Coordinated Turns

When we make a turn in flight, why do we use the rudder?

We all know from the books the answer is to "correct for adverse yaw" — which is just a fancy way of saying to overcome drag from the aileron.

When you initiate a turn, which should you move first, the aileron with the yoke or the rudder with your feet? The answer is the rudder with your feet. Starting a left turn? Add left rudder to start the roll in, followed by aileron and slight back-pressure with the elevator. When it's time to roll out, add right rudder first and then move your hand.

How much rudder should you apply? That depends on the airplane. A typical light trainer like a Cessna Skyhawk doesn't exhibit much adverse yaw so the answer is "not much." It's a different story in, say, a Piper Cub with lots of adverse yaw to overcome.

A useful trick in the Cub is to imagine a steel rod connecting the rudder pedals and stick. As you apply rudder in the direction of the turn, that imaginary rod should want to pull the stick in that direction by the same amount. The same lesson applies, to a slightly lesser degree, in a single-engine Cessna or low-wing Piper. In some airplanes, turns are almost all rudder with very little aileron movement, as the extra lift on the outside wing during the yaw produces roll.

The goal, obviously, is to apply enough rudder to keep the ball centered and maintain coordinated flight. We do this by "stepping on the ball" if it slings out left or right during a turn. But you shouldn't need to look at the turn coordinator and ball to make coordinated turns.

Instead, look outside at the horizon and feel for cues that you are indeed making coordinated turns. If you're not quite sure about the interplay between aileron, rudder and elevator during turns, go up with your instructor and ask him or her to show you first how not to do it. Then you can start concentrating on proper control technique in turns.

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