Turn from cockpit
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
4 min read

The day was clear and the winds were calm—a perfect day for Mike and me to go flying in my Cessna 152. Flying around southern Wisconsin is always fun, with so much to see: the farmland, the Wisconsin River, the lakes. There was one problem: I forgot the booster seat for then 8-year-old Mike. So there he was in the right seat, not able to see over the control panel and barely able to see out his window. It didn’t seem to matter much to him; he was just enjoying a Saturday morning with his dad at 2,500 feet.

He then asked, “Dad, can I fly the plane?” Not an unusual request and he had taken the controls before in a limited way, but he was at a disadvantage now because he could not see over the panel and had no view of the horizon. Not wanting to say no, I gave him some instructions since he could not see the horizon like he usually did.

I showed him that we were on a 270 degree heading, the big “W” on the gyro compass. I told him I wanted him to do a full circle with the airplane and come back around to the big W again and level off. I showed him the attitude indicator and explained when we bank, the bank angle would be shown. I also showed him the altimeter and said as we are in the turn you will need to pull back on the yoke to keep the same altitude.

I demonstrated the banked turn to 20 degrees so he could see what it looked like and saw how the gyro compass moved. Bringing the plane back to level at the big W, I gave him control of the plane.

Turn from cockpit

A level turn seems simple, but there’s actually a lot going on.

In flight training turning the plane in a controlled banked turn and maintaining the same altitude can be a challenge for student pilots. Going up and down is easy. You either pull back on the controls to go up, or push forward to go down. That maneuver is pretty straightforward. Making a turn and maintaining the same altitude is a different story.

When you are flying level, lift is working against gravity in a straight up and down line. When you turn, gravity is still pulling the plane straight down, but lift is now working at an angle straight up from the surface of the wing. Unless you pull back on the controls while in the banked turn to create more lift, the plane will lose altitude because gravity always wins. It is a maneuver pilots practice all the time and it can be hard to master because the longer you are in the turn, the more back pressure on the controls you need to apply. When I first encountered the maneuver in flight training, I was lucky to keep my altitude within 200 ft. of the beginning of the turn.

Here is 8-year-old Mike, beginning his turn, with my hands off the dual controls, and he can only see the panel. His eyes are glued to the gauges. As he began the turn, I told him to keep pulling back. “Pull back, pull back,” was what I kept saying during the turn. He then anticipated the need to ease out of the turn and leveled off dead center on the big W. He did this just watching the panel and didn’t lose 50 feet of altitude! I was amazed and when he asked if he did OK, I said “You did great, Mike!”

So, does my son Mike have some special flying gene? As much as I like to think that, he doesn’t. There were two key things happening. First, he had trust in me to not ask him to do something he could not do. Second, he just followed the instructions as best he could. He didn’t know it was a normally challenging maneuver in flight training; he just followed the instructions and nailed it.

There is an important life lesson here for all of us to recognize. How many times have we attempted to do something that we were told is difficult or we were afraid to get out of comfort zones? We can talk ourselves out of success before we even try. The next time you see a challenge in front of you, go for it and just keep “pulling back.”

John Rousch
Latest posts by John Rousch (see all)
11 replies
  1. Randy Newberry
    Randy Newberry says:

    During “under the hood” time, my flight instructor would ask me to try to fly straight and level until I eventually entered the pre-graveyard spiral phase (usually didn’t take long), then he’d raise my hood just enough to see the instruments and I’d attempt to correct. In the Cessna 150 Aerobat, there’s a little skylight in the ceiling and I noticed that sun shining through the dirty glass was making little spot shadows on my lap, which was all I could see. It was a super smooth day and I just had to make small changes to the controls to keep those shadows in exactly the same place. This went on for several minutes until he accused me of looking out the side window and he place the owners manual in my lap and told me to read from it. I read the words aloud, keeping the little shadows in the same place and we flew like this for miles. He never did figure out how I did it and I didn’t tell him.

  2. Pedro M. Mudafort
    Pedro M. Mudafort says:

    I had the same experience with my youngest. When I use to take him flying, he could fly a lot better than I could. Kids have a natural ability.

    • John Rousch
      John Rousch says:

      You are so right Pedro! I see it all the time with students in my high school aviation program. Maybe all the video games do have some benefit.

  3. Raul E
    Raul E says:

    My son is 10 and isn’t tall enough to see over the panel. He’s “flown” several times in VMC but asked me once to take the controls in IMC. I lectured him on how much more challenging it is to fly IMC and how pilots without an instrument rating usually lose control within seconds. He insisted so I let him take the controls and watched him closely.

    Five minutes later he said he was bored and asked me if I wanted to fly. The whole time he hand flew with the altitude within 100’ and heading within 10 degrees. I asked him if it was challenging and he said “No. I can’t see outside anyway so it wasn’t any different.”

    Kids are amazing.

    • Shawn Goans
      Shawn Goans says:


      That is such a cool story and thank you for sharing. We are having a granddaughter soon and I can’t wait to work with her on learning both VFR and IFR techniques.



    Illuminating story. More fodder for the debate about how to introduce instruments, steam or glass, during flight training. I recently let a 14-year-old young man take the controls of my SR 22, explaining the concepts of wings level, horizon reference, and small movements of the side stick. Maintaining “straight and level” proved to be difficult. I then explained the concepts of instrument flying using the PFD and the ubiquitous magenta line. Just like Mike, he quickly was able to control the plane, and maintain “straight and level”.
    Made me wonder if early use of instruments, particularly on the glass panel, might be the best way to teach students how to use the controls, and then teach them how to fly the airplane.

  5. Richard Nutt
    Richard Nutt says:

    I had a similar experience with my son many years ago, and he was somewhat older than 10. He nailed course and altitude better than I could and when I asked him how he did it, he said “Nintendo “

  6. JIm Walters
    JIm Walters says:

    Around 1957, I was THAT BOY… in the right seat with my father in a Cessna.
    He even had me make a radio call to the tower —

    60+ years and 6,000 hours later (everything from J-3 Cubs to F-4E Phantoms) I am still THAT BOY…

    I am current in Cessnas, oh yeah, and love love love to take kids up and let ’em have the wheel…


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *