S Turns for Spacing at a Towered Airport


Well-Known Member
I'm trying to brush up on things I've forgotten or feel weak on and came across this sentence in 4-3-5 of the AIM.
"The controller can anticipate minor maneuvering such as shallow “S” turns."

I'm remembering a scenario when I was working on my flight review flying in the pattern of a Class D airport, #2 for touch and go on, and I started doing some S-turns on final for spacing. I don't remember if the #1 aircraft was just slow getting off the runway or what, but whatever the case was, I needed to buy some time. The CFI at the time said something like "lets stop doing that so we don't get yelled at for unapproved S-turns."

Reading further down 4-3-5, after describing 360 maneuvers, it also says "Should a pilot decide to make maneuvering turns to maintain spacing behind a preceding aircraft, the pilot should always advise the controller if at all possible."

So this seems mostly clear to me, I was OK to do that, but should have advised tower if possible. I'm just not 100% clear though, that they consider S-turns maneuvering turns or if they're referring to 360's (which I know shouldn't be done without permission unless it's an emergency). I can't recall ever hearing anyone advise the tower they were doing this. Any thoughts on this or am I understanding correctly?
I know this is a basic question I should know but most of my time is in helicopters and I'm trying to plug holes in my fixed wing operations knowledge as I find them.


Well-Known Member
Always advise Tower if you are going to do anything other than a straight line on final. Period. Keep in mind that, even with shallow S-turns, advising ATC can result in, "you have adequate spacing. Continue straight in" even if the result is landing on the runway with another aircraft still on it.
I was a tower controller for about two years. FWIW, I was actually not aware that shallow S turns were permitted until I started pilot training, and I doubt anyone else I was with there knew either. I also would not account for them when sequencing traffic. Just speaking from my limited personal experience.

I agree with Mark, just advise the tower. I always appreciated it.
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