Learning to Fly: Turning

Turning in an airplane is interesting. On the ground, when you are taxiing, you steer with the pedals, not with the wheel the way you would in a car. Most modern trainers have two main tires that are fixed in place under the body of the plane, and a smaller one under the nose that can be steered. Some aircraft have the small wheel under the tail instead of the nose, and those are called “tailwheel” or “taildragger” to distinguish them.

When you are taxiing on the ground, you push with the main part of your foot to keep the plane centered on the yellow line, and if you need a bigger correction, you point your toes to use the brakes. Just a touch to one side or the other usually does the trick. One foot works the brake on the right main tire, the other works the left, so if you need to stop straight ahead, you’d better use both feet! Moving the yoke or wheel gets you nothing but a laugh from the instructor, unless you are in a crosswind and need to work the aileronn on the wings.

I was lucky not to have driven a car much when I was learning to fly. I didn’t have the reflexes to override, always wanting to use a steering wheel. In fact, when I flew solo for the first time, I still hadn’t driven a car without an instructor present! That didn’t mean I was instantly good at taxiing, of course. It still took some practice. After all, planes are not as good moving on the ground as they are in the air. But eventually I was trundling merrily down the center of the yellow line on the way to and from the runway.

Turning in the air is even odder for the uninitiated. Then you get to use the control yoke, using the ailerons to tilt the plane to the right or the left. It’s just like leaning on a bicycle if you are going around a turn really fast. You use your feet too if it’s a really steep turn, because now the pedals control the rudder instead of the nose wheel and the brakes. It can be fun, watching the horizon tilt to a fifteen, thirty, forty-five, or even sixty degree angle!

There are other considerations when you are turning in the air- wind speed, how fast you want to turn, what you are using as a reference. One of the things new pilots learn is S turns across a road, and turns around a point. That helps them with precise flying and putting the plane exactly where they want it, with no guesswork. So if you see a little plane circling around a particular area, over and over, when there isn’t really anything around to look at except maybe a barn in the middle of open country, that might be a student pilot out in the practice area, learning how to turn.

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