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Friday, December 1, 2023
HomeAllWhy do some pilots consider the 'downwind turn' to be dangerous?

Why do some pilots consider the ‘downwind turn’ to be dangerous?

Here are two scenarios:

  • We take off and immediately enter the clouds. We can no longer see the ground. At 400 feet we initiate a 180 degree turn to the left.
  • We take off in perfectly clear weather and in the climb at 400 feet begin a 180 degree turn to the left.

In the first scenario we essentially forget about the winds because we can’t see the ground anyway. Other than possibly a little turbulence (and maybe the information on our GPS) there is nothing that indicates that we are doing anything but making a normal 180 degree climbing turn.

In the second scenario the ground is still very visible and as we reach the 90° point in our 180° turn it becomes obvious that the aircraft is accelerating (because the wind is beginning to push the aircraft). Acceleration like we sense is often due to an aircraft accidentally descending and since we are so close to the ground we naturally raise the nose to arrest the descent. A descent that is only perceptual, not actual.

Because the ground is providing a slightly confusing mental picture of what’s going on as we raise the nose slightly we tighten the turn because we see by our movement over the ground that we aren’t going where we expect.

In the first scenario, we continue on our flight.

In the second scenario, based upon our perceptions of our movement over the ground we have set ourselves up for a stall/spin accident.

Downwind turns are no more dangerous than any other turn if the pilot continues to monitor the aircraft’s instruments to fly the aircraft.

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