Steep Spirals


  • Steep Spirals simulate an emergency situation where an aircraft is required to descend as rapidly as possible to a forced landing
  • Additionally, steep spirals improve pilot technique for power off turns, wind drift control, planning, orientation, and division of attention

All procedures here are GENERALIZED for learning.
Fly the maneuver in accordance with the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

C-172S Procedure:

  1. Perform clearing turns
  2. Determine the wind direction
  3. Select a reference point that is near an area where an emergency landing can be made
  4. Enter on downwind
    • Fly almost directly over the reference point
  5. Approaching the reference point:
    • Enrichen the mixture
    • Reduce throttle to idle
  6. Roll-in to have bank established abeam the reference point
    • Not to exceed 60°
    • Maintain a constant radius
  7. Adjust pitch to maintain an 80 KIAS descent
  8. Adjust bank angle to maintain a constant radius around the reference point
    • Clear the engine on the upwind legs every turn
  9. Conduct a series of at least three 360° turns
  10. Turning upwind, clear the engine every 360°
    • Operating the engine at idle speed for prolonged periods may result in excessive engine cooling or spark plug fouling
    • Check engine operation during the glide by "clearing" the engine on every upwind (to minimize any variation in ground-speed and turn radius)
  11. Complete the maneuver on entry heading and set cruise power
    • Recover above 1500' AGL unless combining the maneuver with an Emergency Approach and Landing
  12. Complete the cruise checklist

Steep Spirals
Figure 1: Steep Spirals

Common Errors:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area
  • Excessive pitch change during entry or recovery
  • Attempts to start recovery prematurely
  • Failure to stop the turn on a precise heading
  • Excessive rudder during recovery, resulting in skidding
  • Inadequate power management and airspeed control
  • Attempting to perform the maneuver by instrument reference rather than visual reference
  • Poor coordination, resulting in skidding and/or slipping
  • Inadequate wind drift correct
  • Failure to coordinate the controls, so that no increase/decrease in speed results when straight glide is resumed
  • Failure to scan for other traffic
  • Failure to maintain orientation

Practical Test Standards: