Re: Steep turns on takeoff and landing

From: (Brian Cherkas)
Organization: iCON, a service of St. Louis Internet Connections
Date:         22 Jun 95 03:07:39 
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In article <airliners.1995.812@ohare.Chicago.COM>, Christopher Stone
<cbstone@flagstaff.Princeton.EDU> wrote:

> Yesterday I landed on a TWA 727-200 at Albuquerque.  As we approached the
> airport, we made a steep turn to the right, then the left, then the right
> again.  Each turn was *very* steep -- it felt like we were tilting at
> about 45%, although I'm sure it must have been less than that.  During
> the final turn, the nose was pointing rather sharply towards the group,
> and we weren't that high up -- I could make the ground out quite clearly
> out of the window, and it didn't look like the wing was that far from the
> ground.
> Usually I love flying, but I must admit that steep turns near the ground
> -- right after takeoff, or before landing -- always make me a tad
> nervous.  Is this merely an irrational fear on my part?  What are the
> limits upon how steeply an aircraft such as a B-727 can turn?  Is it any
> more dangerous to turn near the ground than high up?  Do pilots ever get
> dioriented as a result of this sort of turning?

As a TWA pilot who flies the 727 (among others) I feel obliged to respond.

What you experienced was more likely than not called in pilot's lingo an
"s-turn". This maneuver is usually executed close to an airport to allow
for increased spacing between aircraft. More likely what happened was a
controller put two aircraft too close to one another in lateral spacing on
final appoach (or an aircraft slowed excessively, decreasing the spacing)
and asked for the maneuver (which pilot's won't always comply with, but
usually do).

This maneuver calls for a series of one or more usually shallow turns to
allow for the lateral spacing. It is sometimes done within a thousand feet
above ground which gives the impression of a steeper-than-normal bank.
Also, the turns are executed one after another which adds to
disorientation (to passengers, not pilots). I'd tell you with confidence
your turns were limited to 30 degrees of bank.

Although these maneuvers don't bother pilots (they are frequent maneuvers
in training and the real world believe it or not), they bother us in the
sense that many passengers don't like it. We always try to give a
comfortable ride and are keen to sense our uncomfortable flying
passengers. Unfortunately these maneuvers are many times a necessity. Not
being able to perform an s-turn at times causes a severe strain on the
controllers and the smooth flow of aircraft.

To sum up, the maneuver is perhaps a bit scary for some people but is
completely safe. I've never known a pilot to become disoriented in the
maneuver - we're paid to perform these things and get a lot of practice.

Pilots are trained never to compromise safety for a controller request,
and as far as the question as to being more dangerous turning near the
ground I'd have to answer no (to say yes I'd have to argue with many
variables which is beyond the scope of my message), although nearer the
ground is when the pilots workload is highest and is prone to more

Safe flying,


Brian Cherkas