Limit Bank Angle in the Pattern?

The dangers of steep turns.

Tip Bank Angle

Tip Bank Angle

There's quite the debate raging at the moment about whether it's OK to bank steeply in the traffic pattern or, for safety reasons, if we should limit the steepness of turns when we're low and slow.

In a recent blog post over at AirFacts.com, former Flying editor Richard Collins had this to say:

"The pilot of a Mooney stalled and spun in, apparently while making a steep turn to try to patch up an overshoot of the turn to final. This happens and is easily addressed by never exceeding 30 degrees of bank below 2,000 feet. When the decision is made to 'bend' an airplane around at low altitude it is likely to be bent, literally. The moment the pilot decides to try to salvage a bad approach is when risk peaks."

That led to this blog post by flight instructor Ron Rapp, who says the idea that limiting bank angle in the pattern will prevent a stall/spin accident is a myth. He says:

"An arbitrary bank-angle limitation does not make a stall/spin scenario less likely. It does the exact opposite, forcing a pilot to skid the aircraft rather than make a steeper (yet properly coordinated) turn when necessary."

Now, we all know that bank angle has nothing to with stalls. But turns do. And the simple fact is, unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, we want to avoid steep turns at low airspeeds because a high load factor raises the stall speed and also increases drag. We all know that a steep turn coupled with back pressure on the yoke at low airspeed can lead to a stall, but it's also true that a large increase in induced drag can cause an excessive sink rate. In either case, there might not be enough altitude to recover.

The bottom line is, if you have to make a much steeper turn than normal to salvage a bad approach, it's time to break off and go around for another try — or at the very least, unload the wing by relaxing back pressure while maintaining coordinated flight.

Limiting turns in the pattern to 30 degrees? That's a good idea too.

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