Turns around a point are easy in concept and difficult in execution. What looks to be no more than a turn at low altitude turns out to be an exercise in controlling an airplane in a situation made challenging by ever-changing variables. This speaks to why we do them in the first place—the dexterity involved in expertly guiding an airplane in a concentric circle in a strong wind while maintaining altitude is a fun and interesting challenge. Here’s how they work.
1. Find the right point. This is easier said than done. The point should be prominent, clear of obstacles, and located near a few emergency landing options (just in case). Two country roads that meet at a 90-degree angle work well, as do farm silos and small, isolated, uninhabited structures.
2. Determine the wind direction. Use water, trees, smoke, or corn or wheat fields to do this. (Water is particularly useful because it’s easy to spot the still upwind and choppy downwind indicators.)
3. Enter on the downwind. Always start your circle on a tangent from the downwind, simply because it’s easier to work from steep bank to shallow bank. Aim to be approximately 1,000 feet above the ground and a quarter mile or so from the point you’ve chosen.
4. Fly a circle. The goal of turns around a point is to fly a concentric circle around the point. In a no-wind situation that would simply call for a constant bank angle. But when it’s windy, that angle must vary as shown in the diagram.
5. Divide attention. The difficulty of the maneuver comes as a result of the multitasking that happens in the circle. Pay attention primarily outside the airplane, scanning inside only to verify altitude and, by glancing at the skid/slip ball, that the rudder is properly positioned.
6. Recover. Exit by flying straight and level at the instructor or examiner’s request.