Turning – Climbing – Descending

When flying an airplane, it is important to know how to climb turn and descend the aircraft. This section will help understand hot properly climb, turn and descend the aircraft while in flight.

You always want to be scanning the area around you in the air to prevent collision with other aircrafts and before you start to maneuver, you want to be sure to be appropriately situated and setup in your seat in the cockpit.

Prior to starting any maneuvering techniques, whip out the handy dandy pre-maneuver checklist to ensure that you cover all of your bases.

The Pre-Maneuver Checklist will include:

  • make sure the landing light is on to serve as a visible signal to other aircraft as well as to serve as a collision avoidance aid.
  • your mixture control should be full rich as appropriate to ensure maximum power of the aircraft. There are special instructions for high altitude areas which will be addressed later.
  • make sure you are at a safe altitude which is more than 1500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).
  • once again, verify that the area around you is clear.

Before turning, find an outside reference point and note the heading you are on.

Before starting your turn, make sure to look again keeping in mind that you are flying in 3D space and will need to look left and right, above and below as well as  in front and behind you. One way to help identify any traffic in your blind spots is to raise the wing toward the direction of the turn and look out in that direction.

Looking out, visually determine about a 30 degree bank and note the angle between the instrument panel and the horizon.

Move the control wheel (yoke) in the direction that you want to turn use a small amount of rudder as needed to help complete the turn.

The wings on an aircraft can create a blindspot in some areas so it may be necessary to slightly raise the wing on the side which you will be turning in order to ensure the area is clear. You will want to look for traffic all around you including above and below your aircraft.

Two ways to make clearing turns

Turning can be accomplished in one of two methods. Regardless of the method, turning should be made using a 30 degree bank.

The first method of making a clearing turn is by using a 180 degree turn in one continuous motion.

The second clearing turn is essentially two 90 degree turns where the first 90 degree turn is made to the left, followed by a second 90 degree turn to the right which is heading back to your original direction.

Once these clearing turns are made and you have established that you are clear the air-to-air frequency should be set to 122.75 so that you can announce your position.

You will announce your position which will include the following:

  • your position in relation to a known landmark on the ground
  • your present altitude and your intentions whether it is “doing slow flight” or “climbing”, etc.

Using the Rudder in a Turn

Rudder helps counteract the adverse yaw which is caused by an increase in the drag on the down aileron from wind pressure. When the ailerons are deflected, adding rudder will correct the adverse yaw otherwise the nose will want to do in the opposite direction of the turn.

Rolling out of a turn

Start taking the bank out at a heading around half of the bank angle ahead of the heading that you want to stop turning at.

To get out of the turn, the control wheel will need to be turned in the opposite direction that you used to make the turn and also rudder will need to be used as well in the same direction as the control wheel to keep the nose from yawing. Back pressure should be relaxed as the bank angle decreases since it is being less affected by air movement.

When the wings are level, the aircraft will stop turning and you will essentially balance out the rudder pressure and aileron pressure to keep from turning in the opposite direction.

360 Degree Turns

When making a 360 degree turn, it is common to feel a turbulence bump which is your aircraft returning into your own path pod air movement (wake).


In small aircraft such as the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, most climbs are made with the throttle at the fully forward for maximum engine power. Your pitch should be at the climb attitude which is about 10 degrees on most airplanes. Visually identify the pitch attitude and confirm the proper climb attitude using the flight display and trim as necessary to relieve pressure on the control wheel.

Once the desired altitude is reached, gently press forward on the control wheel to pitch down the nose of the airplane to level flight and wait for the airspeed to build up. Once the airspeed is built back up, pull the throttle back to the cruise power RPM settings usually around 2200-2300 RPM and once again trim as necessary.


When descending, the engine will not need to be as powerful, so by pulling back on the throttle to reduce the engine RPM and power, the nose will naturally pitch down and pushing the control wheel in will allow you to pitch even further. Once at around 5 degree nose down pitch,  you can trim to maintain descent position.

Once you have descended to the desired altitude, you will use the control wheel and ease back to level flight altitude and then push the throttle in to add engine power back up to the cruising RPM of 2200-2300 RPM.