Flying in Turbulence and Thermal activity

Published by: Rizwan Bukhari on 24th Nov 2017 | View all blogs by Rizwan Bukhari

Hi all,

I hope I am NOT the only one here who is not entirely comfortable flying in Turbulence and Thermal activity. (despite the fact that I have been flying for a little while now).

Few weeks ago, I was flying with an experienced (Trike pilot friend) and he noticed that flying through the Turbulence, I was pulling the bar in so he said to me, just let the wing fly where it wants to fly (trim speed) and just correct when the pitch and bank is significant. And so I did and realized that I have been doing this incorrectly for the most part. By pulling the bar in and holding it with a white knuckled grip, I maybe guilty of transferring a lot of bad energy through the Trike carriage.

I am not ashamed to admit that I may have developed some bad habits, so some advanced training is needed.

But I am curious to find out that how do you fly through Turbulence and Thermal activity. And how exactly have you improved your handling of Turbulence and Thermal activity. What is the best way to expand one's knowledge and getting comfortable flying in turbulent conditions? What are some of the techniques that you think are good for flying in rough conditions?


Thanks all,






  • Brian Fox
    by Brian Fox 21 days ago
    This is a great topic, I am a student pilot actively looking for my first trike, I am sure to fly in turbulent air sooner or later so I will be watching this carefully to hear what the vets have to say!
  • Robert Sumner
    by Robert Sumner 21 days ago
    I found that out on my own too. When you try to correct the wing all the time the carriage will be rockin all over the place. Just let it be unless it needs a big correction. Flying in it isn't so bad once you do that. But landing in it can be a little scary expecially on asphalt... You can't just let it do it's thing in the wind trying to line up on a skinny bit of runway...
  • Larry  Mednick
    by Larry Mednick 21 days ago
    Man Rizzy you hit the nail on the head about pulling in when tense. This clenched grip is the #1 reason for loss of control in turbulence.It also speeds up the trike which is actually BAD when you are in turbulence. The first thing I do when flying in bad turbulence, in a performance wing anyway, is get down to a slower speed. the slower speed will reduce the bumps and G loads on the trike. If you are holding the control bar in you will speed yourself up and make things much harder on yourself and your trike.

    Most pilots try to correct the wing, when in fact it is only the carriage that needs to be controlled. Others may disagree, but I personally fly the carriage. I pay full attention to banking the carriage when turning not the wing which may be doing + - bank angles during the turn. Also Pitch control of the carriage. this is more important than most trike pilots realize. this allows you to stabilize your air speed which makes controlling the trike MUCH easier. Like most instincts in flying they are usually the opposite of what you need to do.

    Bumping the controls/ hard side load tugs to the control bar are also the worst thing you can do. If you are not taking about 4 seconds to make the correction you are probably pulling too hard! apply pressure during the entire correction until you get what you need in terms of leveling the carriage(making the front strut vertical again). Sharp tugs give off an equal and opposite reaction causing the carriage to swing sideways. this is also a "bad swing" to your passenger. While a gust or thermal may cause you carriage to swing sideways, it is the cetrifugal force that causes this and the passenger can sit through this like a sack of potatoes. However forceful side loaded control bar corrections if done improperly will cause the carriage to not only swing sideways, but cause the passenger to have to hold themselves upright in their seat. This cause them to work to hold themselves in their seat. Holding slight pressure to roll eliminates this lateral force on the passenger. However the larger problem is the onset of the pilot seat and the controls becoming "uncoupled" the trike is the only aircraft I can think of where moving the controls 1" to the right, for example, will only result consistent in calm air. once the wing is swinging one way the carriage is swinging the other way, things now need to rely more on bar pressure and less on bar movement. for example: restricting the bar as it swings wildly to the right will induce a right bank, yet the controls are still moving to the right. hence the pilot can turn right without moving the control bar left relative to the carriage. Of course this is only when the carriage is swinging.

    Correcting using side load to the control bar causes the control resistance to very greatly in turbulent air. READ THAT AGAIN IT IS KEY when the pilot is pulling the controls left and the thermal lifting the right tip goes away all of the sudden the pilot "WINS THE TUG OF WAR CONTEST" and "THROWS THE CONTROLS" resulting in an over control.

    SOLUTION. Due to over-control and side loads induced on the carriage, I have found pulling right hand to right hip approximately 1-4" and waiting until the front strut returns to where it was solves both issues. Be smooth and deliberate on the controls and allow the trike to respond to what you told it to do a full second ago. It isn't going to respond immediately and do not release the control input until the trike did what you wanted it to do. Then all of the sudden you have control of the trike, the carriage isn't swinging, you aren't playing tug of war and you can fly all day.
  • Lindsay Mannix
    by Lindsay Mannix 21 days ago
    We are referring to a shitty day here of course .
    Close to the ground 9On final or takeoff) that white knuckle grip will save your ass .
    instant response is requited asap just don't freeze up too much it is about small corrections quickly applied.

    Higher up let her have some space ...but there are some days when the type of turbulence is just not conducive to enjoyable flight be it a light trike or a 3 axis ..the 3 axis is less likely to lose control though.
    When the sail slaps the xbars usually followed by induced white knuckle grip is when it is time to do anything else except land well.
    And the gyro copters keep flying .
  • Larry  Mednick
    by Larry Mednick 21 days ago
    I know many have different opinions than mine, but Landing in heavy turbulence I suggest the following:

    1) get lined up with the runway way before you are on short approach
    2) make sure you keep your speed relatively slow and control your front strut using the above techniques I mentioned above.
    3) at 2-3oo feet depending on the trike drop the nose to a sustainable steep approach. in order to get the nose down you need 2 things:
    A) slower air speed
    B) engine at idel
    4) continue to allow the trike to accelerate on its steep approach
    5) monitor descent rate especially as you go through the transition gradient. use sharp full throttle burst of power to control descent rate. (biggest mistake is holding power too long and getting stuck in level flight below 100' and above 3' off the ground)
    6) make a LARGE round out trying to keep the trike as close to 1 G as possible. The biggest mistake I see is pilot arresting their descent at the very last moment. This is bad (perhaps a separate discussion) adding power here is ok depending on the trike and conditions, but not a recommendation for all case.
    7) make sure you do not level off until approximately 12" off the ground. leveling off at 5' or 10' is the most dangerous thing I can think of (perhaps a separate discussion on that as well)
    8) lean forward so you can maintain control during the flare.
    9) do not force the aircraft on the ground just because the tires are so close. bleed the energy until the trike settles on the runway.

    At any point where any step has gone wrong, go to full throttle and go around. the odds are a bad approach will result in a bad landing. It takes all 9 steps to make landing easy and controlled.
  • Lindsay Mannix
    by Lindsay Mannix 21 days ago
    Larry has put it well as usual ..thanks .
    I have found that as you get abetter sense,on a shitty day during round out where yaw can be disconcerting I will, when things are all lined up , fly her on at 1g . This is when I really don't want to go round the roller coaster cycle again and really are not enjoying flight.
    I learned this from having to do one way landings when go round was never an option ...stupid ..I know. But It saved me and my gear with a few engine outs over the years .

    The warning here is that if you touch down at speed when things are not lined up you will have far more problems than going round would give . It is split second decision that comes with lots of round outs in turbulence. There is no teaching for this ...but if your front wheel is always aligned with your direction of travel (hopefully straight down the runway) your rollover chances are zero.
    This means that as your rears touch your front wheel must maintain in the direction of travel (inertia) at all times which means its likely changing as your rears touch .
    This does not necessarily mean keeping it all straight down the runway is hard to explain and easy to misinterpret.
    If the front wheel absorbs any side load on touch down you have a problem.

    It is much easier to learn this on an open trike and trail bike jumping (landing)experience is exactly the same .
    Its all about not letting the runway move the trike sideways .
    Lose yaw coupling assists this which does put some twisting load on the mast /keel.
    I would suggest that every trike would benefit from some (the right amount ) of self centering give in the hang block , rather than relying on the keel to absorb it.

    But as Larry says a good final turn and consistent approach path with leeway for speed change in both directions is where you do most of the good work .
    I hope this was helpful and not confusing .
    Xwind practice highlights this well .
    Front wheel always straight down the center line (in smooth conditions )
    In heavy turbulence though especially mechanical like in an emergency landing , your travel direction my not be what you might want .
    If you have room or power as Larry says, go round and don't be worried about doing it again .
  • Joe Hockman
    by Joe Hockman 21 days ago
    What I found with flying UL trikes is that once I get sufficient altitude, I almost always fly with my finger tips on the control bar with a very light grip. You can really feel what the wind is doing with a light touch. You can't precisely gauge level of wind activity or turbulence with a death grip. However, landing with significant turbs is not the time for light finger tip grip. As you approach the deck, you must be ready to respond instantaneously if needed. Great contributions already by all above particularly Larry and Lindsay.

    Oh one other thing, if you do not like turbulence because dealing with it is outside your comfort zone but you would like to be more comfortable with it, then you must be willing to slowly expose yourself to more turbulent conditions. You will never develop more comfort with turbulence if you always avoid flying in it. I firmly believe it is important to periodically test the edges of your comfort zone because that is how you learn and potentially expand your comfort zone. Additionally it will help you make more informed decisions on when to go and when not to go flying.
  • Lindsay Mannix
    by Lindsay Mannix 21 days ago
    One other thing about turbulence is that 99.9% of it is just something to deal with and is often pleasurable and keeps you active and attentive and as long you have altitude there is usually no hurry do to do anything . BUT .. If the wind speed is greater than 15 knots and you are lee side of steep terrain ,thermals combined with mechanical turbulence can overpower you past 90 deg .
    These particular rotors don't care what ship you fly but trikes are least suited to them .
    I know this is commonsense to most of us but there are new pilots here too and I suggest drawing a picture in your mind of what influence the terrain has on the air at all times .
    A place I go hang gliding has a small island 5 miles out to sea and on a smooth day you can notice the influence of it like it has cast a bumpy shadow that goes for miles and miles ...nothing to be bothered by but every bump is generated by something and it can be interesting to find the cause. I have a passion for sea thermals which happen when the air is cooler than the ocean. or more particularly ,the ocean is warmer than the air.

    Migratory birds use these conditions for much of their journeys ...what a fantastic world we are in !
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 20 days ago
    This is a common topic see
    from a year ago. It has plenty of information also.

    Note that the FAA WSC Aircraft manual also has the basics in chaqpter 6-3 Feel of the Aircraft, 6-4 Straight and Level flight, Page 6-19 Energy management, 6-24 A Sceranio, 11-8 Effect of Headwinds, 11-10 Stabilized Approach and 11-16 Power on Approach and landing in Turbulent air.

    I have found that one of the biggest misunderstandings is the turbulence levels. Extreme turbulence is to some, as light/moderate bumps are to others. The other blog I think defines the levers to help eliminate the emotion and provide some standard to trike pilots.
  • Lindsay Mannix
    by Lindsay Mannix 20 days ago
    Thanks Paul most stuff is well known but here is something that is worth a mention.

    Our 2 place wings are designed for max weight handling wise and when loaded properly the turbulence is far more agreeable that when lightly loaded .
    Some early airborne wings actually had negative bar pressure when the g's loading was reduced in bumps . ( tight,flat trailing edge too low )
    I'm not sure how many of today's wings handle with light loads but I do remember how happy I was to have a passenger at times .
  • Ryszard Lewandowski
    by Ryszard Lewandowski 19 days ago
    Larry, excellent tips.
    You wrote: "Also Pitch control of the carriage. this is more important than most trike pilots realize. this allows you to stabilize your air speed which makes controlling the trike MUCH easier."
    How do you achive it? By changing AoA (push/pull handlebar)?
  • Larry  Mednick
    by Larry Mednick 19 days ago
    Yes Ryszard, moving the control bar fore and aft controls the carriages nose attitude. An excellent excercise is to get your Trike in straight and level flight, close one eye, and mark (usually with your bungee tie wrap) where the horizon crosses your front strut. Then Open both eyes and hold the horizon on the mark on front strut while varying the Throttle. Make abrupt Throttle changes as well as long slow Throttle changes all while not allowing the horizon to rise or sink on your front strut.

    Then when you have mastered pitch control you will use it on climb out and during turns which is where we tend to see the largest pitch oscillations and also all phases of flight including straight and level
    In the bumps and even the flare.

    This control is a missing component from many Trike pilots.
  • Ryszard Lewandowski
    by Ryszard Lewandowski 18 days ago
    Thanks Larry, I'll try.
  • Rizwan Bukhari
    by Rizwan Bukhari 18 days ago
    Great contributions from everyone. Larry, I really enjoyed the techniques you shared. I will definitely try them. During my checkride, I used the bungee tie wrap as my reference to the horizon when I had to demonstrate Steep turns and it went pretty smoothly. Thanks everyone else for your contributions as well, I really appreciate them.

    Another question is that during calm morning, has anyone noticed significant turbulence near lakes (and I am talking about on calm mornings). I don't know what causes them but I would think that the temperature difference is the culprit. This year there were a few times where I really felt quite some turbulence over lakes and even the snake river on morning flights.
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