In Stick and Rudder, the author warns pilots against the unreliability of judging airspeed and hence “buoyancy” — his term for how far the airplane is from aerodynamic stall — by throttle position, engine noise, and nose attitude.

Perhaps the most deceptive of these factors is g load. When an airplane, flying at a certain speed, goes into a turn and loads itself down with g load it assumes larger Angle of Attack and this gets closer to the stall. That has been described earlier in this book. But it isn’t the whole story. At the larger Angle of Attack, the wings have more drag, and thus the airplane will slow up, unless the throttle is opened wider. The airplane assumes a still higher Angle of Attack and gets still closer to the stall! Few pilots realize how strong and dangerous this effect is.

Langewiesche, Wolfgang. “The Flying Instinct.” In Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying, 58. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1944.

He then gives a surprising example.

The average small airplane, fully loaded and with its throttle set at cruising, is actually unable to hold indefinitely any turn banked much more than 45 degrees! The effect just described will slow it down gradually, as it circles, so that the pilot’s stick comes farther and farther back; until finally, after perhaps twenty turns have been completed, it will stall: stall, mark you, out of level flight with cruising throttle!


Why doesn’t nosing over to leave the steep turns for straight-and-level attitude with open throttle produce sufficient airspeed to avoid the stall?

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    $\begingroup$ I think what is described is entering the regime of speed instability on the backside of the power curve. Additionally, the described scenario assumes the pilot holds altitude by pulling back no matter what. Trading altitude for sufficient airspeed in descent will restore normal flight at previously trimmed cruise conditions eventually. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ I think the author's comments assume that the pilot has not taken action to maintain airspeed with the increased drag, by either increasing the throttle, (or, if the aircraft does not have sufficient excess power to hold airspeed at the higher bank angle, initiated a descent). [Obviously], if you don't maintain sufficient airspeed, eventually the aircraft will slow down and stall. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ "When an airplane, flying at a certain speed, goes into a turn and loads itself down with g load it assumes larger Angle of Attack and this gets closer to the stall. " -- I don't believe this is true. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 1:20

3 Answers 3


A prolonged series of steep turns will not produce a stall in subsequent straight and level flight.

"after perhaps twenty turns have been completed, it will stall: stall, mark you, out of level flight with cruising throttle!"

In this case "level flight" means not climbing or descending while still in a steep turn.

Stopping the turn by rolling level would unload the wings and prevent the stall. Nosing down would also unload the wings and increase airspeed, also preventing a stall.

  • $\begingroup$ Throttling up from cruise power to climb or TOGA power would also increase airspeed and prevent a stall. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 1:53

Well, lowering the pitch attitude to reduce the AoA during the turn will nullify the onset of the stall at the expense of loss of altitude. Langeweisch’s point is that for a smaller aircraft ie an airplane with little reserve power available to climb and with the throttle setting for cruise power and not increased during the turn, holding a continuous steep turn at a constant altitude results in so much additional induced drag that the airplane will begin to decelerate. Doing so requires additional pitch up to hold altitude which again increases drag, creating a vicious circle. Sooner or later the airplane will be so slow that the pilot will exceed the critical AoA using elevator pressure and stall the airplane. This will occur at a speed much higher than it would in straight and level flight. The point here is that power settings have to be adjusted in order to maintain constant altitude and airspeed in a steep turn, as would be expected.


The simplest explanation is that when Langewiesche says "it will stall... out of level flight with cruising throttle", he is describing a situation where the aircraft is still banked, with insufficient power to maintain a constant airspeed, and the pilot is continually moving the stick or yoke further and further aft to maintain altitude, bringing the aircraft deeper and deeper into the "back side of the power curve".

Now let's consider some other possibilities.

While there's a lot of good information in "Stick and Rudder", there are also some flaws within.

For example, Langewiesche claims that in turning flight, sometimes it is better to center the slip-slid ball with an elevator input rather than a rudder input. I've never found this to be possible.

In general for a given position of the control stick or yoke, or for a given force exerted by the pilot on the control stick or yoke, an aircraft flies at a lower angle-of-attack in a steep turn than in wings-level flight. This is a consequence of the fact that a turn involves a pitch rotation rate, which creates an aerodynamic damping effect, which creates a pitch torque on the tail that decreases the wing's angle-of-attack.

If you set the throttle and elevator trim to maintain altitude and airspeed in a medium-banked or steep-banked turn, and you then you roll to wings-level without changing the throttle position and without pushing forward on the yoke, not only will the flight path curve upward, but the angle-of-attack will increase, and the aircraft very well may stall.

However, starting from a constant-altitude constant-airspeed steep turn, if you push the stick or yoke forward to avoid climbing as you roll to wings-level, and the aircraft had not yet reached the stall angle-of-attack in the turn, then the aircraft is not going to be at risk of stalling once it enters wings-level constant-altitude flight at the same throttle setting, even if there was a substantial loss of airspeed in the turn.

Things are a bit different if the airplane is allowed to descend at a very steep dive angle in the turn. A steep descent path does "unload" the wing to some degree, as drag rather than lift supports part of the aircraft weight. Still, it is hard to imagine that this effect would be strong enough to cause the aircraft to stall once the pilot reduces the bank angle to zero and attempts to maintain a constant altitude, as long as the pull-out from the descent is not too abrupt.

Note the reference to "cruise power" in Langewiesche's warning. Presumably this means that the throttle or power lever is fixed in a position appropriate for crusing flight. Langewiesche's warning appears to be aimed at a situation where the aircraft is rapidly losing airspeed in a steep turn and ends up deep on the "back side of the power curve", with the airspeed continuing to decay, as the pilot trades airspeed for altitude. Still, if we are talking about a substantial bank angle and the airspeed has not yet dropped to the (accelerated) stall speed, it is hard to imagine that once the airplane is rolled back to wings-level flight and the angle-of-attack is reduced, it will still be so deep in the "back side of the power curve" that it will not be able to accelerate while maintaining altitude, even with no increase in power setting. Perhaps in a really extreme case where aircraft was just about to stall before the pilot started to decrease the bank angle, the pilot might have to let the aircraft descend a bit first rather than trying to maintain altitude immediately upon reaching a wings-level attitude, to allow the airspeed to start to increase, especially in a jet where the "backside of the power curve" may extend further above stall speed than in an aircraft with a propeller, given that the thrust lever is assumed to be fixed at a cruise position.

  • $\begingroup$ In a turning descent, yes the wings are unloaded, but the risk remains rolling out as the plane has a vertical component. Some commonality here to recovery from a side slip: relax elevator and roll to level coordinated with rudder. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ edit needed "extreme case where the aircraft was just about to stall" $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 22:00

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