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Airplane Flying Handbook
Performance Maneuvers
Steep Spiral

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Airplane Flying Handbook


Table of Contents

Chapter 1,Introduction to Flight Training
Chapter 2,Ground Operations
Chapter 3,Basic Flight Maneuvers
Chapter 4, Slow Flight, Stalls, and Spins
Chapter 5, Takeoff and Departure Climbs
Chapter 6, Ground Reference Maneuvers
Chapter 7, Airport Traffic Patterns
Chapter 8, Approaches and Landings
Chapter 9, Performance Maneuvers
Chapter 10, Night Operations
Chapter 11,Transition to Complex Airplanes
Chapter 12, Transition to Multiengine Airplanes
Chapter 13,Transition to Tailwheel Airplanes
Chapter 14, Transition to Turbo-propeller Powered Airplanes
Chapter 15,Transition to Jet Powered Airplanes
Chapter 16,Emergency Procedures




The objective of this maneuver is to improve pilot
techniques for airspeed control, wind drift control,
planning, orientation, and division of attention. The
steep spiral is not only a valuable flight training
maneuver, but it has practical application in providing
a procedure for dissipating altitude while remaining
over a selected spot in preparation for landing,
especially for emergency forced landings.

A steep spiral is a constant gliding turn, during which a
constant radius around a point on the ground is
maintained similar to the maneuver, turns around a
point. The radius should be such that the steepest bank
will not exceed 60°. Sufficient altitude must be
obtained before starting this maneuver so that the
spiral may be continued through a series of at least
three 360° turns. [Figure 9-2] The maneuver should
not be continued below 1,000 feet above the surface
unless performing an emergency landing in
conjunction with the spiral.

Operating the engine at idle speed for a prolonged
period during the glide may result in excessive engine
cooling or spark plug fouling. The engine should be
cleared periodically by briefly advancing the throttle
to normal cruise power, while adjusting the pitch
attitude to maintain a constant airspeed. Preferably,
this should be done while headed into the wind to
minimize any variation in groundspeed and radius
of turn.

After the throttle is closed and gliding speed is
established, a gliding spiral should be started and a turn
of constant radius maintained around the selected spot
on the ground. This will require correction for wind
drift by steepening the bank on downwind headings

and shallowing the bank on upwind headings, just as in
the maneuver, turns around a point. During the
descending spiral, the pilot must judge the direction
and speed of the wind at different altitudes and make
appropriate changes in the angle of bank to maintain a
uniform radius.

A constant airspeed should also be maintained
throughout the maneuver. Failure to hold the airspeed
constant will cause the radius of turn and necessary
angle of bank to vary excessively. On the downwind
side of the maneuver, the steeper the bank angle, the
lower the pitch attitude must be to maintain a given
airspeed. Conversely, on the upwind side, as the bank
angle becomes shallower, the pitch attitude must be
raised to maintain the proper airspeed. This is
necessary because the airspeed tends to change as the
bank is changed from shallow to steep to shallow.

During practice of the maneuver, the pilot should
execute three turns and roll out toward a definite object
or on a specific heading. During the rollout,
smoothness is essential, and the use of controls must
be so coordinated that no increase or decrease of speed
results when the straight glide is resumed.

Common errors in the performance of steep spirals are:
• Failure to adequately clear the area.
• Failure to maintain constant airspeed.
• Poor coordination, resulting in skidding and/or
• Inadequate wind drift correction.
• Failure to coordinate the controls so that no
increase/decrease in speed results when straight
glide is resumed.
• Failure to scan for other traffic.
• Failure to maintain orientation.

Steep spiral.
Figure 9-2. Steep spiral.