This maneuver has the common requirements such as clearing the area, and it has the unique requirement among maneuvers to determine the pivotal altitude and select appropriately spaced pylons as references for the maneuver. However, unlike others, this maneuver has no altitude, heading, bank (other than not to exceed 40 degrees), or airspeed tolerances to determine satisfactory performance standards.

Without these tolerances, what is actually intended to be proven of the pilot's ability upon successful performance of this maneuver?

This is the ACS page for commercial airplane eights on pylons: enter image description here


The maneuver tests the ability of the pilot to hold precise altitude and airspeed. You need to make constant small corrections when flying into and away from the wind. In my opinion, it is the most difficult of the Commercial maneuvers.

Garry Wing has a good explanation of the technique.

As Garry Wing explained in the video. If you don’t hold precise altitude and groundspeed the point moves. So as the wind increases upwind it lowers your groundspeed requiring a lower pivotal altitude. Downwind you will increase your groundspeed requiring a higher pivotal altitude. So you need to remain coordinated, constantly vary the altitude, scan for traffic, and maintain situational awareness of your location around the pylons.

Your airspeed will vary a bit as you climb and descend and head into and away from the wind, but if you can’t maintain a consistent groundspeed your pivotal altitude will change and that will throw off the whole maneuver. As you can see in the chart below, if your groundspeed varies by 4 kts from 87 to 92 kts the pivotal altitude changes by 65'. This is the part of the maneuver that requires precise control of airspeed and altitude with coordinated use of the rudder and ailerons.

Pivotal Altitude

The FAA explains it well in Airplane Flying Handbook:


The eights-on-pylons is the most advanced and difficult of the ground reference maneuvers. Because of the techniques involved, the eights-on-pylons are unmatched for developing intuitive control of the airplane. Similar to eights around pylons except altitude is varied to maintain a specific visual reference to the pivot points.

Chapter Summary

At the completion of ground reference maneuvers, the pilot should not only be able to command the airplane to specific pitch, roll, and yaw attitudes but, while correcting for the effects of wind drift, also control the airplane’s orientation in relation to ground-based references. It should be reinforced that safety is paramount in all aspects of flying. Ground reference maneuvers require planning and high levels of vigilance to ensure that the practice and performance of these maneuvers are executed where the safety to groups of people, livestock, communities, and the pilot is not compromised. To master ground reference maneuvers, a pilot must develop coordination, timing, and division of attention to accurately maneuver the airplane in reference to flight attitudes and specific ground references. With these enhanced skills, the pilot significantly strengthens their competency in everyday flight maneuvers, such as straight-and-level, turns, climbs, and descents.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you please elaborate on how it tests the ability of the pilot to hold precise altitude and airspeed? $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen May 26 '19 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @RyanMortensen I edited my answer. $\endgroup$ – JScarry May 26 '19 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ I was always under the impression that the pitch and altitude changed dependent upon the resulting ground speed changes and the only thing that was constant was the angle of bank and power. In other words, altitude and ground speed are not intended to be constant, only bank and power. Is that not so? Actually, the last sentence of the quote block for E.O.P is "Similar to eights around pylons except altitude is varied..." and altitude varies proportional to ground speed per the table. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen May 26 '19 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @RyanMortensen FWIW, that is how I was taught to do Eight-on-Pylons and how I taught my students when I was an instructor. $\endgroup$ – Terry May 26 '19 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ @RyanMortensen I believe that power is set at entry and not changed. Groundspeed and altitude are adjusted with pitch. Bank angle is dependent on where in the maneuver you are reltive to the wind. Just like any ground reference maneuver that keeps a fixed distance from a point or line, the steepest bank occurs when flying with the wind and the shallowest bank when flying into the wind. $\endgroup$ – JScarry May 26 '19 at 21:08

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