Eights On Pylons


  • Eights on Pylons develop the ability to maneuver the airplane accurately, while dividing your attention between the flight path and the selected points on the ground perfecting the knowledge of the effect of angle of bank on radius of turn
  • Consists of a figure eight pattern at a pivotal altitude as two points, or pylons are used as references for turns [Figure 4]
  • Most advanced and most difficult of the low altitude flight training maneuvers
  • Should not be introduced until the student has a complete grasp on fundamentals (Rectangular Course, S-Turns, Turns Around a Point)
  • Demonstrate how wind affects the path of the airplane over the ground
  • To gain experience in the visualization of the results of planning before the execution of the maneuver
  • Trains the student to think and plan ahead of the airplane
  • Elevators are the primary control for holding the pylons
  • As the airplane approaches a position where the pylon appears to be just ahead of the wingtip, the turn should be started by lowering the upwind wing to place the pilot's line of sight reference on the pylon
  • As the turn is continued, the line of sight reference can be held on the pylon by gradually increasing the bank
  • The roll-out must be completed in the proper wind correction angle to correct for wind drift, so that the airplane will arrive at a point downwind from the second pylon the same distance it was from the first pylon at the beginning of the maneuver
  • Upon reaching that point, a turn is started in the opposite direction by lowering the upwind wing to again place the pilot's line of sight reference on the pylon
  • The turn is then continued just as in the turn around the first pylon but in the opposite direction
  • Corrections for temporary variations, such as those caused by gusts or inattention, may be made by shallowing the bank to fly relatively straight to bring forward a lagging wing, or by steepening the bank temporarily to turn back a wing which has crept ahead
  • As proficiency is gained, increase the complexity of the maneuver by entering at a distance from the pylon that will result in a specific bank angle at the steepest point in the pylon turn

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)

Pivotal Altitude:

  • Pivotal altitude: A particular height above ground at which, from the pilot's sight line, the extended lateral axis of an aircraft doing a 360° level turn [in nil wind conditions] would appear to be fixed to one ground point, and the aircraft's wingtip, thus pivoting on that point
  • Airplane Flying Handbook, Speed vs. Pivotal Altitude
    Figure 1: Airplane Flying Handbook, Speed vs. Pivotal Altitude
    • Governed by the ground speed
    • GS^2 / 11.3 = Pivotal Altitude in Knots
    • GS^2 / 15 = Pivotal Altitude in Miles Per Hour
  • Since the headings throughout the turns continually vary from directly downwind to directly upwind, the ground speed will constantly change
    • This will result in the proper pivotal altitude varying slightly throughout the eight
    • Adjustment is made for this by climbing or descending, as necessary, to hold the reference line or point on the pylons
  • Pivotal altitude is not always correct, high-wing, low-wing, swept-wing and so on will show different angles therefore you must have a lateral reference
  • There is a specific altitude at which, when the airplane turns at a given ground speed, a projection of the sighting reference line to the selected point on the ground will appear to pivot on that point
  • Since different airplanes fly at different airspeeds, the ground speed will be different
    • Therefore, each airplane will have its own pivotal altitude [Figure 1]
  • At any altitude above that pivotal altitude, the projected reference line will appear to move rearward in a circular path in relation to the pylon
  • Conversely, when the airplane is below the pivotal altitude, the projected reference line will appear to move forward in a circular path
  • Distance from the pylon affects the angle of bank
  • The pivotal altitude does not vary with the angle of bank being used unless the bank is steep enough to affect the ground speed

Pivotal Altitude Demonstration:

  • Fly the airplane at normal cruising speed, and at an altitude estimated to be below the proper pivotal altitude, and then placed in a medium-banked turn
  • It will be seen that the projected reference line of sight appears to move forward along the ground (pylon moves back) as the airplane turns
  • A climb is then made to an altitude well above the pivotal altitude, and when the airplane is again at normal cruising speed, it is placed in a medium-banked turn
  • At this higher altitude, the projected reference line of sight now appears to move backward across the ground (pylon moves forward) in a direction opposite that of flight
  • After the high altitude extreme has been demonstrated, the power is reduced, and a descent at cruising speed begun in a continuing medium bank around the pylon
  • The apparent backward travel of the projected reference line with respect to the pylon will slow down as altitude is lost, stop for an instant, then start to reverse itself, and would move forward if the descent were allowed to continue below the pivotal altitude
  • The altitude at which the line of sight apparently ceased to move across the ground was the pivotal altitude

Airplane Flying Handbook, Effect of Different Altitudes on Pivotal Altitude
Figure 2: Airplane Flying Handbook, Effect of Different Altitudes on Pivotal Altitude

Airplane Flying Handbook, Bank Angle vs. Pivotal Altitude
Figure 3: Airplane Flying Handbook, Bank Angle vs. Pivotal Altitude

C-172S Procedure:

  1. Determine wind direction
    • This is important for the entry heading and reference point
  2. Commence a clearing turn looking for traffic and ground obstructions
  3. Select 2 reference points in an area where an emergency landing can be made if necessary
    • Select first point
    • Turn downwind and fly for 15-20 seconds and select a second point
    • They should be sufficiently prominent to be readily seen by the pilot when completing the turn around one pylon and heading for the next, and should be adequately spaced to provide time for planning the turns and yet not cause unnecessary straight-and-level flight between the pylons
    • The selected pylons should also be at the same elevation, since differences of over a very few feet will necessitate climbing or descending between each turn
  4. Establish and maintain 100 KIAS (approx. 2200 RPM) and pivotal altitude
  5. Enter the maneuver on a 45° to the downwind between the two points
  6. Abeam the first point, roll into a 30° to 40° angle
    • Keep the point under the wingtip, about 1 "coke" can below the wingtip
    • The reference line should appear to pivot on the pylon
    • If the point moves forward, push forward, reducing some power
    • If the point moves backwards, pull up, adding some power
    • Since a constant distance from the pylon is not required on this maneuver, no correction to counteract drifting should be applied during the turns
  7. Continue turn and level off 3/4 through the turn straight-and-level
    • Fly for 3-5 seconds in level flight
  8. Perform the second turn
    • Ground speed will be slowest
  9. Depart the maneuver on the entry heading
    • Should be at your pivotal altitude on exit
  10. Complete cruise checklist

Airplane Flying Handbook, Eights On Pylons
Figure 4: Airplane Flying Handbook, Eights On Pylons

Airplane Flying Handbook, Line of Sight
Figure 5: Airplane Flying Handbook, Line of Sight

Common Errors:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area
  • Improper entry to the maneuver
  • Skidding or slipping turns
  • Excessive gain or loss of altitude
  • Over concentration on the pylon and failure to observe traffic
  • Poor choice of pylons
  • Not entering the pylon turns into the wind
  • Failure to assume a heading when flying between pylons that will compensate sufficiently for drift
  • Failure to time the bank so that the turn entry is completed with the pylon in position
  • Abrupt control usage
  • Inability to select pivotal altitude
  • The most common error in attempting to hold a pylon is incorrect use of the rudder

Practical Test Standards: