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S-Turns

Perfecting A Required Skill

You can help your student to improve his or her understanding of maneuvering skills by practicing S-turns across a road. This maneuver is a task on the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards (PTS). The maneuver will develop positional awareness, demonstrate corrections required for wind drift, and improve performance for forced landings. This maneuver also is a good preview of the skills required to perform turns around a point - the same skills are involved.

The maneuver is comparatively simple. Have your student pick a road that is perpendicular to the direction of the wind. Cross the road downwind at an altitude of between 600 and 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL). When over the road, make the first turn to the left. Note: The student can start the maneuver either way, but the PTS calls for the first turn to be to the left. The initial bank should be about 45 degrees. Caution - if the 45-degree bank is held too long, it can make the first half-circle too small. The student needs to start the turn and begin reducing the bank to achieve a perfect half-circle. If the student begins to lose altitude in the maneuver, make certain he or she does not pull back on the yoke to increase altitude unless the bank angle is reduced first.

Cross the road going the opposite direction with the wings parallel to the road. Roll from the left bank to a right bank. That bank starts shallow and increases as the circle progresses. Increasing the bank too early will make the half-circle too small. The student should cross the road again with the wings parallel with the road. That completes the S-turn.

The important thing to look for is the student's proper use of wind drift correction so that the same radius half-circle is made on each side of the road.

One very important word of caution regarding this maneuver: Make certain your student does clearing turns before entering the S-turns, and emphasize that the student must divide his or her attention between the ground, the instruments, and the horizon in order to see traffic. Looking at the horizon also helps to maintain a constant altitude.

Make sure that your student is prepared for a forced landing. The PTS says the road or reference line selected for the maneuver must be within gliding distance of a suitable emergency landing site. At 600 feet agl, the aircraft is just about at the altitude it would be if on base leg for a normal landing. Have the student keep that in mind when selecting the road used for S-turns.

By Ken Medley

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