Teaching and Learning Flying - Commercial Pilot, Single-Engine Airplane

Steep Spirals


    A steep spiral is a continuous gliding turn around a point. The steep spiral maneuver consists of at least 3 gliding 360° turns around a point with a maximum bank angle of 50° to 55° and recovery toward a definite object or on a specific heading.


  • Relationship to emergency forced landing situation
  • Entry altitude to allow three turns and recovery above minimum safe altitude (1,500 feet AGL); Eg., above 4,500 feet AGL
  • Lights on, CLEAR area with two 90° turns, left and right
  • Mixture rich, prop in high RPM, check carb temp, CHT
  • Maximum bank angle of 50° to 55°


    Commercial Pilot PTS, VI, D
    • Explain performance factors related to steep spirals
    • Select altitude high enough for at least three turns
    • Select suitable ground reference
    • Establish spiral with steepest bank 50° to 55°, at recommended airspeed and specified radius of turn
    • Maintain constant radius in coordinated flight
    • Divide attention among airplane control, planning, flight path, and orientation
    • Maintain constant airspeed +10 kts
    • Recover toward definite object or specific heading which leads into a pattern over an area that could be used for a forced landing


  • To improve pilot techniques for power-off turns, wind drift control, planning, orientation, and division of attention.
  • To provide a practical procedure for dissipating altitude while remaining over a selected spot in preparation for landing, especially for emergency forced landings


  • Review turns around a point, steep turns, engine failure and forced landing procedures
  • Discuss definition, safety factors, tolerances, objectives, and other elements, related to steep spirals
  • Entry technique
    • Appropriate altitude
    • Lights on, CLEAR area
    • Select reference point
    • Mixture rich, prop in high RPM, check carb temp, CHT
    • Throttle to idle, trim for best glide (09T, 80 kts)
    • Downwind, abeam reference point
  • Gliding spiral
    • Bank in desired direction when abeam reference point
    • Correct for wind drift to maintain constant radius from point
    • Maintain constant airspeed (80 kts)
    • Downwind
      • Steepen bank
      • Lower pitch
    • Upwind
      • Shallow bank
      • Raise pitch
    • Clear engine by brief advance of throttle to approx cruise setting
  • Recovery technique
    • Smooth, coordinated rollout toward an object or on a heading
    • Maintain constant airspeed, straight glide
    • May set up landing approach
  • Demonstrate a steep spiral in flight
  • Coach student practice of steep spirals
  • Critique student performance


  • First turn radius too large, subsequent radii smaller
    • Done unconsciously to keep reference in sight
    • Result is gliding around a "cone" instead of the desired "cylinder"
  • Losing the reference in the highest turn
  • Poor pitch and bank control
      Airspeed and bank allowed to increase too much
  • Poor wind drift correction
  • Not completing 1080° of turn (or as directed)
  • Losing track of the number of turns
  • Improper recovery
      Using outside references allows more accurate directional control

Greg Gordon MD, CFII