turn on the turn coordinator. After the turn becomes stabilized and the aircraft is no longer rolling, the turn coordinator displays the rate of turn with the alignment marks equaling a turn of 3° per second. The turn coordinator is able to display both roll and turn parameters because its electrically powered gyroscope is canted at an angle. As a result, the turn-and-slip indicator provides both roll and turn indications. Autopilots in general aviation today use this instrument in determining both roll and turn information. After the completion of a turn, return to straight flight is accomplished by coordinated aileron and rudder pressure to level the miniature aircraft. Include the miniature aircraft in the cross-check and correct for even the smallest deviations from the desired position. When this instrument is used to maintain straight flight, control pressures must be applied very lightly and smoothly.

Figure 5-18. Skid Indication.

The ball of the turn coordinator is actually a separate instrument, conveniently located under the miniature aircraft because the two instruments are used together. The ball instrument indicates the quality of the turn. If the ball is off center, the airplane is slipping or skidding. That is, if the coordinator’s miniature airplane is tilted right and the ball is displaced to the right, the aircraft is in a skid. [Figure 5-18] If however, the miniature airplane is tilted to the right with the ball off-center to the left, the aircraft is in a slip. [Figure 5-19] If the wings are level and the airplane is properly trimmed, the ball will remain in the center, and the airplane will be in straight flight. If the ball is not centered, the airplane is improperly trimmed.

Figure 5-19. Slip Indication.

To maintain straight-and-level flight with proper trim, note the direction of ball displacement. If the ball is to the left of center and the left wing is low, apply left rudder pressure to center the ball and correct the slip. At the same time apply right aileron pressure as necessary to level the wings, cross-checking the heading indicator and attitude indicator while centering the ball. If the wings are level and the ball is displaced from the center, the airplane is skidding. Note the direction of ball displacement, and use the same corrective technique as for an indicated slip. Center the ball (left ball/left rudder, right ball/right rudder), use aileron as necessary for bank control, and retrim.

To trim the airplane using only the turn coordinator, use aileron pressure to level the miniature aircraft and rudder pressure to center the ball. Hold these indications with control pressures, gradually releasing them while applying rudder trim sufficient to relieve all rudder pressure. Apply aileron trim, if available, to relieve aileron pressure. With a full instrument panel, maintain a wings level attitude by reference to all available instruments while trimming the airplane.

Turn-and-Slip Indicator (Needle and Ball)

Unlike the turn coordinator that provides three indications (roll, turn, and trim), the turn-and-slip indicator provides two: turn-rate and trim. Although the turn-and-slip indicator needle provides an indication of turn only, it provides an indirect indication of aircraft attitude when used with roll indicators such as a heading indicator or magnetic compass. As with the turn coordinator (after stabilizing from a roll), when the turn-and-slip indicator’s needle is aligned with the alignment marks the aircraft is in a standard turn of 3° per second or 360° in 2 minutes.

The ball of the turn-and-bank indicator provides important trim in the same manner that the ball in the turn coordinator does. Figures 5-18 and 5-19 provide a comparison of the two instruments.

Power Control

Power produces thrust which, with the appropriate angle of attack of the wing, overcomes the forces of gravity, drag, and inertia to determine airplane performance.

Power control must be related to its effect on altitude and airspeed, since any change in power setting results in a change in the airspeed or the altitude of the airplane. At any given airspeed, the power setting determines whether the airplane is in level flight, in a climb, or in a descent. If the power is increased in straight-and-level flight and the airspeed held constant, the airplane climbs. If power is decreased while the airspeed is held constant, the airplane descends. On the other hand, if altitude is held constant, the power applied will determine the airspeed.

Figure 5-20. Airspeed Low and Altitude High—Lower Pitch.

The relationship between altitude and airspeed determines the need for a change in pitch or power. If the airspeed is not the desired value, always check the altimeter before deciding that a power change is necessary. Think of altitude and airspeed as interchangeable; altitude can be traded for airspeed by lowering the nose, or convert airspeed to altitude by raising the nose. If altitude is higher than desired and airspeed is low, or vice versa, a change in pitch alone may return the airplane to the desired altitude and airspeed. [Figure 5-20] If both airspeed and altitude are high or if both are low, then a change in both pitch and power is necessary in order to return to the desired airspeed and altitude. [Figure 5-21]

Figure 5-21. Airspeed and Altitude High—Lower Pitch and Reduce Power.

For changes in airspeed in straight-and-level flight, pitch, bank, and power must be coordinated in order to maintain constant altitude and heading. When power is changed to vary airspeed in straight-and-level flight, a single-engine, propeller-driven airplane tends to change attitude around all axes of movement. Therefore, to maintain constant altitude and heading, apply various control pressures in proportion to the change in power. When power is added to increase airspeed, the pitch instruments indicate a climb unless forward elevator control pressure is applied as the airspeed changes. With an increase in power, the airplane tends to yaw and roll to the left unless counteracting aileron and rudder pressures are applied. Keeping ahead of these changes requires increasing cross-check speed, which varies with the type of airplane and its torque characteristics, the extent of power and speed change involved.

Power Settings

Power control and airspeed changes are much easier when approximate power settings necessary to maintain various airspeeds in straight-and-level flight are known in advance. However, to change airspeed by any appreciable amount, the common procedure is to underpower or overpower on initial power changes to accelerate the rate of airspeed change. (For small speed changes, or in airplanes that decelerate or accelerate rapidly, overpowering or underpowering is not necessary.)

Figure 5-22. Straight-and-Level Flight (Normal Cruising Speed).

Consider the example of an airplane that requires 23" mercury (Hg) of manifold pressure to maintain a normal cruising airspeed of 120 knots, and 18" Hg of manifold pressure to maintain an airspeed of 100 knots. The reduction in airspeed from 120 knots to 100 knots while maintaining straight-and-level flight is discussed below and illustrated in Figures 5-22, 5-23, and 5-24.

Figure 5-23. Straight-and-Level Flight (Airspeed Decreasing).

Figure 5-24. Straight-and-Level Flight (Reduced Airspeed Stabilized).

Instrument indications, prior to the power reduction, are shown in Figure 5-22. The basic attitude is established and maintained on the attitude indicator. The specific pitch, bank, and power control requirements are detected on these primary instruments:

Altimeter—Primary Pitch

Heading Indicator—Primary Bank

Airspeed Indicator—Primary Power

Supporting pitch-and-bank instruments are shown in Figure 5-23. Note that the supporting power instrument is the manifold pressure gauge (or tachometer if the propeller is fixed pitch). However, when a smooth power reduction to approximately 15" Hg (underpower) is made, the manifold pressure gauge becomes the primary power instrument. [Figure 5-23] With practice, power setting can be changed with only a brief glance at the power instrument, by sensing the movement of the throttle, the change in sound, and the changes in the feel of control pressures.

As thrust decreases, increase the speed of the cross-check and be ready to apply left rudder, back-elevator, and aileron control pressure the instant the pitch-and-bank instruments show a deviation from altitude and heading. As proficiency is obtained, a pilot learns to cross-check, interpret, and control the changes with no deviation of heading and altitude. Assuming smooth air and ideal control technique, as airspeed decreases, a proportionate increase in airplane pitch attitude is required to maintain altitude. Similarly, effective torque control means counteracting yaw with rudder pressure.

As the power is reduced, the altimeter is primary for pitch, the heading indicator is primary for bank, and the manifold pressure gauge is momentarily primary for power (at 15" Hg in this example). Control pressures should be trimmed off as the airplane decelerates. As the airspeed approaches the desired airspeed of 100 knots, the manifold pressure is adjusted to approximately 18" Hg and becomes the supporting power instrument. The ASI again becomes primary for power. [Figure 5-24]

Airspeed Changes in Straight-and-Level Flight

Practice of airspeed changes in straight-and-level flight provides an excellent means of developing increased proficiency in all three basic instrument skills, and brings out some common errors to be expected during training in straight-and-level flight. Having learned to control the airplane in a clean configuration (minimum drag conditions), increase proficiency in cross-check and control by practicing speed changes while extending or retracting the flaps and landing gear. While practicing, be sure to comply with the airspeed limitations specified in the POH/AFM for gear and flap operation.

Sudden and exaggerated attitude changes may be necessary in order to maintain straight-and-level flight as the landing gear is extended and the flaps are lowered in some airplanes. The nose tends to pitch down with gear extension, and when flaps are lowered, lift increases momentarily (at partial flap settings) followed by a marked increase in drag as the flaps near maximum extension.

Control technique varies according to the lift and drag characteristics of each airplane. Accordingly, knowledge of the power settings and trim changes associated with different combinations of airspeed, gear and flap configurations will reduce instrument cross-check and interpretation problems.

For example, assume that in straight-and-level flight instruments indicate 120 knots with power at 23" Hg/2,300 revolutions per minute (rpm), gear and flaps up. After reduction in airspeed, with gear and flaps fully extended, straight-and-level flight at the same altitude requires 25" Hg manifold pressure/2,500 rpm. Maximum gear extension speed is 115 knots; maximum flap extension speed is 105 knots. Airspeed reduction to 95 knots, gear and flaps down, can be made in the following manner:

1. Maintain rpm at 2,500, since a high power setting will be used in full drag configuration.

2. Reduce manifold pressure to 10" Hg. As the airspeed decreases, increase cross-check speed.

3. Make trim adjustments for an increased angle of attack and decrease in torque.

4. Lower the gear at 115 knots. The nose may tend to pitch down and the rate of deceleration increases. Increase pitch attitude to maintain constant altitude, and trim off some of the back-elevator pressures. If full flaps are lowered at 105 knots, cross-check, interpretation, and control must be very rapid. A simpler technique is to stabilize attitude with gear down before lowering the flaps.

5. Since 18" Hg manifold pressure will hold level flight at 100 knots with the gear down, increase power smoothly to that setting until the ASI shows approximately 105 knots, and retrim. The attitude indicator now shows approximately two-and-a-half bar width nose-high in straight-and-level flight.

6. Actuate the flap control and simultaneously increase power to the predetermined setting (25" Hg) for the desired airspeed, and trim off the pressures necessary to hold constant altitude and heading. The attitude indicator now shows a bar width nose-low in straight-and-level flight at 95 knots.

Proficiency in straight-and-level flight is attained when a pilot can consistently maintain constant altitude and heading with smooth pitch, bank, power, and trim control during the pronounced changes in aircraft attitude.

Trim Technique

Proper trim technique is essential for smooth and precise aircraft control during all phases of flight. By relieving all control pressures, it is much easier to hold a given attitude constant, and devote more attention to other flight deck duties.

An aircraft is trimmed by applying control pressures to establish a desired attitude, then adjusting the trim so the aircraft will maintain that attitude when the flight controls are released. Trim the aircraft for coordinated flight by centering the ball of the turn-and-slip indicator, by using rudder trim in the direction the ball is displaced from the center. Differential power control on multiengine aircraft is an additional factor affecting coordinated flight. Use balanced power or thrust, when possible, to aid in maintaining coordinated flight.

Changes in attitude, power, or configuration will require a trim adjustment in most cases. Using trim alone to establish a change in aircraft attitude invariably leads to erratic aircraft control. Smooth and precise attitude changes are best attained by a combination of control pressures and trim adjustments. Therefore, when used correctly, trim adjustment is an aid to smooth aircraft control.

Common Errors in Straight-and-Level Flight


Pitch errors usually result from the following faults:

1. Improper adjustment of the attitude indicator’s miniature aircraft to the wings level attitude. Following the initial level off from a climb, check the attitude indicator and make any necessary adjustment in the miniature aircraft for level flight indication at normal cruise airspeed.

2. Insufficient cross-check and interpretation of pitch instruments. For example, the airspeed indication is low. The pilot, believing a nose-high attitude exists, applies forward pressure without noting that a low power setting is the cause of the airspeed discrepancy. Increase cross-check speed to include all relevant instrument indications before making a control input.

3. Uncaging the attitude indicator (if caging feature is present) when the airplane is not in level flight. The altimeter and heading indicator must be stabilized with airspeed indication at normal cruise before pulling out the caging knob, to obtain correct indications in straight-and-level flight at normal cruise airspeed.

4. Failure to interpret the attitude indicator in terms of the existing airspeed.

5. Late pitch corrections. Pilots commonly like to leave well enough alone. When the altimeter indicates a 20 foot error, there is a reluctance to correct it, perhaps because of fear of overcontrolling. If overcontrolling is the anticipated error, practice small corrections and find the cause of overcontrolling. If any deviation is tolerated, errors will increase.

6. Chasing the vertical speed indications. This tendency can be corrected by proper cross-check of other pitch instruments, as well as by increasing overall understanding of instrument characteristics.

7. Using excessive pitch corrections for the altimeter evaluation. Rushing a pitch correction by making a large pitch change usually aggravates the existing error, saving neither time nor effort.

8. Failure to maintain established pitch corrections, a common error associated with cross-check and trim errors. For example, having established a pitch change to correct an altitude error, there is a tendency to slow down the cross-check, waiting for the airplane to stabilize in the new pitch attitude. To maintain the attitude, continue to cross-check and trim off the pressures.

9. Fixations during cross-check. After initiating a heading correction, for example, there is a tendency to become preoccupied with bank control and miss errors in pitch attitude. Likewise, during an airspeed change, unnecessary gazing at the power instrument is common. A small error in power setting is of less consequence than large altitude and heading errors. The airplane will not decelerate any faster by staring at the manifold pressure gauge.


Heading errors usually result from the following faults:

1. Failure to cross-check the heading indicator, especially during changes in power or pitch attitude.

2. Misinterpretation of changes in heading, with resulting corrections in the wrong direction.

3. Failure to note and remember a preselected heading.

4. Failure to observe the rate of heading change and its relation to bank attitude.

5. Overcontrolling in response to heading changes, especially during changes in power settings.

6. Anticipating heading changes with premature application of rudder control.

7. Failure to correct small heading deviations. Unless zero error in heading is the goal, a pilot will tolerate larger and larger deviations. Correction of a 1° error takes a lot less time and concentration than correction of a 20° error.

8. Correcting with improper bank attitude. If correcting a 10° heading error with 20° of bank, the airplane will roll past the desired heading before the bank is established, requiring another correction in the opposite direction. Do not multiply existing errors with errors in corrective technique.

9. Failure to note the cause of a previous heading error and thus repeating the same error. For example, the airplane is out of trim, with a left wing low tendency. Repeated corrections for a slight left turn are made, yet trim is ignored.

10. Failure to set the heading indicator properly or failure to uncage it.


Power errors usually result from the following faults:

1. Failure to know the power settings and pitch attitudes appropriate to various airspeeds and airplane configurations.

2. Abrupt use of throttle.

3. Failure to lead the airspeed when making power changes. For example, during airspeed reduction in level flight, especially with gear and flaps extended, adjust the throttle to maintain the slower speed before the airspeed actually reaches the desired speed. Otherwise, the airplane will decelerate to a speed lower than that desired, resulting in additional power adjustments. The amount of lead depends upon how fast the airplane responds to power changes.

4. Fixation on airspeed or manifold pressure instruments during airspeed changes, resulting in erratic control of both airspeed and power.


Trim errors usually result from the following faults:

1. Improper adjustment of seat or rudder pedals for comfortable position of legs and feet. Tension in the ankles makes it difficult to relax rudder pressures.

2. Confusion about the operation of trim devices, which differ among various airplane types. Some trim wheels are aligned appropriately with the airplane’s axes; others are not. Some rotate in a direction contrary to what is expected.

3. Faulty sequence in trim technique. Trim should be used not as a substitute for control with the wheel (stick) and rudders, but to relieve pressures already held to stabilize attitude. As proficiency is gained, little conscious effort will be required to trim off the pressures as they occur.

4. Excessive trim control. This induces control pressures that must be held until the airplane is trimmed properly. Use trim frequently and in small amounts.

5. Failure to understand the cause of trim changes. Lack of understanding the basic aerodynamics related to basic instrument skills will cause a pilot to continually lag behind the airplane.

Straight Climbs and Descents


For a given power setting and load condition, there is only one attitude that will give the most efficient rate of climb. The airspeed and climb power setting that will determine this climb attitude are given in the performance data found in the POH/AFM. Details of the technique for entering a climb vary according to airspeed on entry and the type of climb (constant airspeed or constant rate) desired. (Heading and trim control are maintained as discussed in Straight-and-Level Flight.)


To enter a constant-airspeed climb from cruising airspeed, raise the miniature aircraft to the approximate nose-high indication for the predetermined climb speed. The attitude will vary according to the type of airplane. Apply light back-elevator pressure to initiate and maintain the climb attitude. The pressures will vary as the airplane decelerates. Power may be advanced to the climb power setting simultaneously with the pitch change, or after the pitch change is established and the airspeed approaches climb speed. If the transition from level flight to climb is smooth, the VSI will show an immediate trend upward, continue to move slowly, and then stop at a rate appropriate to the stabilized airspeed and attitude. (Primary and supporting instruments for the climb entry are shown in Figure 5-25.)

Figure 5-25. Climb Entry for Constant Airspeed Climb.

Once the airplane stabilizes at a constant airspeed and attitude, the ASI is primary for pitch and the heading indicator remains primary for bank. [Figure 5-26] Monitor the tachometer or manifold pressure gauge as the primary power instrument to ensure the proper climb power setting is being maintained. If the climb attitude is correct for the power setting selected, the airspeed will stabilize at the desired speed. If the airspeed is low or high, make an appropriately small pitch correction.

Figure 5-26. Stabilized Climb at Constant Airspeed.

To enter a constant airspeed climb, first complete the airspeed reduction from cruise airspeed to climb speed in straight-and-level flight. The climb entry is then identical to entry from cruising airspeed, except that power must be increased simultaneously to the climb setting as the pitch attitude is increased. Climb entries on partial panel are more easily and accurately controlled if entering the maneuver from climbing speed.

The technique for entering a constant rate climb is very similar to that used for entry to a constant-airspeed climb from climb airspeed. As the power is increased to the approximate setting for the desired rate, simultaneously raise the miniature aircraft to the climbing attitude for the desired airspeed and rate of climb. As the power is increased, the ASI is primary for pitch control until the vertical speed approaches the desired value. As the vertical speed needle stabilizes, it becomes primary for pitch control and the ASI becomes primary for power control. [Figure 5-27]

Figure 5-27. Stabilized Climb at Constant Rate.

Pitch and power corrections must be promptly and closely coordinated. For example, if the vertical speed is correct, but the airspeed is low, add power. As the power is increased, the miniature aircraft must be lowered slightly to maintain constant vertical speed. If the vertical speed is high and the airspeed is low, lower the miniature aircraft slightly and note the increase in airspeed to determine whether or not a power change is also necessary. [Figure 5-28] Familiarity with the approximate power settings helps to keep pitch and power corrections at a minimum.

Figure 5-28. Airspeed Low and Vertical Speed High—Reduce Pitch.

Leveling Off

To level off from a climb and maintain an altitude, it is necessary to start the level off before reaching the desired altitude. The amount of lead varies with rate of climb and pilot technique. If the airplane is climbing at 1,000 fpm, it will continue to climb at a decreasing rate throughout the transition to level flight. An effective practice is to lead the altitude by 10 percent of the vertical speed shown (500 fpm/ 50-foot lead, 1,000 fpm/100-foot lead).

To level off at cruising airspeed, apply smooth, steady forward-elevator pressure toward level flight attitude for the speed desired. As the attitude indicator shows the pitch change, the vertical speed needle will move slowly toward zero, the altimeter needle will move more slowly, and the airspeed will show acceleration. [Figure 5-29] When the altimeter, attitude indicator, and VSI show level flight, constant changes in pitch and torque control will have to be made as the airspeed increases. As the airspeed approaches cruising speed, reduce power to the cruise setting. The amount of lead depends upon the rate of acceleration of the airplane.

Figure 5-29. Level Off at Cruising Speed.

To level off at climbing airspeed, lower the nose to the pitch attitude appropriate to that airspeed in level flight. Power is simultaneously reduced to the setting for that airspeed as the pitch attitude is lowered. If power reduction is at a rate proportionate to the pitch change, airspeed will remain constant.


A descent can be made at a variety of airspeeds and attitudes by reducing power, adding drag, and lowering the nose to a predetermined attitude. The airspeed will eventually stabilize at a constant value. Meanwhile, the only flight instrument providing a positive attitude reference, is the attitude indicator. Without the attitude indicator (such as during a partial panel descent), the ASI, the altimeter, and the VSI will show varying rates of change until the airplane decelerates to a constant airspeed at a constant attitude. During the transition, changes in control pressure and trim, as well as cross-check and interpretation, must be accurate to maintain positive control.


The following method for entering descents is effective with or without an attitude indicator. First, reduce airspeed to a selected descent airspeed while maintaining straight-and-level flight, then make a further reduction in power (to a predetermined setting). As the power is adjusted, simultaneously lower the nose to maintain constant airspeed, and trim off control pressures.

During a constant airspeed descent, any deviation from the desired airspeed calls for a pitch adjustment. For a constant rate descent, the entry is the same, but the VSI is primary for pitch control (after it stabilizes near the desired rate), and the ASI is primary for power control. Pitch and power must be closely coordinated when corrections are made, as they are in climbs. [Figure 5-30]

Figure 5-30. Constant Airspeed Descent, Airspeed High—Reduce Power.

Leveling Off

The level off from a descent must be started before reaching the desired altitude. The amount of lead depends upon the rate of descent and control technique. With too little lead, the airplane will tend to overshoot the selected altitude unless technique is rapid. Assuming a 500 fpm rate of descent, lead the altitude by 100–150 feet for a level off at an airspeed higher than descending speed. At the lead point, add power to the appropriate level flight cruise setting. [Figure 5-31] Since the nose will tend to rise as the airspeed increases, hold forward elevator pressure to maintain the vertical speed at the descending rate until approximately 50 feet above the altitude, and then smoothly adjust the pitch attitude to the level flight attitude for the airspeed selected.

Figure 5-31. Level Off Airspeed Higher Than Descent Airspeed.

To level off from a descent at descent airspeed, lead the desired altitude by approximately 50 feet, simultaneously adjusting the pitch attitude to level flight and adding power to a setting that will hold the airspeed constant. [Figure 5-32] Trim off the control pressures and continue with the normal straight-and-level flight cross-check.

Figure 5-32. Level Off at Descent Airspeed.

Common Errors in Straight Climbs and Descents

Common errors result from the following faults:

1. Overcontrolling pitch on climb entry. Until the pitch attitudes related to specific power settings used in climbs and descents are known, larger than necessary pitch adjustments are made. One of the most difficult habits to acquire during instrument training is to restrain the impulse to disturb a flight attitude until the result is known. Overcome the inclination to make a large control movement for a pitch change, and learn to apply small control pressures smoothly, cross-checking rapidly for the results of the change, and continuing with the pressures as instruments show the desired results. Small pitch changes can be easily controlled, stopped, and corrected; large changes are more difficult to control.

2. Failure to vary the rate of cross-check during speed, power, or attitude changes or climb or descent entries.

3. Failure to maintain a new pitch attitude. For example, raising the nose to the correct climb attitude, and as the airspeed decreases, either overcontrol and further increase the pitch attitude, or allow the nose to lower. As control pressures change with airspeed changes, cross-check must be increased and pressures readjusted.

4. Failure to trim off pressures. Unless the airplane is trimmed, there will be difficulty in determining whether control pressure changes are induced by aerodynamic changes or by the pilot’s own movements.

5. Failure to learn and use proper power settings.

6. Failure to cross-check both airspeed and vertical speed before making pitch or power adjustments.

7. Improper pitch and power coordination on slow-speed level offs, due to slow cross-check of airspeed and altimeter indications.

8. Failure to cross-check the VSI against the other pitch control instruments, resulting in chasing the vertical speed.

9. Failure to note the rate of climb or descent to determine the lead for level offs, resulting in overshooting or undershooting the desired altitude.

10. Ballooning (allowing the nose to pitch up) on level offs from descents, resulting from failure to maintain descending attitude with forward-elevator pressure as power is increased to the level flight cruise setting.

11. Failure to recognize the approaching straight-and-level flight indications as level off is completed. Maintain an accelerated cross-check until positively established in straight-and-level flight.


Standard Rate Turns

A standard rate turn is one in which the pilot will do a complete 360° circle in two minutes, or 3° per second. A standard rate turn, although always 3° per second, will require higher angles of bank as airspeed increases. To enter a standard rate level turn, apply coordinated aileron and rudder pressures in the desired direction of turn. Pilots commonly roll into turns at a much too rapid rate. During initial training in turns, base control pressures on the rate of cross-check and interpretation. Maneuvering an airplane faster than the capability to keep up with the changes in instrument indications only creates the need to make corrections.

A rule of thumb to determine the approximate angle of bank required for a standard rate turn is to use 15 percent of the true airspeed. A simple way to determine this amount is to divide the airspeed by 10 and add one-half the result. For example, at 100 knots, approximately 15° of bank is required (100 ÷ 10 = 10 + 5 = 15); at 120 knots, approximately 18° of bank is needed for a standard rate turn.

On the roll-in, use the attitude indicator to establish the approximate angle of bank, and then check the turn coordinator’s miniature aircraft for a standard rate turn indication or the aircraft’s turn-and-bank indicator. Maintain the bank for this rate of turn, using the turn coordinator’s miniature aircraft as the primary bank reference and the attitude indicator as the supporting bank instrument. [Figure 5-33] Note the exact angle of bank shown on the banking scale of the attitude indicator when the turn coordinator indicates a standard rate turn.

Figure 5-33. Standard Rate Turn, Constant Airspeed.

During the roll-in, check the altimeter, VSI, and attitude indicator for the necessary pitch adjustments as the vertical lift component decreases with an increase in bank. If constant airspeed is to be maintained, the ASI becomes primary for power, and the throttle must be adjusted as drag increases. As the bank is established, trim off the pressures applied during pitch and power changes.

To recover to straight-and-level flight, apply coordinated aileron and rudder pressures opposite to the direction of the turn. Strive for the same rate of roll-out used to roll into the turn; fewer problems will be encountered in estimating the lead necessary for roll-out on exact headings, especially on partial panel maneuvers. Upon initiation of the turn recovery, the attitude indicator becomes the primary bank instrument. When the airplane is approximately level, the heading indicator is the primary bank instrument as in straight-and-level flight. Pitch, power, and trim adjustments are made as changes in vertical lift component and airspeed occur. The ball should be checked throughout the turn, especially if control pressures are held rather than trimmed off.

Some airplanes are very stable during turns, requiring only slight trim adjustments that permit hands-off flight while the airplane remains in the established attitude. Other airplanes require constant, rapid cross-check and control during turns to correct overbanking tendencies. Due to the interrelationship of pitch, bank, and airspeed deviations during turns, cross-check must be fast in order to prevent an accumulation of errors.

Turns to Predetermined Headings

As long as an airplane is in a coordinated bank, it continues to turn. Thus, the roll-out to a desired heading must be started before the heading is reached. The amount of lead varies with the relationship between the rate of turn, angle of bank, and rate of recovery. For small heading changes, use a bank angle that does not exceed the number of degrees to be turned. Lead the desired heading by one-half the number of degrees of bank used. For example, if a 10° bank is used during a change in heading, start the roll-out 5° before reaching the desired heading. For larger changes in heading, the amount of lead varies since the angle of bank for a standard rate turn varies with the true airspeed.

Practice with a lead of one-half the angle of bank until the precise lead a given technique requires is determined. If rates of roll-in and roll-out are consistent, the precise amount of lead suitable to a particular roll-out technique can be determined.

Timed Turns

A timed turn is a turn in which the clock and the turn coordinator are used to change heading by a specific number of degrees in a given time. For example, in a standard rate turn (3° per second), an airplane turns 45° in 15 seconds; in a half standard rate turn, the airplane turns 45° in 30 seconds.

Figure 5-34. Turn Coordinator Calibration.

Prior to performing timed turns, the turn coordinator should be calibrated to determine the accuracy of its indications. [Figure 5-34] Establish a standard rate turn as indicated by the turn coordinator, and as the sweep-second hand of the clock passes a cardinal point (12, 3, 6, 9), check the heading on the heading indicator. While holding the indicated rate of turn constant, note the indicated heading changes at 10 second intervals. If the airplane turns more than or less than 30° in that interval, a respectively larger or smaller deflection of the miniature aircraft of the turn coordinator is necessary to produce a standard rate turn. After calibrating the turn coordinator during turns in each direction, note the corrected deflections, if any, and apply them during all timed turns.

The same cross-check and control technique is used in making a timed turn that is used to execute turns to predetermined headings, except the clock is substituted for the heading indicator. The miniature aircraft of the turn coordinator is primary for bank control, the altimeter is primary for pitch control, and the ASI is primary for power control. Start the roll-in when the clock’s second hand passes a cardinal point, hold the turn at the calibrated standard rate indication (or half-standard rate for small heading changes), and begin the roll-out when the computed number of seconds has elapsed. If the rates of roll-in and roll-out are the same, the time taken during entry and recovery does not need to be considered in the time computation.

Practice timed turns with a full instrument panel and check the heading indicator for the accuracy of turns. If the turns are executed without the gyro heading indicator, use the magnetic compass at the completion of the turn to check turn accuracy, taking compass deviation errors into consideration.

Compass Turns

In most small airplanes, the magnetic compass is the only direction-indicating instrument independent of other airplane instruments and power sources. Because of its operating characteristics, called compass errors, pilots are prone to use it only as a reference for setting the heading indicator, but knowledge of magnetic compass characteristics permits full use of the instrument to turn the airplane to correct and maintain headings.

Remember the following points when making turns to magnetic compass headings or when using the magnetic compass as a reference for setting the heading indicator:

1. If on a north heading and a turn is started to the east or west, the compass indication lags, or indicates a turn in the opposite direction.

2. If on a south heading and a turn is started toward the east or west, the compass indication precedes the turn, indicating a greater amount of turn than is actually occurring.

3. When on an east or west heading, the compass indicates correctly when starting a turn in either direction.

4. If on an east or west heading, acceleration results in a north turn indication; deceleration results in a south turn indication.

5. When maintaining a north or south heading, no error results from diving, climbing, or changing airspeed.

With an angle of bank between 15° and 18°, the amount of lead or lag to be used when turning to northerly or southerly headings varies with, and is approximately equal to, the latitude of the locality over which the turn is being made. When turning to a heading of north, the lead for roll-out must include the number of degrees of change of latitude, plus the lead normally used in recovery from turns. During a turn to a south heading, maintain the turn until the compass passes south the number of degrees of latitude, minus normal roll-out lead. [Figure 5-35]

Figure 5-35. North and South Turn Error.

For example, when turning from an easterly direction to north, where the latitude is 30°, start the roll-out when the compass reads 37° (30° plus one-half the 15° angle of bank, or whatever amount is appropriate for the rate of roll-out). When turning from an easterly direction to south, start the roll-out when the magnetic compass reads 203° (180° plus 30° minus one-half the angle of bank). When making similar turns from a westerly direction, the appropriate points at which to begin the roll-out would be 323° for a turn to north, and 157° for a turn to south.

When turning to a heading of east or west from a northerly direction, start the roll-out approximately 10° to 12° before the east or west indication is reached. When turning to an east or west heading from a southerly direction, start the rollout approximately 5° before the east or west indication is reached. When turning to other headings, the lead or lag must be interpolated.

Abrupt changes in attitude or airspeed and the resulting erratic movements of the compass card make accurate interpretations of the instrument very difficult. Proficiency in compass turns depends on knowledge of compass characteristics, smooth control technique, and accurate bank-and-pitch control.

Steep Turns

For purposes of instrument flight training in conventional airplanes, any turn greater than a standard rate is considered steep. [Figure 5-36] 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 5-36. 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.

Figure 5-37. Diving Spiral.

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 5-37] Immediately shallow the bank with smooth and coordinated aileron and rudder pressures, hold or slightly relax elevator pressure, and increase the cross-check of the attitude indicator, altimeter, and VSI. Reduce power if the airspeed increase is rapid. When the vertical speed trends upward, the altimeter needle will move 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.

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 will also contribute 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.

Figure 5-38. Change of Airspeed During Turn.

Two methods of changing airspeed in turns may be used. In the first method, airspeed is changed after the turn is established. [Figure 5-38] 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 cross-check 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. 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.

Common Errors in Turns


Pitch errors result from the following faults:

1. Preoccupation with bank control during turn entry and recovery. If 5 seconds are required to roll into a turn, check the pitch instruments as bank pressures are initiated. If bank control pressure and rate of bank change are consistent, a sense of the time required for an attitude change will be developed. During the interval, check pitch, power, and trim—as well as bank—controlling the total attitude instead of one factor at a time.

2. Failure to understand or remember the need for changing the pitch attitude as the vertical lift component changes, resulting in consistent loss of altitude during entries.

3. Changing the pitch attitude before it is necessary. This fault is very likely if a cross-check is slow and rate of entry too rapid. The error occurs during the turn entry due to a mechanical and premature application of back-elevator control pressure.

4. Overcontrolling the pitch changes. This fault commonly occurs with the previous error.

5. Failure to properly adjust the pitch attitude as the vertical lift component increases during the roll-out, resulting in consistent gain in altitude on recovery to headings.

6. Failure to trim during turn entry and following turn recovery (if turn is prolonged).

7. Failure to maintain straight-and-level cross-check after roll-out. This error commonly follows a perfectly executed turn.

8. Erratic rates of bank change on entry and recovery, resulting from failure to cross-check the pitch instruments with a consistent technique appropriate to the changes in lift.


Bank and heading errors result from the following faults:

1. Overcontrolling, resulting in overbanking upon turn entry, overshooting and undershooting headings, as well as aggravated pitch, airspeed, and trim errors.

2. Fixation on a single bank instrument. On a 90° change of heading, for example, leave the heading indicator out of the cross-check for approximately 20 seconds after establishing a standard rate turn, since at 3° per second the turn will not approach the lead point until that time has elapsed. Make the cross-check selective, checking only what needs to be checked at the appropriate time.

3. Failure to check for precession of the horizon bar following recovery from a turn. If the heading indicator shows a change in heading when the attitude indicator shows level flight, the airplane is turning. If the ball is centered, the attitude gyro has precessed; if the ball is not centered, the airplane may be in a slipping or skidding turn. Center the ball with rudder pressure, check the attitude indicator and heading indicator, stop the heading change if it continues, and retrim.

4. Failure to use the proper degree of bank for the amount of heading change desired. Rolling into a 20° bank for a heading change of 10° will normally overshoot the heading. Use the bank attitude appropriate to the amount of heading change desired.

5. Failure to remember the heading to which the aircraft is being turned. This fault is likely when rushing the maneuver.

6. Turning in the wrong direction, due to misreading or misinterpreting the heading indicator, or to confusion regarding the location of points on the compass. Turn in the shortest direction to reach a given heading, unless there is a specific reason to turn the long way around. Study the compass rose and visualize at least the positions of the eight major points around the azimuth. A number of methods can be used to make quick computations for heading changes. For example, to turn from a heading of 305° to a heading of 110°, would a pilot turn right or left for the shortest way around? Subtracting 200 from 305 and adding 20, gives 125° as the reciprocal of 305°; therefore, execute the turn to the right. Likewise, to figure the reciprocal of a heading less than 180°, add 200 and subtract 20. Computations are done more quickly using multiples of 100s and 10s than by adding or subtracting 180° from the actual heading; therefore, the method suggested above may save time and confusion.

7. Failure to check the ball of the turn coordinator when interpreting the instrument for bank information. If the roll rate is reduced to zero, the miniature aircraft of the turn coordinator indicates only direction and rate of turn. Unless the ball is centered, do not assume the turn is resulting from a banked attitude.


Power and airspeed errors result from the following faults:

1. Failure to cross-check the ASI as pitch changes are made.

2. Erratic use of power control. This may be due to improper throttle friction control, inaccurate throttle settings, chasing the airspeed readings, abrupt or overcontrolled pitch-and-bank changes, or failure to recheck the airspeed to note the effect of a power adjustment.

3. Poor coordination of throttle control with pitch-and-bank changes, associated with slow cross-check or failure to understand the aerodynamic factors related to turns.


Trim errors result from the following faults:

1. Failure to recognize the need for a trim change due to slow cross-check and interpretation. For example, a turn entry at a rate too rapid for a cross-check leads to confusion in cross-check and interpretation, with resulting tension on the controls.

2. Failure to understand the relationship between trim and attitude/power changes.

3. Chasing the vertical speed needle. Overcontrolling leads to tension and prevents sensing the pressures to be trimmed off.

4. Failure to trim following power changes.

Errors During Compass Turns

In addition to the faults discussed above, the following errors connected with compass turns should be noted:

1. Faulty understanding or computation of lead and lag.

2. Fixation on the compass during the roll-out. Until the airplane is in straight-and-level unaccelerated flight, it is unnecessary to read the indicated heading. Accordingly, after the roll-out, cross-check for straight-and-level flight before checking the accuracy of the turn.

Approach to Stall

Practicing approach to stall recoveries in various airplane configurations should build confidence in a pilot’s ability to control the airplane in unexpected situations. Approach to stall should be practiced from straight flight and from shallow banks. The objective is to practice recognition and recovery from the approach to a stall.

Prior to stall recovery practice, select a safe altitude above the terrain, an area free of conflicting air traffic, appropriate weather, and the availability of radar traffic advisory service.

Approaches to stalls are accomplished in the following configurations:

1. Takeoff configuration—should begin from level flight near liftoff speed. Power should be applied while simultaneously increasing the angle of attack to induce an indication of a stall.

2. Clean configuration—should begin from a reduced airspeed, such as pattern airspeed, in level flight. Power should be applied while simultaneously increasing the angle of attack to induce an indication of a stall.

3. Approach or landing configuration—should be initiated at the appropriate approach or landing airspeed. The angle of attack should be smoothly increased to induce an indication of a stall.

Recoveries should be prompt in response to a stall warning device or an aerodynamic indication by smoothly reducing the angle of attack and applying maximum power, or as recommended by the POH/AFM. The recovery should be completed without an excessive loss of altitude, and on a predetermined heading, altitude, and airspeed.

Unusual Attitudes and Recoveries

An unusual attitude is an airplane attitude not normally required for instrument flight. Unusual attitudes may result from a number of conditions, such as turbulence, disorientation, instrument failure, confusion, preoccupation with flight deck duties, carelessness in cross-checking, errors in instrument interpretation, or lack of proficiency in aircraft control. Since unusual attitudes are not intentional maneuvers during instrument flight, except in training, they are often unexpected, and the reaction of an inexperienced or inadequately trained pilot to an unexpected abnormal flight attitude is usually instinctive rather than intelligent and deliberate. This individual reacts with abrupt muscular effort, which is purposeless and even hazardous in turbulent conditions, at excessive speeds, or at low altitudes. However, with practice, the techniques for rapid and safe recovery from unusual attitudes can be mastered.

When an unusual attitude is noted during the cross-check, the immediate problem is not how the airplane got there, but what it is doing and how to get it back to straight-and-level flight as quickly as possible.

Recognizing Unusual Attitudes

As a general rule, any time an instrument rate of movement or indication other than those associated with the basic instrument flight maneuvers is noted, assume an unusual attitude and increase the speed of cross-check to confirm the attitude, instrument error, or instrument malfunction.

Figure 5-39. Unusual Attitude—Nose-High.

Nose-high attitudes are shown by the rate and direction of movement of the altimeter needle, vertical speed needle, and airspeed needle, as well as the immediately recognizable indication of the attitude indicator (except in extreme attitudes). [Figure 5-39] Nose-low attitudes are shown by the same instruments, but in the opposite direction. [Figure 5-40]

Figure 5-40. Unusual Attitude—Nose-Low.

Recovery from Unusual Attitudes

In moderate unusual attitudes, the pilot can normally reorient by establishing a level flight indication on the attitude indicator. However, the pilot should not depend on this instrument if the attitude indicator is the spillable type, because its upset limits may have been exceeded or it may have become inoperative due to mechanical malfunction. If it is the nonspillable-type instrument and is operating properly, errors up to 5° of pitch-and-bank may result and its indications are very difficult to interpret in extreme attitudes. As soon as the unusual attitude is detected, the recommended recovery procedures stated in the POH/AFM should be initiated. If there are no recommended procedures stated in the POH/AFM, the recovery should be initiated by reference to the ASI, altimeter, VSI, and turn coordinator.

Nose-High Attitudes

If the airspeed is decreasing, or below the desired airspeed, increase power (as necessary in proportion to the observed deceleration), apply forward elevator pressure to lower the nose and prevent a stall, and correct the bank by applying coordinated aileron and rudder pressure to level the miniature aircraft and center the ball of the turn coordinator. The corrective control applications are made almost simultaneously, but in the sequence given above. A level pitch attitude is indicated by the reversal and stabilization of the ASI and altimeter needles. Straight coordinated flight is indicated by the level miniature aircraft and centered ball of the turn coordinator.

Nose-Low Attitudes

If the airspeed is increasing, or is above the desired airspeed, reduce power to prevent excessive airspeed and loss of altitude. Correct the bank attitude with coordinated aileron and rudder pressure to straight flight by referring to the turn coordinator. Raise the nose to level flight attitude by applying smooth back elevator pressure. All components of control should be changed simultaneously for a smooth, proficient recovery. However, during initial training a positive, confident recovery should be made by the numbers, in the sequence given above. A very important point to remember is that the instinctive reaction to a nose-down attitude is to pull back on the elevator control.

After initial control has been applied, continue with a fast cross-check for possible overcontrolling, since the necessary initial control pressures may be large. As the rate of movement of altimeter and ASI needles decreases, the attitude is approaching level flight. When the needles stop and reverse direction, the aircraft is passing through level flight. As the indications of the ASI, altimeter, and turn coordinator stabilize, incorporate the attitude indicator into the cross-check.

The attitude indicator and turn coordinator should be checked to determine bank attitude and then corrective aileron and rudder pressures should be applied. The ball should be centered. If it is not, skidding and slipping sensations can easily aggravate disorientation and retard recovery. If entering the unusual attitude from an assigned altitude (either by an instructor or by air traffic control (ATC) if operating under instrument flight rules (IFR)), return to the original altitude after stabilizing in straight-and-level flight.

Common Errors in Unusual Attitudes

Common errors associated with unusual attitudes include the following faults:

1. Failure to keep the airplane properly trimmed. A flight deck interruption when holding pressures can easily lead to inadvertent entry into unusual attitudes.

2 Disorganized flight deck. Hunting for charts, logs, computers, etc., can seriously distract attention from the instruments.

3. Slow cross-check and fixations. The impulse is to stop and stare when noting an instrument discrepancy unless a pilot has trained enough to develop the skill required for immediate recognition.

4. Attempting to recover by sensory sensations other than sight. The discussion of disorientation in Chapter 1, Human Factors, indicates the importance of trusting the instruments.

5. Failure to practice basic instrument skills. All of the errors noted in connection with basic instrument skills are aggravated during unusual attitude recoveries until the elementary skills have been mastered. 

Instrument Takeoff

Competency in instrument takeoffs will provide the proficiency and confidence necessary for use of flight instruments during departures under conditions of low visibility, rain, low ceilings, or disorientation at night. A sudden rapid transition from “visual” to “instrument” flight can result in serious disorientation and control problems.

Instrument takeoff techniques vary with different types of airplanes, but the method described below is applicable whether the airplane is single- or multiengine; tricycle gear or conventional gear.

Align the airplane with the centerline of the runway with the nosewheel or tailwheel straight. Lock the tailwheel, if so equipped, and hold the brakes firmly to avoid creeping while preparing for takeoff. Set the heading indicator with the nose index on the 5° mark nearest the published runway heading to allow instant detection of slight changes in heading during the takeoff. Make certain that the instrument is uncaged (if it has a caging feature) by rotating the knob after uncaging and checking for constant heading indication. If using an electric heading indicator with a rotatable needle, rotate the needle so that it points to the nose position, under the top index. Advance the throttle to an rpm that will provide partial rudder control. Release the brakes, advancing the power smoothly to takeoff setting.

During the takeoff roll, hold the heading constant on the heading indicator by using the rudder. In multiengine, propeller-driven airplanes, also use differential throttle to maintain direction. The use of brakes should be avoided, except as a last resort, as it usually results in overcontrolling and extending the takeoff roll. Once the brakes are released, any deviation in heading must be corrected instantly.

As the airplane accelerates, cross-check both heading indicator and ASI rapidly. The attitude indicator may precess to a slight nose-up attitude. As flying speed is approached (approximately 15–25 knots below takeoff speed), smoothly apply elevator control for the desired takeoff attitude on the attitude indicator. This is approximately a two bar width climb indication for most small airplanes.

Continue with a rapid cross-check of heading indicator and attitude indicator as the airplane leaves the ground. Do not pull it off; let it fly off while holding the selected attitude constant. Maintain pitch-and-bank control by referencing the attitude indicator, and make coordinated corrections in heading when indicated on the heading indicator. Cross-check the altimeter and VSI for a positive rate of climb (steady clockwise rotation of the altimeter needle, and the VSI showing a stable rate of climb appropriate to the airplane).

When the altimeter shows a safe altitude (approximately 100 feet), raise the landing gear and flaps, maintaining attitude by referencing the attitude indicator. Because of control pressure changes during gear and flap operation, overcontrolling is likely unless the pilot notes pitch indications accurately and quickly. Trim off control pressures necessary to hold the stable climb attitude. Check the altimeter, VSI, and airspeed for a smooth acceleration to the predetermined climb speed (altimeter and airspeed increasing, vertical speed stable). At climb speed, reduce power to climb setting (unless full power is recommended for climb by the POH/AFM and trim).

Throughout the instrument takeoff, cross-check and interpretation must be rapid, and control positive and smooth. During liftoff, gear and flap retraction, power reduction, and the changing control reactions demand rapid cross-check, adjustment of control pressures, and accurate trim changes.

Common Errors in Instrument Takeoffs

Common errors during the instrument takeoff include the following:

1. Failure to perform an adequate flight deck check before the takeoff. Pilots have attempted instrument takeoffs with inoperative airspeed indicators (pitot tube obstructed), gyros caged, controls locked, and numerous other oversights due to haste or carelessness.

2. Improper alignment on the runway. This may result from improper brake application, allowing the airplane to creep after alignment, or from alignment with the nosewheel or tailwheel cocked. In any case, the result is a built-in directional control problem as the takeoff starts.

3. Improper application of power. Abrupt application of power complicates directional control. Add power with a smooth, uninterrupted motion.

4. Improper use of brakes. Incorrect seat or rudder pedal adjustment, with feet in an uncomfortable position, frequently cause inadvertent application of brakes and excessive heading changes.

5. Overcontrolling rudder pedals. This fault may be caused by late recognition of heading changes, tension on the controls, misinterpretation of the heading indicator (and correcting in the wrong direction), failure to appreciate changing effectiveness of rudder control as the aircraft accelerates, and other factors. If heading changes are observed and corrected instantly with small movement of the rudder pedals, swerving tendencies can be reduced.

6. Failure to maintain attitude after becoming airborne. If the pilot reacts to seat-of-the-pants sensations when the airplane lifts off, pitch control is guesswork. The pilot may either allow excessive pitch or apply excessive forward elevator pressure, depending on the reaction to trim changes.

7. Inadequate cross-check. Fixations are likely during trim changes, attitude changes, gear and flap retractions, and power changes. Once an instrument or a control input is applied, continue the cross-check and note the effect during the next cross-check sequence.

8. Inadequate interpretation of instruments. Failure to understand instrument indications immediately indicates that further study of the maneuver is necessary.

Basic Instrument Flight Patterns

Flight patterns are basic maneuvers, flown by sole reference to the instruments rather than outside visual clues, for the purpose of practicing basic attitude flying. The patterns simulate maneuvers encountered on instrument flights such as holding patterns, procedure turns, and approaches.After attaining a reasonable degree of proficiency in basic maneuvers, apply these skills to the various combinations of individual maneuvers. The following practice flight patterns are directly applicable to operational instrument flying.

Racetrack Pattern

1. Time 3 minutes straight-and-level flight from A to B. [Figure 5-41] During this interval, reduce airspeed to the holding speed appropriate for the aircraft.

Figure 5-41. Racetrack Pattern (Entire Pattern in Level Flight).

2. Start a 180° standard rate turn to the right at B. Roll-out at C on the reciprocal of the heading originally used at A.

3. Time a 1 minute straight-and-level flight from C to D.

4. Start a 180° standard rate turn to the right at D, rolling-out on the original heading.

5. Fly 1 minute on the original heading, adjusting the outbound leg so that the inbound segment is 1 minute.

NOTE: This pattern is an exercise combining use of the clock with basic maneuvers.

Procedure Turn

A procedure turn is a maneuver that facilitates:

• A reversal in flight direction.

• A descent from an initial approach fix or assigned altitude to a permissible altitude (usually the procedure turn altitude).

• An interception of the inbound course at a sufficient distance allowing the aircraft to become aligned with the final approach.

Procedure turn types include the 45° turn, the 80/260 turn, and the teardrop turn. All of these turns are normally conducted no more than 10 nautical miles (NM) from the primary airport. The procedure turn altitude generally provides a minimum of 1,000' obstacle clearance in the procedure turn area (not necessarily within the 10 NM arc around the primary airport). Turns may have to be increased or decreased but should not exceed 30° of a bank angle.

Standard 45° Procedure Turn

1. Start timing at point A (usually identified on approach procedures by a fix). For example, fly outbound on a heading of 360° for a given time (2 minutes, in this example). [Figure 5-42]

Figure 5-42. Standard Procedure Turn (Entire Pattern in Level Flight).

2. After flying outbound for 2 minutes (point B), turn left 45° to a heading of 315° using a standard rate turn. After roll-out and stabilizing, fly this new heading of 315° for 40 seconds and the aircraft will be at the approximate position of C.

3. At point C, turn 225° right (using a standard rate turn) which will provide a heading of 180°. The timing is such that in a no wind environment, the pilot will be aligned with the final approach course of 180° at D. Wind conditions, however must be considered during the execution of the procedure turn. Compensating for wind may result in changes to outbound time, procedure turn heading and/or time and minor changes in the inbound turn.

80/260 Procedure Turn

1. Start timing at point A (usually identified on approach procedures by a fix). For example, fly outbound on a heading of 360° for 2 minutes. [Figure 5-43]


Figure 5-43. 80/260 Procedure Turn (Entire Pattern in Level Flight).

2. At B, enter a left standard rate turn of 80° to a heading of 280°.

3. At the completion of the 80° turn to 280° (Point C), immediately turn right 260°, rolling-out on a heading of 180° (Point D) and also the reciprocal of the entry heading.

Teardrop Patterns

There are three typical teardrop procedure turns. A 30°, 20°, and a 10° teardrop pattern. The below steps indicate actions for all three starting on a heading of 360°. [Figure 5-44]

Figure 5-44. Teardrop Pattern (Entire Pattern in Level Flight).

1. At point B (after stabilizing on the outbound course) turn left:

• 30° to a heading of 330° and time for 1 minute

• 20° to a heading of 340° and time for 2 minutes

• 10° to a heading of 350° and time for 3 minutes

2. After the appropriate time above (Point C), make a standard rate turn to the right for:

• 30° teardrop—210° to the final course heading of 180° (Point D)

• 20° teardrop—200° to the final course heading of 180° (Point D)

• 10° teardrop—190° to the final course heading of 180° (Point D)

By using the different teardrop patterns, a pilot is afforded the ability to manage time more efficiently. For instance, a 10° pattern for 3 minutes provides about three times the distance (and time) than a 30° pattern. Pattern selection should be based upon an individual assessment of the procedure turn requirements to include wind, complexity, the individual preparedness, etc.

Circling Approach Patterns

Pattern I

1. At A, start timing for 2 minutes from A to B; reduce airspeed to approach speed. [Figure 5-45]

Figure 5-45. Circling Approach Pattern I (Imaginary Runway).

2. At B, make a standard rate turn to the left for 45°.

3. At the completion of the turn, time for 45 seconds to C.

4. At C, turn to the original heading; fly 1 minute to D, lowering the landing gear and flaps.

5. At D, turn right 180°, rolling-out at E on the reciprocal of the entry heading.

6. At E, enter a 500 fpm rate descent. At the end of a 500 foot descent, enter a straight constant-airspeed climb, retracting gear and flaps.

Pattern II


1. At A, start timing for 2 minutes from A to B; reduce airspeed to approach speed. [Figure 5-46]

Figure 5-46. Circling Approach Pattern II (Imaginary Runway).

2. At B, make a standard rate turn to the left for 45°.

3. At the completion of the turn, time for 1 minute to C.

4. At C, turn right for 180° to D; fly for 1-1/2 minutes to E, lowering the landing gear and flaps.

5. At E, turn right for 180°, rolling-out at F.

6. At F, enter a 500 fpm rate descent. At the end of a 500 foot descent, enter a straight constant-airspeed climb, retracting gear and flaps.