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6 min read

“There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.”

Every pilot knows that ditty. It was composed as a caution for pilots about to commit aviation. Should you or should you not take off in these conditions? For me, a 15-knot crosswind gives me pause. While I have landed in one, the wind had changed since takeoff and the alternative was to land elsewhere. It is a different decision before taking off, as I fly just for fun, not for a living.


That quarry is an important detail.

Once, when EAA 838 was flying Young Eagles, I recognized the mother of one boy as a coworker. I invited her to sit in the back of my Cherokee, while her son sat in front. The flight was longer than the usual Young Eagle flight, and wind had shifted to 270 degrees. It was blowing a gusty 22 knots, close enough to the 15-knot maximum demonstrated crosswind for a PA28-140 to get my attention. The other pilots were using runway 22, which was also being used by jets.

Experience taught me that base-to-final over the quarry can be bumpy with a west wind, in addition to turbulence from trees near the approach end of runway 22. But 22 is long enough that one can turn base before the quarry and land long to avoid the turbulence of the quarry or trees. That was my plan, and I announced it both on the radio and to mom in the back seat. I also said I would be dipping the right wing on short final. She may not have understood me, as I could see white knuckles when she grabbed the top of her son’s seat. While my aiming point was before the intersection, she thought we would run out of runway, and right-wing-low terrified her.

We had plenty of runway. I announced that I was done flying Young Eagles, and taxied to my hangar. I drove them back to EAA 838 to complete the sign-in procedure. I have often repeated that flight on my flight simulator.

Wind from 270 degrees at 15G25 is a 50-degree crosswind for either runway 32 or 22, and right up there with my Cherokee’s maximum demonstrated crosswind. But which is easier, a crosswind from the left, or from the right? Runway 22 is 6,574 ft. long, with a quarry on short final and trees just west of the runway, while runway 32 is 4,422 ft. That is plenty for a Cherokee, and my side of the plane would be leaning into the wind.

I am not a test pilot, and closer to 80 years old than 70, so my choice on such a day would be to fly vicariously. In other words, on the flight simulator, where I can program wind, gusts, and turbulence, and it would cost nothing to keep doing it until I could do it perfectly. After many simulated attempts on both runways, I can tell you that I prefer the shorter runway. It was good practice, and included go-arounds when appropriate.

Another favorite practice is the “impossible turn.” How high do I have to be to successfully turn back after losing my engine on takeoff? While there is certainly a minimum altitude, the answer depends on ability to maintain both speed and angle of bank, and also on the length of the departure runway. One’s skill set can be enhanced by practice, something that is both inexpensive and safe to do on a simulator.

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Holding 80 mph in a 60-degree bank is not that easy.

I found that I can consistently make it back to runway 04/22 from an altitude of 500 ft. MSL. Of course, it helps that the runway is so long. My technique is to maintain 80 mph IAS and a bank angle of 45 degrees. 80 mph is halfway between Vx and Vy, and a safe speed under the circumstances. But it is not that easy to keep both the speed and the steep bank angle constant, and that is why one practices.

A presenter at AirVenture 2021 recommended a bank angle of 60 degrees for the impossible turn. This is definitely harder to achieve, but one gets around faster. Would you be pulling 2 Gs in a 60-degree turn? (I used to throw up when I had to do level 60-degree turns in my student pilot days.) The answer is no, because you would be descending. Furthermore, it is load factor that increases stall speed, not bank angle.

While I never activated X-Plane’s random failure feature, I have triggered failures accidentally in the simulator. When starting a standard downwind-base-final pattern one day, the engine quit on the downwind leg. OK, this is good practice. After switching tanks and determining that mixture was full rich, I did a dead-stick landing. When stopped on the runway, I tried to restart. The engine would turn over, but not start. If you own an early model Cherokee, you may know my problem, and perhaps you’ve done it yourself. I know I did it about 35 years ago on a long final over cold Lake Michigan.

Note the red mixture toggle in the third photo. It was not always red. In fact, it used to look identical to carb heat, which is between the key and the throttle. On the day in question, I was flying from Racine to Milwaukee to get some radio work done. RAC is barely 10 miles from MKE, and I called approach from pattern altitude.

“MKE Approach, Cherokee N4500R is over Wind Point at 1,700 feet, landing MKE.”

“00R, this is MKE Approach, squawk (something), fly 010, and expect 25R.”


Note the red mixture toggle.

No problem so far, although going out over Lake Michigan (elevation 579 MSL) at a low altitude was a mite concerning. It is both cold and empty in winter, and those of us who live near it respect it. We fly around, not across. Anyway, the balky radio was working… or was it?

After hearing nothing for several miles, I called approach and got no reply. That darn radio again! After one more unanswered call, I turned west. They had told me to expect 25R, and could give me a light signal. I looked at the tower, which I could see. Surely, they could see my blinking landing light. No light signal from the tower. Should I squawk 7500 or 7600 for loss of communications? Which one meant I was being hijacked? Maybe another frequency…

“Milwaukee Tower, Cherokee 4500R is due east, about 3 miles off-shore. I lost contact with approach.”

“We were wondering when you were going to call… Cherokee 00R is cleared to land 25R.”

For me, this was a very long final. I pulled out carb heat, and the engine quit! Already rattled by the radio problem, I undid what I had just done. The engine roared back to life. I left carb heat alone after that and landed normally. Then I realized that I had pulled the mixture, and not carb heat. That is when I painted it red.

Back to my simulator: vFlyteAir’s Cherokee 140 Original closely replicates my 1965 PA28-140. Because the simulator’s external hardware does not include a carb heat toggle, I had activated the toggle on the 3D screen. However, just as happened 30+ years ago, it was the mixture toggle that I pulled, not carb heat. Interestingly, if I had cycled the mixture on the quadrant, it would have cycled the toggle on the screen, but not vice versa.

OK, it is important to remember that simulation differs from reality—but it is close, and the practice helps.

Sean Dwyer
4 replies
  1. Skip Stagg
    Skip Stagg says:

    I am pleased to hear your practicing emergency procedures in a simulator.That is very professional of you. With respect to your comments on the impossible turn. Under NO circumstances employ 60 degrees of bank when performing this emergency maneuver! 45 degs is the maximum bank angle that will provide you the lift necessary to completer this action. This procedure is not like the steep bank of 60 you practiced or you private pilot certificate. Additionally DO Not hold back pressure in the turn, Your not holding altitude or flying a modified traffic pattern.. You going to be flying a descending spatial, with your nose below the horizon. You need to discover your” GO TO altitude” that will allow you to successfully complete this emergency procedure when you need to.do so.
    For an primer on this subject please see my previous story fro Air Facts ( https://airfactsjournal.com/2020/12/an-engineering-approach-to-the-impossible-turn/)
    Fly Safe

  2. Seán Dwyer
    Seán Dwyer says:

    Thank you for your sincere comment and the reference cited therein. I am no CFI, so I defer to your higher qualifications. I was happy to practice the Impossible Turn at a 45 degree bank until the forum at AirVenture in which the presenter recommended using 60 degrees. Without a doubt, that is harder to do, but one does get around faster. His logic was that it is load factor that increases stall speed, not bank angle. The key point is to know that you are going down, and not try to maintain altitude. When I practice it on the simulator, my Cherokee is trimmed to climb out at Vy (85 mph) with 10 degrees of flap. Minimal change in trim is needed go to 80 mph after cutting the engine and raising the flaps. 80 is about halfway between Vx and Vy, so is a safe speed at which to aim. Holding that, while trying to hold a bank between 45 and 60 degrees is a challenge, and I usually find that I am going too fast (c. 90 mph) when lined up on the runway again. I definitely need to go to full flaps to avoid going off the end of the runway, if I cut the engine at 500 AGL. I am looking for a good day when I can go up with an instructor and try it in the real world. Of course, we will start about 3,000 feet higher.

  3. Goluscombe
    Goluscombe says:

    I would ask everyone who contemplates the impossible turn to reconsider their choices. The impossbile turn advocates aggressive low altitude maneuvering at low airspeeds, all being done with all turns coordinated in and of out banks while maintaining very precise airspeeds – all packed into one very short period of time and without warning.

    No problem.

    To my knowledge, no Factory Pilot’s Flying manual indicates the use of this procedure although there may something out there. The FAA, in it’s manual for Private pilot’s gives out pablum with respect the this impossible turn, leaving the FAA a way out of responsibility if the a pilot doesn’t perform the maneuver properly. In short it makes no real support for or against.

    I know that going “home to the nest” feels so comforting that the urge to do it can be great. The only order of business is to maintain control. There is no substitute.

    Sometime back, the AOPA had a great article about Impossble turns and, if I remember correctly, advises the greatest change in heading on the upwind leg was something akin to 70 degrees of turn left or right during the initial stage of climb. There was more to the article but I was encouraged by article’s interest in the restraint of action in favor of maintaining control. Simply put, there will nearly always be a short period of time after take off a pilot’s choices are wholly limited.

    I would high;ly recommend that power pilots take some instruction in a sailplane. The equivalent of “the impossible turn” for gliders is called “rope breaks” performed at low altitude. Rope break training gives the power plane an insight into the how the usually highly-capable gilders can perfom a turn back manever in ways many powered planes can’t. In fact, part of Glider Pilot training expressly includes rope break training. One can see all the elements of the “mpossible turn” unfold in an understandable way. Oh, and by the way, soaring is endlessly fun.

    • Peter N. Steinmetz
      Peter N. Steinmetz says:

      Wholly agree on getting glider training. All the landings are power off so one becomes used to that. And the tow rope break training is excellent.


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