Try a Chandelle

You don’t have to be going for your Commercial certificate, suffering the strains of aerobatics or trying to get a fighter off your tail; the chandelle will improve your stick-and-rudder skills, make you less likely to have a stall-spin accident and they’re fun, too.

History: Evading the Enemy
The chandelle (from the French, literally “candle”) is generally considered to be the first dutifully designed air combat maneuver. French pilots very early in the First World War discovered that a banked, climbing turn at minimum airspeed allowed their “aeroplanes” to turn 180 degrees in the shortest amount of time — useful information if one of Tony Fokker’s masterpieces was diving on your tail. Much more recently, the chandelle has come to be known as one of the so-called “commercial maneuvers” — Areas of Operation aspiring professional pilots must master in order to pass the Commercial checkride. (Some pilots might consider passing an FAA practical test to be a form of “evading the enemy” as well.) Regardless of your motives for flying the chandelle, this not-TOO-tricky maneuver with the graceful French name is one of the best teachers of aircraft coordination, planning, and control. And it’s FUN.

So What’s a Chandelle?
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Airplane Flying Handbook defines a chandelle as “a climbing turn beginning from straight and level flight, and ending at the completion of 180 degrees of turn in a wings-level, nose-high attitude at minimum controllable airspeed.”

Note: The Airplane Flying Handbook has replaced the old AC-61-21A Flight Training Handbook so many of us “more experienced” pilots used when first learning to fly.

Here’s what you’ve got to review to be ready to practice chandelles:

  • Clear your airspace: Like any other maneuver, make at least 180 degrees of turn to check for other airplanes before flying the maximum-performance chandelle. Do it every time.
  • Maneuvering speed: Look up the “design maneuvering speed” in the Limitations section of the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH), if the airplane is new enough to have a modern POH. If not, read whatever “pilot’s manual” you have available, ask other pilots who fly your exact same type of aircraft for a recommended maneuver entry speed. As a last resort, pick an airspeed at around 1.5 to 1.7 times the no-flaps stalling speed of the airplane. Then, play around a bit and find the power setting that results in this airspeed with the flaps (and landing gear, if appropriate) up in level flight — this is your chandelle entry power setting.
  • Rudder coordination: Practice enough turns and climbing turns that rudder coordination becomes instinctive as bank, airspeed and engine torque vary. Of course, practicing chandelles will sharpen your rudder skills even more.
  • Minimum controllable airspeed (MCA): You’ll need to know the pitch attitude for VMCA instinctively to successfully fly the chandelle, but there’s a twist — you need to know the pitch attitude for VMCA at full throttle in a clean (flaps and gear up) configuration. Your previous VMCA practice was likely flown with flaps and gear extended and that won’t fully prepare you for the chandelle.
  • Stalls: You need to be very familiar with the warning signs, and recovery from, two kinds of stalls: power-on stalls, in case you get too aggressive with the pitch attitude, and cross-control stalls, in case you’re not perfect with the rudder. It’s a great idea to practice both these types of stall recognition and recovery with a knowledgeable instructor, before attempting the chandelle.

Part A: The Turn

The well-flown chandelle starts in level, unaccelerated flight at or below the airplane’s design maneuvering speed (found in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook). After clearing the area for other air traffic, gradually bank into a 30-degree bank angle turn. But wait… I really mean gradually.

  • Time your rate of bank entry so that your bank angle is only 15 degrees at the time your heading has changed 45 degrees.
  • The bank angle should just reach 30 degrees as you’ve completed 90 degrees of turn.

Part B: The Climb
Meanwhile, increase pitch attitude. As you begin that very gentle bank entry, gingerly pitch the nose up slightly toward that required for minimum controllable airspeed (VMCA) — 5 to 10 knots above the stalling speed of the airplane. Your rate of pitch change toward nose-high must also be gradual.

  • Your goal is to hit the VMCA pitch attitude at the same time you’ve reached maximum bank angle (30 degrees), all taking place just as you’ve completed the first 90 degrees of heading.

Part C: You’re not done yet.
As you pass 90 degrees of heading change, you’re at maximum bank and maximum pitch angles for the chandelle. Now hold pitch attitude while you gradually roll out of the turn — with a rate of bank change about the same as that you used entering the maneuver.

  • Three-quarters of the way through your turn (135 degrees from your initial heading) you’re still at VMCA pitch attitude but your bank is only 15 degrees.
  • As you finish the 180-degree turn you’ll be nose high in the VMCA pitch attitude, just above stall-speed, and just returning to wings-level flight.

Notes: As you increase pitch attitude you also need to go to maximum power also (pilots of controllable-pitch propellers can leave the prop at “cruise-climb” setting, but still apply wide-open throttle). At the end of the maneuver you’ll be wings-level, full power and pitched up to the ragged edge of a stall. THAT, my friends, is a chandelle. It’s a graceful maneuver that teaches patience as much as it does aircraft control.

Although you’ll line up on a road or other reference when beginning a chandelle, it is not a ground reference maneuver — unless the winds are calm you’ll likely blow away from your ground reference lines, and that’s okay. Similarly, powerful airplanes at low operating weights and low density altitudes may gain a lot of altitude in a chandelle, but many training types may climb little, if at all.

Coordination and control are the goals; altitude gain is not essential for a successful chandelle.

Chandelles “under the hood” might be one heck of a confidence-building maneuver for instrument pilots, but the chandelle is most assuredly a visual flight maneuver. Keep your head out of the cockpit and use visual cues for bank and pitch to eke the most performance out of your airplane in a chandelle. The maneuver is a graceful combination of banking in and out of a medium-bank turn, while adding power and pitching up to a near-stall attitude and artfully rotating through half-a-circle’s heading change. Of course, the true master of the chandelle will make it look easy.

BOTTOM LINE: Hook up with an instructor, practice the basic elements of the chandelle, and try the maneuver in whatever airplane you’re flying. You’re not evading The Hun and you may not be working toward your Commercial checkride, but learning to fly the chandelle is a fun way to improve your basic flying skills, and to spice up your flying without subjecting your body to the rigors of aerobatic flight.