Steep Turns: The Next Goal I Had To Conquer
Updated: Jan 31
Steps to becoming a pilot.
The solo flight was a goal that seemed a long way out of reach for this pilot, and contrary to what many believe, when you reach this portion of your training, you are still a long way from earning your license.
The solo flight is a first step toward the 5 hours of solo flight time required to sign up for your practical test. And this is only one requirement in a whole list of others needed to demonstrate your proficiency in an airplane.
While learning how to fly an airplane, I continually asked myself if I would actually be able to do it. I mean... the list of things I had to accomplish was ginormous! To keep this goal from seeming too overwhelming, I found it best to break the list down into smaller pieces, and work my way through it, just like I outlined in the last post, "My First Solo Flight".
There were so many times I felt that I had flown really great, and it seemed my head would be in the clouds long after the plane was put away. But if there was one thing I was learning about flying, it was you couldn't be overconfident. One great flight seemed to always be followed by a day of crap flying.
Sometimes it was a gusty day that wreaked havoc on my meager skills, which was great for making excuses. At other times it seemed like all conditions were perfect for flying – except for me. It’s not like you can blame your crappy flying on gusty winds when the ASOS (Automates Surface Observing System for airport weather) said the winds were calm.
From day to day to day, you could never plan on things being perfect. So you had to learn to roll with the punches.
The Steep Turn
One of the maneuvers I had to become proficient at in flight training was the steep turn.
To pass my pilot check ride, I had to perform two steep turns, simultaneously, in opposite directions. The rule to carry out this maneuver and be considered proficient is: to complete an EXACT 360 degree circle (within 5 degrees) at a 30-60 degree bank angle, and you could only lose or gain a maximum of 100 feet in altitude. For training purposes, steep turns are demonstrated and practiced at a 45 degree bank, sometimes more.
The bank angle always seemed to feel like 60 degrees or more to me, and it wasn't so easy of a maneuver for someone who gets motion sickness in the backseat of a car.
Dramamine, you say?
Nope! It is not an FAA approved drug for a pilot (or even a trainee) because it causes drowsiness.
Steep turns were, and still are, one of the hardest maneuvers for me. I guess I wouldn’t fair so well in Maverick’s F14A Tomcat even though the loop-de-loops look like a total riot!
During lessons, I’m in the air around 4,000 feet – a nice, safe altitude to practice. I find a dead bug on the windshield that lines up with the horizon, and crank the yoke over to what I feel is an acceptable bank angle and spin that plane like a top. Pulling back on the yoke as the g-forces increase ensures I'm not going to end up in a death dive, and plummet toward the earth.
The whole time I’ve got my eyes trained on the bug guts, lining it up with the earth’s horizon as we spin. On past attempts I have gotten all messed up - the bug guts drifting above and below the horizon until the plane gets waaaayyyy out of wack. But this time, I get the plane completely turned around to the starting point without messing up my altitude, and I straighten out the wings before going past the mark.
After the turn, it seems to take my brains another few seconds to catch back up and I wonder if I’m going to puke right there. The cold sweats begin and I think, yep… I might puke.
My instructor says, “That was great! Now go back the other way.”
I don’t do anything. I just sit there quietly trying to collect myself, while keeping a tight hold on the lunch rolling around in my belly. I reach down for my water bottle and take a slug of the now warm liquid hoping it would help.
“Don’t think about it… you’re fine… keep your shit together,” I tell myself, willing the nausea to go away, and wishing I had a cold washrag to wrap around the back of my neck.
“Quickly now,” my instructor said. “You will have to do both directions without a break for your check ride.”
He doesn’t realize I am having some difficulty.
I close my eyes for a second and the spins begin again. Okay, I think, keep your eyes open at all costs. I reached down and aimed the floor vent up toward my face, wishing I could open a window.
Finally, I said, “You’ve got the controls.”
“What?” David said.
“I might puke,” I groaned. “You’ve got the controls?”
“OH!” he said. “I’ve got the controls!” David grabbed the yoke in the right seat and flew the plane a bit while I got my bearings.
After taking back the controls of the airplane, I asked, “Is it okay if we just fly straight for awhile?”
Man, I’m telling you, that maneuver was tough to learn!
Overcoming the steep turn was a big hurdle for me, but my instructor made me practice it over and over again. I’d practice it for as long as I could take it. Sometimes I did great in both directions, and sometimes I couldn’t make it around one time without dive-bombing the plane or feeling like I would lose my lunch.
With every success, I felt a little closer to finally conquering this maneuver, but it fought me... Every. Single. Time!
One time, my husband came along for my lesson.
We got up to altitude, and the first thing David wanted me to do was a steep turns.
“No…” I complained. “Why do you always ask me to do that first?”
“Because you need the most practice with these. Come on,” he said, “You can do it.”
I now hate the steep turn more than stalls.
Instantly, the sweat coated my palms.
I take a few deep breaths as I wipe my hands on my pant legs. I know I’m stalling, but this maneuver is my nemesis. It haunts my dreams, and wages war on my belly.
“Come on, get it over with,” my instructor pushed.
“You can do it!” my husband encouraged from the back.
“Yeah, yeah…” I grumbled, and yanked the yoke hard over, keeping my eyes pinned on the horizon.
I heard Kurt’s hands hit both sides of the plane to anchor himself in.
A quarter of the way through the maneuver, David said, “That’s 60!”
At this bank angle, we were pulling 2Gs.
Kurt yells, “Don’t lose it!”
“I’m not going to lose it!” I growled. “I’ve got it!” And I did. I had that plane right where I wanted it and my hold was solid.
I pulled it out of the bank right on the dot and straightened out the wings.
David looked surprised, and Kurt gasped in relief of it being over.
“There!” I said, looking over at David. “Now what?”
Life is like that.
Sometimes you’ve got it, and sometimes you don’t. I guess it’s whether or not you keep trying at something no matter how hard it is that tells you what kind of a person you are. That’s the difference between dreaming about what you want, and trying for it.
So what are you going to try for?
Thanks for reading!
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