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Training and Safety Tip: Refining steep turns

A crucial skill for checkride success

One of the common maneuvers that remains a challenge for private and commercial pilot applicants during their checkrides is the steep turn demonstration.

Photo by Mike Fizer.
AOPA Air Safety Institute

Steep turns test a pilot’s ability to control the aircraft smoothly and accurately at high bank angles. This skill is crucial for maintaining control and stability during various flight scenarios and demonstrates a pilot’s understanding of aerodynamics and ability to manage load factors. Safe execution of steep turns requires a thorough understanding of these aerodynamic principles and demands a steady hand at the controls.


During both the private and commercial pilot practical tests, pilots must demonstrate steep turns to a specific standard: Maintain the entry altitude plus or minus 100 feet, airspeed plus or minus 10 knots, and bank angle plus or minus 5 degrees, and roll out within 10 degrees of the entry heading.

Steep turn challenges

The most common error includes pitching up too much, causing an increase in altitude or even a stalling condition. Remember, in a bank, especially a steep one, your stall speed is increasing. This reaction typically happens when a pilot tries to overcompensate for the “drop” of the nose entering the turn. Not holding back pressure in the turn can result in increased airspeed and loss of altitude, causing a deviation from the 100-foot allowed standard in a descent.

Steep turn techniques

Executing a steep turn requires a combination of precise aircraft control, an understanding of aerodynamics, and effective visual scanning techniques. It requires a pilot to properly clear the area to avoid a potential collision and enter the maneuver as outlined in the FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook or the associated airman certification standards or practical test standards—and to do so with an ability to recover the maneuver at least 1,500 feet agl. Steep turns are typically performed at maneuvering speed.

Bank angle control, typically 45 degrees for the private pilot checkride (50 degrees for commercial pilots), requires using aileron inputs to establish and maintain the desired bank angle smoothly and precisely, along with rudder coordination. Pitch and power control avoids altitude or airspeed deviations with a little back pressure on the elevator/stabilator control to maintain altitude. This maneuvering won’t work if the pilot doesn’t maintain coordinated flight.

Getting too hung up inside the aircraft and looking at the panel typically results in pilots “chasing” the pitch or altitude. A steep turn is a VFR look-outside-the-window maneuver. So, look outside! Groove this maneuver and find a good reference point on the cowling related to the wing or strut, or a point in the windshield.

Now, ace that checkride.

Jason Blair
Jason Blair is an active single- and multiengine instructor and an FAA designated pilot examiner with more than 6,000 hours total time, 3,000 hours of instruction given, and 3,000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. As examiner, he has issued more than 2,000 pilot certificates. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes more than 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.
Topics: Student, Flight School
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