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If you search pilot training forums, you'll come across a common question - "Should I trim in a steep turn?" The answers cover the gamut, from "no way" to "absolutely." So, what's the deal?
First - trim is almost always a good idea. By taking pressure off the controls, it makes your job much easier. But, when it comes to steep turns, common student errors can help you decide how to use trim.
One common error is over-controlling. If this happens to you, your airspeed will slow and you'll climb, followed by a descent as you speed back up. Your flight profile looks like a see-saw, oscillating from low and fast to high and slow.
If you could GoPro your control movements, you'd see the yoke moving in and out. And, you'd probably have an iron grip on the yoke. If you could measure your muscle movements, you'd probably find that you needed lots of force to keep that nose up in the turn. You're constantly applying too much or too little force, moving the yoke in and out and your altitude up and down.
When your controls are extremely heavy, it's hard to hold them in a consistent position. Trim takes away the pressure, allowing you to make small, light control movements. Lighter movements are much more accurate - and the small corrections keep you on airspeed and altitude.
As you roll into the steep turn, you need to apply back-pressure on the yoke to increase your pitch and maintain altitude. If you don't re-trim, you'll need to hold that back-pressure in consistently. That's tough to do.
If you ease off back-pressure, the aircraft will slowly descend. And, if you're not dividing your attention well between your outside references and your flight instruments, you may not notice the descent for a while.
If you trim after you've reached your final bank angle, the aircraft shouldn't descend. You don't have to be perfect, close will often do. Any remaining climb or descent will be small, which is easy for you to catch and correct.
If you trim the aircraft during your steep turn and don't re-trim as you roll out, you'll find you need lots of forward control pressure to lower your pitch. Many students allow the aircraft to balloon as they exit the steep turn - often because they're fighting the trim they added to stabilize the turn.
As you roll out of the turn, start trimming the aircraft nose down to relieve the control pressure. As you establish your level-flight pitch, make a final trim adjustment to eliminate any pressure and hold level flight.
There are times when your hand shouldn't leave the throttle - but a steep turn at altitude isn't one of them. During a steep turn, you should be high enough to troubleshoot an engine failure - so a momentary loss of power shouldn't cause a crisis. Plus, trimming your aircraft should only take a few seconds, giving you more than enough time to get back to the throttle and adjust it to maintain airspeed.
The best way to develop a trim technique is to practice. Your instructor can trim the aircraft subconsciously - but not because they're an amazing pilot, it's simply that they've done it so often. Keep practicing and you'll find trimming becomes natural, too.
Aleks is a Boldmethod co-founder and technical director. He's worked in safety and operations in the airline industry, and was a flight instructor and course manager for the University of North Dakota. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.