Clearing Turns


  • Clearing turns are a critical step necessarily to mitigate collisions hazards with "aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and wires"
  • There are many different clearing procedures but the essential idea is to be certain that the maneuver to be performed is not going to proceed into another airplane's flightpath
    • Some pilot training programs have hard and fast rules, such as requiring two 90° turns in opposite directions before executing any training maneuver while other types may be developed by individual flight instructors
    • Whatever the preferred method, the flight instructor should teach the beginning student an effective clearing procedure and insist on its use
  • Most importantly, clearing turns allow you to see areas the airframe would have otherwise obstructed and make you more visible to pilots as you bank
  • While looking for other aircraft and hazards, it is crucial to maintain proper "see and avoid" techniques to assist
    • Remember, an aircraft on a collision course will appear relatively stationary which will break up in a turn
  • This may seem like a waste of fuel at times but the victims of mid-air collisions would beg to differ
  • Pilots are required to perform this maneuver within the Airman Certification Standards (ACS), as published by the FAA

Clearing Turn Procedure:

All procedures are GENERALIZED.
Always fly per Pilot Operating Handbook procedures,
observing any relevant Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

  1. Set fuel selector to BOTH or the fullest tank
  2. Set the mixture control, as required
  3. Note your initial heading and the heading you wish to roll out on to perform the next maneuver
  4. Pick a reference point 90-180° to your left or right
  5. Perform a level turn at about 30° for 90-180° to put the nose of the aircraft on this point
    • Set power, as required
    • If flying a high-wing aircraft, raise your wing first, to clear that direction before turning
    • If flying a low-wing aircraft, apply common sense to bank angle if clearing below you is especially important for an upcoming maneuver (e.g., stalls)
  6. Look for other aircraft or hazards through the entire turn in ALL directions
    • This includes up and down, especially if you intend to do any maneuver which will require an excessive change in altitude
  7. Once the wings are leveled on your reference point, take another look around and then begin a turn for 90-180° back to the original heading or to the heading of the next maneuver
    • Throughout the entire turn, look in ALL directions
  8. Assuming no conflicting traffic is observed, complete appropriate checklist/commence the maneuver to be performed
    • If conflicting traffic is observed, deconflict over the radio as able or find a new working area

Clearing Turns Common Errors:

  • Gaining or loosing altitude
  • Poor coordination
  • Abrupt control usage
  • Inadequate visual lookout for other aircraft
  • Clearing only a small portion of sky due to short turns

Clearing Turns Airman Certification Standards:

  • Airman Certification Standards
    • There are no specific standards to perform clearing turns however, collision avoidance is a special emphasis item and considered critical to safety
    • Simply stated, it is not important how you do it, but that you do it, and do it effectively


  • There are no specific numbers to hit on how far you must turn, etc. for a clearing turn to be acceptible
    • It is, instead, pilot judgement on what is acceptable to call the area cleared
  • As stated above, clearing turns may need to be made to a specific direction for a reason however, consider clearing turns to the left first
    • This ensures that if anyone is passing to the right in accordance with right-of-way guidelines, you and them remain clear of one another
  • See also: Visual Scanning and Collision Avoidance
  • Consider practicing maneuvers on a flight simulator to introduce yourself to maneuvers or knock off rust
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