Don’t Trim the Airplane

Going through private pilot training, I was taught to trim the airplane for all phases of flight. After fighting the controls for one too many flights, the lesson took. Like most students, I was also told to trim the airplane for steep turns. Although trim makes the turn much easier, I suggest that you try steep turns without adjusting the trim wheel.


The tricky thing about steep turns is not the steep turn itself. In fact, once the proper pitch and bank angle have been attained, you only need to hold the controls steady while making minor corrections.

Most pilots mess up the steep turn at the entry or completion of the maneuver. They either start out with too much or too little pitch. This isn’t  a serious problem, and it tends to work itself out with experience. At the end of a steep turn, pilots tend to climb well above entry altitude. In most cases the culprit is the trim.

You see, by trimming the airplane for a steep turn, you are actually trimming for a nose-high attitude. Once the wings are level, you have to fight the airplane to maintain level pitch-attitude until the trim can be taken out.

Pilots should not trim for steep turns. The maneuver becomes much simpler: Roll in and stick the nose in the right spot. Hold the controls steady. Roll out on heading and pitch level.

Since the airplane was trimmed for level cruise flight before the maneuver, the airplane ought to settle in to level cruise quite comfortably at the completion of your steep turns.


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

6 Replies to Don’t Trim the Airplane

  1. Vincent, from PlasticPilot.net says:

    I fully agree with that. Trimming for all phases of flight… In real life. Not for exercises. Can you imagine trimming for a stall?

  2. Matt says:

    Vincent,
    I’m on the fence about trimming for a stall. I can see where you are coming from as we should just be trimming for a phase of flight before entering a stall, but at the same time a student needs to be aware of how much force might be required should they need to overcome an elevator trim stall. This particular kind of stall is actually part of the CFI PTS.

    • I think Vincent was talking about intentionally trimming for a stall during normal operations: ie: the “stall phase of flight,” not a demonstrated stall for the checkride. I do prefer to throw some trim in for stalls so I don’t drop the nose too much on recovery. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever tried a stall without changing the trim from level cruise flight. Maybe I’ll give it a shot next time I go up in the Cessna.

  3. Sylvia says:

    I was taught to trim directly after going into the steep turn (so with the correct attitude, very quickly trimming to ease the pressure) but you are right, I have a tendency to climb out of a steep turn. I’ll have to try without. Actually, I should be practicing my General Handling anyway – it’s been months since I even tried a steep turn!

    When I was learning to fly (in a Cessna 172) I really struggled with the flare. I was having difficulty with the precision. I either didn’t flare or (more often) I would overcompensate and balloon right back up. In the end one of the instructors at the school I was training at mentioned that I might want to consider throwing myself out of trim for final approach. I would set the plane up so that I needed to keep downward pressure on the control and in the flare, effectively I would stop doing so.

    I’m not explaining it very well but the effect was that I had been almost “tugging” to get the plane flat and with it trimmed for the flare, I didn’t have to do that.

    I have to admit that I like the Piper a lot better in that respect, it responds much more to a gentle hand.

    • Reg says:

      I know where you’re coming from, at least in a 172. Hard turns by pulling slightly up, landing too. It’s in the seat of your pants, though flight instructors never like that approach. I like “sluggish” better than “twitchy”, because it allows for mistakes when you’re distracted.

  4. Hey hun, great website post. Do you have an rss feed that I can put on my homepage?

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