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#72 In Defense of the Landing in a Turn


Everyone who takes my Stick and Rudder Master Class gets a chance to do the Landing in a Turn.  Virtually all my students love learning this maneuver and have a ball with it.  But every once in a while, someone questions my teaching of this advanced maneuver.

“What good is this maneuver”, they ask.

What a great question.

One day a few years ago, my son, Hooper, and I were making a quick flight in our Cessna 140 from Sunriver down to Bend, Oregon.  We were better than halfway there, when Hooper asked, “can we do zero “G”?”

Hoop and me in 140

Hooper and me in the 140 back in 2007.

“Nah,” I answered.  I was a bit tired and didn’t feel like putting myself through the maneuvering necessary to make ol’ Hoop weightless.  He was a bit persistent.

“Ah, c’mon, it’ll just take a second…. C’mon, pleeeeeeze”, that varmint begged.

I’m a sucker for such requests from my kids.  Some would say I’m putty in their paws.  Okay, I am.  Just don’t tell them (I know what you’re thinking, but they never read my articles).

So I agreed.  I lowered the nose to get lots of airspeed.  Then I pulled up to get the nose nice and high.  Once at that exaggerated high pitch attitude, I reduced the power and began to push while watching the “G” meter and putting the needle at “zero”.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that rascal, Hooper, releasing his seatbelt and shoulder harness.  How else could a guy float off his seat?  Hooper floated for a bit as I flew the parabola.  Then I reached the pitch attitude at which I needed to bring the nose up.  I opened the throttle and brought the nose up.  All went as normal, other than the fact that the RPM didn’t increase.  The engine wouldn’t take power.  It would idle but no “normal climb” power.  Oops.

I couldn’t get the sunavacheesmaker to take power so I told Hooper that we needed to find a place for an emergency landing.  He coolly looked around and spotted several fields that would be suitable.  But I had something else in mind.  I knew that the little underpowered Cessna would need a suitable place to take off from and I had a hunch what it would take to fix it.  So I was looking for a different type of landing spot.

And this is the interesting part of this little story.  My son, Hooper, was doing exactly what he should have been doing:  He was looking for a spot which would result in a landing that would simply keep HIM in good shape.  I was looking for that, plus a place from which I could takeoff.  I would not suggest that anyone do what I was doing.

I found it.  Down below was an abandoned subdivision project.  A curving road served the lots on which nothing had ever been built.  There were no fences or power lines.  But the paved road curved a couple of times in an artistic manner.  I headed for it.  The landing would have to be in a turn.  I didn’t think about it at the time, but it was only because such a landing was second nature to me that the subsequent arrival was successful.  I touched down on one wheel and carved a turn as the Cessna rolled to a stop in front of a fire station.  The firemen, unused to seeing an airplane roll up to their place, asked if we needed any help.  We didn’t.  Then a police car arrived.  The policewoman asked if everything was okay.  I told her that it was just fine and that it was a perfectly normal occurrence.  Not an emergency at all and no big thing.  I told her that absolutely no media needed to show up.  Bless her heart.  She took me at my word, called the dispatcher to report that all was cool and then she drove off.  The carburetor was made to behave with a smack from a Gerber multi-tool and the little Cessna took off a few minutes later after a couple of attempts at negotiating the same turns in the road that it had handled on the landing.

Bert shooting LIT

Bert Garrison shoots video of the Landing in a Turn in an irrigation pivot field. The scene will appear in the remake of our “Landing in a Turn” video on The Tailwheeler’s Journal. (photo by Marden Mull)

It was years later that the light bulb finally illuminated over the point in my head and I began to realize how important the landing in a turn could be.  With irrigation pivots covering the world, a pilot has an almost endless number of emergency landing strips.  BUT, he must be able to land in a turn… if he attempts to cut the corner and land across one of these nice, smooth circles, he runs the risk of crossing a wheel track which may be as much as two feet deep.  Ouch!

The landing in a turn is now a regular part of the Stick and Rudder Master Class, as well as a part of most Tailwheel Endorsement courses which I teach and virtually all primary instruction. Soon we will re-do the original video production about the maneuver so that you can watch a demonstration of this landing in a hay field, courtesy of John and Debbie Volle at their lovely circular pasture with irrigation pivot.  And for all this you can thank ol’ Hooper and his fascination for zero “G”.

Happy Landings (in a turn)


5 comments to #72 In Defense of the Landing in a Turn

  • Terry Weathers

    I sure do find your Tailwheeler’s Journal articles fun reading, Brian. This one on landing in a turn puts the maneuver into practical perspective. Thanks


  • Mike Dennis

    Okay, first full disclosure, landing in a turn is just plain fun! Brian’s point that it might save your bacon is an obvious utility but there are several other times to use it. I live on a relatively short strip with tall trees at the ends. Most people set up classic stabilized approaches and then end up dragging it in over the trees with loads of power to make the plunge to the strip going slowly enough they don’t end up in the garage of the guys house at the far end.

    A way safer approach is a continuous arcing turn in close from base to a turning landing at the very end. This is possible because the trees under the close in turn to landing are short little Christmas trees. There’s no need to drag it in at some absurd slow speed. As a matter of fact, the swoop to flare maintains loads of speed for safely arriving under control. There’s no power on so the flare kills the energy quickly.

    Usually I can safely turn into my yard where most others are still five feet high when they go by my kitchen window. Often the sound of heavy brake use with corresponding high tire wear accompanies the arrival.

    I’ve noticed my friend and neighbor Tom ALWAYS lands his Stearman in a turn, something about being able to see the not so uncommon dear, foxes and coyotes that can appear from nowhere. Think this cant happen at your airport with a TSA mandated fence? Think again! I once was on final at such an airport when five antelope suddenly jumped up from where they were bedded down on the runway numbers. They were the same color as the numbers. Invisible.


  • Guy Parker

    Brian, reminds me of the time the City of Medford built a curved section of road in White City to accommodate their industrial park. Before it was opened to traffic, it just sat there, begging to be utilized. My first landing in a curve with my beater Citabria happened there. That section now serves Amy’s Kitchen from Table Rock Road. GP

  • Rick Brooks

    If my history is correct, the Navy almost gave up trying to land the Corsair on their carriers during WWII using the straight in approach. The Brits stumbled upon a method that finally worked – landing in a turn! As they say, the rest is history.

    P.S. A 77 year old Aeronca, N33888, that I once owned was used as a primary trainer for many Navy pilots in the early ‘40s. One such pilot’s son contacted me and showed where his father had soloed in my plane. His father went on to fly Corsairs and logged 57 carrier landings!

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