Chandelles, Steep Turns and Steep Spirals

After the hectic last few weeks, I suddenly found myself with plenty of free time.  And fortunately enough, so did my instructor.

It was seven years ago, I took my first orientation flight in an Arrow and officially launched my commercial flight training. I was racing against time to complete it with my favorite instructor, who planned to leave the area in four months. I should have known, that four months was not going to be enough. Still I accomplished all my requirements except my night solo flying requirement and mastery of the maneuvers to the required precision.

With a sudden availability of free time, I have re-started my commercial training with double vigor. After three consecutive lessons: one not so good, one tolerable, and one can quickly go to worse, I realized what it was. Stay tuned.

It was a glorious fall day, when armed with  a safety pilot, I set off to practice some steep turns, Chandelles and steep spirals. My key assignment if I have to pass this test: articulate, conduct and execute everything to the required commercial standards.

Switching aircraft during training, always adds additional time to relearn little quirks inherent in that aircraft that can, slow you down or make some tasks more challenging. Changing weather patterns also play a key role in how well you can execute a maneuver. Even more important: bad habits accumulated over the years, can also slow you down and dampen your moods!

After a relaxing break, I planned and prepared thoroughly for the maneuvers I wanted to practice. My goal was also to focus on outside references, so I could recognize them, choose landmarks that would serve as references for the maneuvers I had to master without my instructors help and even more importantly to enter the maneuver correctly and execute it to commercial standards. Armed with a safety pilot who would not only help with monitoring traffic but also who would monitor my maneuvers and ensure overall safety, I set off to the local practice area.

Last few lessons, I realized, although I am good with using checklists especially before starting the engine, I no longer refer to them again, all other checks are conducted by memory. While this may work on a normal flight, it is a distinct no-no during any oral exam. So step one, I had to re-learn the habit of referring to check lists during every phase of flight. And be vocal about it!

Calm wind helps. A lot. Learning to trim the aircraft correctly during all weather conditions, helps even more. Steep turns at 60 degree bank angles are so much easier and smoother, with trim then trying to hand fly them using erratic pitch maneuvers. Keeping the ball centered with adequate rudder, also, is key to a well coordinated maneuver.

Holding the yoke with a death grip is counter-productive… Use 2 fingers and apply gentle pressure, is what I have been told for ever. This is one bad habit, I would love to rid myself expeditiously. That I have been doing it for several years now, tells you it is not going to be easy. I should also note, this only happens when I am demonstrating maneuvers and not necessarily during normal flying. I think it is also due to the fact that the aircraft is not trimmed well and to maintain proper pitch and bank, I tend to grip the yoke too tightly with the resulting corrections being more aggressive than necessarily resulting in over or under correcting and resulting in constant adjustments: what is commonly known as chasing the needle. The root of the problem is maintaining proper trim. Learning to make the correct trim adjustments are the key to rid myself of this habit.

In addition to recognizing visual references, flying more precisely almost to commercial standards, I am happy to state that in calm weather I can achieve this reasonably:

  • Steep turns, yeah check!
  • Chandelles, getting there…
  • Steep spirals, almost, but can be better…

I still have ways to go, but at least this is a good start!