Chapter 6—Ground Reference Maneuvers

Purpose and Scope
Maneuvering By Reference to Ground Objects
Drift and Ground Track Control
Rectangular Course
S-Turns Across a Road
Turns Around a Point
Elementary Eights
    Eights Along a Road
    Eights Across a Road
    Eights Around Pylons
    Eights-On-Pylons (Pylon Eights)
Table of Contents


Ground reference maneuvers and their related factors are used in developing a high degree of pilot skill. Although most of these maneuvers are not performed as such in normal everyday flying, the elements and principles involved in each are applicable to performance of the customary pilot operations. They aid the pilot in analyzing the effect of wind and other forces acting on the airplane and in developing a fine control touch, coordination, and the division of attention necessary for accurate and safe maneuvering of the airplane.

All of the early part of the pilot’s training has been conducted at relatively high altitudes, and for the purpose of developing technique, knowledge of maneuvers, coordination, feel, and the handling of the airplane in general. This training will have required that most of the pilot’s attention be given to the actual handling of the airplane, and the results of control pressures on the action and attitude of the airplane.

If permitted to continue beyond the appropriate training stage, however, the student pilot’s concentration of attention will become a fixed habit, one that will seriously detract from the student’s ease and safety as a pilot, and will be very difficult to eliminate. Therefore, it is necessary, as soon as the pilot shows proficiency in the fundamental maneuvers, that the pilot be introduced to maneuvers requiring outside attention on a practical application of these maneuvers and the knowledge gained.

It should be stressed that, during ground reference maneuvers, it is equally important that basic flying technique previously learned be maintained. The flight instructor should not allow any relaxation of the student’s previous standard of technique simply because a new factor is added. This requirement should be maintained throughout the student’s progress from maneuver to maneuver. Each new maneuver should embody some advance and include the principles of the preceding one in order that continuity be maintained. Each new factor introduced should be merely a step-up of one already learned so that orderly, consistent progress can be made.


Ground track or ground reference maneuvers are performed at a relatively low altitude while applying wind drift correction as needed to follow a predetermined track or path over the ground. They are designed to develop the ability to control the airplane, and to recognize and correct for the effect of wind while dividing attention among other matters. This requires planning ahead of the airplane, maintaining orientation in relation to ground objects, flying appropriate headings to follow a desired ground track, and being cognizant of other air traffic in the immediate vicinity.

Ground reference maneuvers should be flown at an altitude of approximately 600 to 1,000 feet AGL. The actual altitude will depend on the speed and type of airplane to a large extent, and the following factors should be considered.

  • The speed with relation to the ground should not be so apparent that events happen too rapidly.
  • The radius of the turn and the path of the airplane over the ground should be easily noted and changes planned and effected as circumstances require.
  • Drift should be easily discernable, but not tax the student too much in making corrections.
  • Objects on the ground should appear in their proportion and size.
  • The altitude should be low enough to render any gain or loss apparent to the student, but in no case lower than 500 feet above the highest obstruction.

During these maneuvers, both the instructor and the student should be alert for available forced-landing fields. The area chosen should be away from communities, livestock, or groups of people to prevent possible annoyance or hazards to others. Due to the altitudes at which these maneuvers are performed, there is little time available to search for a suitable field for landing in the event the need arises.

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PED Publication