Airplane Spiral

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Spirals are useful to maintain orientation during prolonged descending turns. They help increase your ability to get your head out of the cockpit and still control the airspeed and bank. In the event of an actual emergency, the spiral is probably the best way to lose altitude and remain close to the point of intended landing. A spiral is also useful when coming down through a hole in the clouds. It prevents the possibility of illegal IFR flight.

Spirals are essentially a high-altitude emergency technique. Whether spiraling about a point to an emergency landing or coming down through a broken cloud layer, the spiral usually indicates the need for some type of prompt action.

Spirals may be divided into two categories. The first is useful when coming down through a hole in the clouds or whenever a rapid descent is called for. Since this spiral does not include ground tracking, your airspeed and bank control are your main concerns.

To begin your practice for this particular spiral, attain a fairly high altitude, close the throttle, set up a normal glide, and perform a cockpit check. Although this might not be an emergency situation, it is very important to maintain these habits. After clearing the areas below, begin the spiral using about 50 degrees of bank. In this particular spiral, since ground track is not the major purpose, closely monitor the airspeed and bank control through the desired number of turns. As a good safety practice, you should not spiral down lower than 1500 feet above the ground. Continue your practice until you can perform at least three turns and keep your airspeed and bank constant.

The second type of spiral is more in the category of ground tracking. Incorporate the methods utilized in the previous spiral, but use a point on the ground about which you will spiral. It then becomes only a matter of doing a turn about a point in a gliding turn. Vary your bank as necessary to maintain a constant distance from the pivotal point. Upon reaching pattern altitude or slightly above, leave the spiral and enter a normal traffic pattern to the place of intended landing.

The use of the traffic pattern is wise because the more familiar the situation seems, the easier it will be for you to land on the intended spot. Most people have more problems landing out of a straight-in approach than from a normal traffic pattern. If you add a margin for human error due to the fact that an emergency situation might cause less than superior performance, you will see the need for establishing a normal traffic pattern. Set up the spiral about the downwind corner on the downwind side of the landing area you are trying to get into. It places you in the best possible position to execute a near normal traffic pattern.

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