Steep Airplane Banks

Q: After takeoff during our post-departure maneuverings, our plane went through a long series of very steep banks — I’d say about 60 degrees. This seemed a bit excessive. Do some pilots tend to hot-dog it more than others?

Typical passenger guestimates of pitch and bank are about double the actual value. A plane will not be banked more than about 25 degrees in normal circumstances, and anything beyond 30 would be a pretty drastic maneuver. A 60 degree tip will throw twice the force of gravity in your lap (two Gs), and you’d be struggling just to lift your legs from the carpet.

It works the same for climbs and descents. The steepest climb you’ll ever see is about 18-20 degrees pitchup or about 5 degrees pitch down.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.