Why practice steep turns? Beyond just passing checkrides, mastering steep turns helps ensure you can maintain complete control (with smoothness and coordination) over the aircraft throughout its flight envelope. This may prove to be useful someday if you need to rapidly maneuver—perhaps to avoid traffic or terrain—without risking stalling the aircraft or rapidly losing altitude
A smoothly executed steep turn involves a continual division of attention between outside references and the instruments in order to ensure all parameters are in check. While your desktop simulator lacks the g-forces you will feel in the real aircraft, it can still help you to develop the scan patterns and conceptual understanding that are vital to mastering the maneuver.
Here’s our suggested activity for you to practice steep turns. We welcome you to practice this solo or head over to book one of our Flight Instructors who will walk you through each step of the activity.
Review: Do you remember what the standards are for bank angle, airspeed, heading, and altitude control? Begin by reviewing the ACS standards (page 35) for the maneuver. Check your POH to determine the recommended entry speed.
Estimating bank angle: The less you can avoid looking inside the aircraft, the better. Instead of having to rely on your attitude indicator, wouldn’t it be great to confidently set the appropriate bank angle simply by looking out the window? You can practice this skill in isolation! Try your best to set a 30-degree bank angle without looking at the attitude indicator (perhaps by zooming and panning your sim view so you can’t see it). Then take a look at the attitude indicator and see how close you came. Repeat the same thing for a 45- and 55-degree bank angle.
45-degree bank: Start the aircraft in the air in an area without terrain (perhaps somewhere in the Midwest US). After performing a clearing turn, do a steep turn at a 45-degree bank angle to the left. If you’re using X-Plane, consider using the Replay Mode to debrief the maneuver and find areas to improve. If you want to restart the maneuver from part-way through, check out our CFI Jesse Ekkerd’s video explaining a hidden feature in X-Plane allowing you to do this. FS2020 also has a replay tool, which you can read about here.
Parallax: Now try doing the same thing, but to the right. Do you notice the relative difference in where the horizon intersects with the instrument panel or engine cowling? This phenomenon is due to the “parallax” from your seating position in the left seat, instead of being along the centerline of the aircraft. Consider taking a screenshot for each direction of the steep turn, so you can compare the sight picture in each direction.
60-degree bank: Try a steep turn with a 60-degree bank angle. What are some of the differences you notice?
Understanding load factor vs. bank angle: If you’re using X-Plane, we suggest outputting some data onto your screen that will help you understand how load factor (how many g’s you are pulling) is affected by bank angle. You can do this in your settings by checking the box shown:
Try your 45 and 60-degree bank angle turns again and compare the load factor shown by X-Plane to the load factor given by a calculator such as this one.
Stall speed vs. bank angle: Did you know that your aircraft’s stall speed increases as the bank angle (and in turn, the load factor) increase? You can understand the concept by trying to stall the aircraft in three scenarios: Straight and level flight, a 45-degree bank turn, and a 60-degree bank turn. Take note of the speed at which the stall warning indicator sounds. You should notice that at a 60-degree bank angle, the stall speed is a whole 41% higher than in level flight!
The effect of terrain on your sight picture: Performing steep turns in areas with more mountainous terrain can be tricky. Instead of your sight picture being the crisp intersection between the horizon and the panel, now you need to contend with mountains obscuring the true horizon line. Head on over to a mountainous area, such as over the S93 airport in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, and see if you can master the maneuver with these visual references.
We wish you luck with your practice session!