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Steep Spiral + Spot Landing Commercial Maneuver Practice


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It's been a little while since I practiced the steep spiral and power off 180 accuracy landing since the commercial checkride so I went out to practice a few. It was a strong gusty crosswind at Morristown on a warm winter day. Winds were howling across runway 5.

I came over the airport at 2900ft to stay beneath the 3000ft class B floor. I thought Morristown would be more accustomed to this sort of request from practicing aircraft but it was like he heard of it for the first time. Maybe it's just the way I was taught... to continue the spiral into the accuracy landing as opposed to doing them independently. Afterall, if you ever do have an engine issue and you happen to have an airport below, it's good to have confidence to glide your way into it.

Abeam the numbers I chopped the power and started the turns. There's a chance I didn't do them steep enough for "commercial" spec or ACS. I did not specifically review the requirements. However, for practical application, this turn kept the airport underneath and in sight. It was difficult staying around a point with this much crosswind. It was almost requiring a flat upwind push on the headwind and a very steep turn around the downwind. I cleared the engine after every turn.

I did a total of 3 spot landing attempts. The first one, coming out of the steep spiral worked out as far as getting me on the runway safely without adding power. However, I overshot the captains bars for the spot landing so I just put in the power and went around. The strong winds and gusty conditions made me want to carry more energy to avoid a shear induced stall. However, even with an overshoot turn and a slip, I couldn't force it down on the spot with that much speed.

The second time, I came out of the spiral and made the spot landing. However, I had to force it down a little prematurely so it wasn't as smooth as I would have liked. The third attempt I skipped the spiral and did the power off out of the pattern. Came around the base to final quite low and it barely looked like I would make the runway. However, having made the runway with speed in reserve, I was able to float it all out and stretch it to the touchdown zone markers for a perfect spot landing in the box.

I compiled bits and pieces of the 3 attempts into a single video here showing the different elements that go into these maneuvers. If you are studying for the commercial pilot, take a look. However, be aware that having taken the checkride already, I'm a little hazy on the exact ACS requirements and these may not be exactly per what they are looking for on a checkride.

 

 

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Nicely done Mike!

When are you going to teach your wife to fly? She seems to be with you on so many of these adventures, she should be getting a private certificate soon.

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Good maneuver.

I am not sure I would practice it in the winter depending on how cold since it is quite a shock cooling thing to do depending on from how high you start.

But really good maneuver.  I did in fact have a real engine out a few years ago, and it was very scary but I found myself (starting at 16,000 ft) something like 10,000 ft over my target airport and with smoke in the cockpit, I did commercial steep spirals down the airport as quick as possible, several turns.  This is a legit good maneuver to practice.

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Well done and thanks for sharing @201er!

After about 60 hours flying the 201 I'm starting to feel comfortable really honing the landing technique in the Mooney, especially in terms of getting the touchdown point spot-on.

A while ago I used to compete as a spot lander with NIFA and I learned a ton from that experience ... plus, it was a great feeling being able to consistently hit +/- 10ft as long as the weather wasn't ridiculously crazy. Albeit, this was in the Cessna 150 and 172 of course. After college, I started fly the PA-28 too, so after I got comfortable in that plane, I started honing in my precision landing technique on that type as well.

Perhaps I may give the 201 a spin this weekend to practice.

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Great job. Yeah, the turbo guys need to check their POH. I did my commercial in the late fall, and when the temps got colder the required 3 spirals took the oil temp and CHT down too low. If you try the landing and miss, my POH says no more than 20" MP at that point until the engine warms, and that is somewhere around 45-50 % power, not enough to climb. The POH says failure to follow the procedure may result in sudden engine stoppage. When I took the test I told the DPE I will do those maneuvers if you want, but not together and here is why. They are not required to be done together.

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5 hours ago, 201er said:

There's a chance I didn't do them steep enough for "commercial" spec or ACS

Oddly enough, the ACS doesn't quantitatively define anything at all about what's supposed to be "steep" in a steep spiral.  Minimum bank angle?  Not specified, it just says the maximum bank is 60 degrees.  Minimum descent rate?  Descent rate is not mentioned at all.  Speed?  You get to pick the "specified" airspeed.

I sometimes argue you can climb up high, fly a lazy, shallow-banked turn around a specified point at minimum sink airspeed, and meet the ACS standards for a "steep" spiral.  A DPE may grouse that doing so isn't in the spirit of things, but s/he won't be able to point to anything in the ACS that you violated.

 

image.png.00f9c005c506f0600b7a3ab07256ec5f.png

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27 minutes ago, Vance Harral said:

Oddly enough, the ACS doesn't quantitatively define anything at all about what's supposed to be "steep" in a steep spiral.  Minimum bank angle?  Not specified, it just says the maximum bank is 60 degrees.  Minimum descent rate?  Descent rate is not mentioned at all.  Speed?  You get to pick the "specified" airspeed.

I sometimes argue you can climb up high, fly a lazy, shallow-banked turn around a specified point at minimum sink airspeed, and meet the ACS standards for a "steep" spiral.  A DPE may grouse that doing so isn't in the spirit of things, but s/he won't be able to point to anything in the ACS that you violated.

 

image.png.00f9c005c506f0600b7a3ab07256ec5f.png

The reference above that points to the Airplane Flying Handbook which says...

"A steep spiral is a gliding turn where the pilot maintains a constant radius around a surface-based reference point while rapidly descending—similar to the turns around a point maneuver." (emphasis added)

Not sure a shallow turn meets the meaning of "rapidly descending".

 

-Robert

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39 minutes ago, RobertGary1 said:

"A steep spiral is a gliding turn where the pilot maintains a constant radius around a surface-based reference point while rapidly descending—similar to the turns around a point maneuver." (emphasis added)

Thanks for the reference, the fact that the ACS calls back to the AFH is a good point.  Still, it seems a little odd to me that the steep spiral has such a nebulous definition, when other performance maneuvers in the ACS/PTS are quantitatively defined.  e.g. steep turns call for specific bank angles, short field landings give specific tolerances on hitting your intended spot, etc.

The ACS on the steep spiral also has a knowledge element that indicates one is supposed to "demonstrate understanding of the purpose of steep spirals".  I've heard a few variations on what the purpose of a steep spiral is supposed to be, and made up an answer or two myself.  But most of the standard explanations seem to grasp at straws.  If I'm on fire or have a medical emergency on board, I'm going to execute an Emergency Descent, which is a completely separate maneuver with different procedures (it's also required in the commercial ACS, as a separate skill).  If I have ever actually have an engine failure and arrive over a great landing spot with altitude to spare, I'm going to fly a minimum-sink-rate circle, which maximizes my time to get ready - i.e. the exact opposite of a rapid descent.

One real-life purpose I can come up with for the steep spiral is that it's a pretty cost-effective way to get a skydiving or towing airplane back on the ground in a hurry for the next load/glider/banner/whatever.  But what the King Air and Twin Otter do at my local jump zone looks a lot more like an "emergency descent" to me than a "steep spiral". :lol:

A steep spiral is also a way to wind down through a smaller-than-you-hoped hole in an undercast, when your VFR-over-the-top plan didn't work out like you thought it would.  But that sort of decision making was already being frowned on when I started flying, over 30 years ago.  I think most examiners would be nonplussed if you offered that up as a rationale for the maneuver.

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4 minutes ago, Vance Harral said:

Thanks for the reference, the fact that the ACS calls back to the AFH is a good point.  Still, it seems a little odd to me that the steep spiral has such a nebulous definition, when other performance maneuvers in the ACS/PTS are quantitatively defined.  e.g. steep turns call for specific bank angles, short field landings give specific tolerances on hitting your intended spot, etc.

Most of the maneuvers they require for the commercial serve no practical function and are generally the exact opposite of how a commercial pilot ought to be flying. I found that extremely ironic. If I wrote the standards, I’d rather see an extremely boring and uneventful flight with precision, awareness, and sound judgement. 

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9 minutes ago, 201er said:

Most of the maneuvers they require for the commercial serve no practical function and are generally the exact opposite of how a commercial pilot ought to be flying. I found that extremely ironic. If I wrote the standards, I’d rather see an extremely boring and uneventful flight with precision, awareness, and sound judgement. 

I think the maneuvers are just to show how far you can stretch your stick and rudder skills. Notice the atp rating is much easier. 

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2 hours ago, RobertGary1 said:

I think the maneuvers are just to show how far you can stretch your stick and rudder skills.

One of my airplane partners came up with an analogy I like about this sort of stuff:

Push-ups are a common exercise in many workout routines.  But the action your muscles perform to execute a push-up are not an action you really use in work or play.  So why do we do them?  Because while the push-up action itself may have little/no use, it builds muscles that are useful: for general strength, and for particular actions that have some things in common with push-ups.

So it is with the commercial pilot maneuvers.  The point is not that you'll use those maneuvers in commercial flying.  Think of them as "skill" push-ups: learning to perform those maneuvers strengthens your skills in a positive way, even if the maneuvers themselves have little direct application.

One can say the same thing about your CFII simulating a simultaneous failure of your AI, DG, GPS, and iPad.  This is so unlikely to happen in real life that it's arguably an absurd scenario.  But it's a mental push-up: it builds mental muscle that aids you in any kind of instrument failure scenario, and even when everything's working.

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