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In most small airplanes, the magnetic compass is the only direction-indicating instrument independent of other airplane instruments and power sources. Because of its operating characteristics, called compass errors, pilots are prone to use it only as a reference for setting the heading indicator, but knowledge of magnetic compass characteristics permits full use of the instrument to turn the airplane to correct and maintain headings.

Remember the following points when making turns to magnetic compass headings or when using the magnetic compass as a reference for setting the heading indicator:

  1. If on a north heading and a turn is started to the east or west, the compass indication lags or indicates a turn in the opposite direction.
  2. If on a south heading and a turn is started toward the east or west, the compass indication precedes the turn, indicating a greater amount of turn than is actually occurring.
  3. When on an east or west heading, the compass indicates correctly when starting a turn in either direction.
  4. If on an east or west heading, acceleration results in a north turn indication; deceleration results in a south turn indication.
  5. When maintaining a north or south heading, no error results from diving, climbing, or changing airspeed.

With an angle of bank between 15° and 18°, the amount of lead or lag to be used when turning to northerly or southerly headings varies with, and is approximately equal to, the latitude of the locality over which the turn is being made. When turning to a heading of north, the lead for roll-out must include the number of degrees of change of latitude, plus the lead normally used in recovery from turns. During a turn to a south heading, maintain the turn until the compass passes south the number of degrees of latitude, minus normal rollout lead. [Figure 7-35]

Figure 7-35. North and south turn error.

Figure 7-35. North and south turn error.

For example, when turning from an easterly direction to north, where the latitude is 30°, start the roll-out when the compass reads 37° (30° plus one-half the 15° angle of bank, or whatever amount is appropriate for the rate of roll-out). When turning from an easterly direction to south, start the roll-out when the magnetic compass reads 203° (180° plus 30° minus one-half the angle of bank). When making similar turns from a westerly direction, the appropriate points at which to begin the roll-out would be 323° for a turn to north and 157° for a turn to south.

When turning to a heading of east or west from a northerly direction, start the roll-out approximately 10° to 12° before the east or west indication is reached. When turning to an east or west heading from a southerly direction, start the rollout approximately 5 degrees before the east or west indication is reached. When turning to other headings, the lead or lag must be interpolated.

Abrupt changes in attitude or airspeed and the resulting erratic movements of the compass card make accurate interpretations of the instrument very difficult. Proficiency in compass turns depends on knowledge of compass characteristics, smooth control technique, and accurate bank-and-pitch control.

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