A slip occurs when the bank angle of an airplane is too steep for the existing rate of turn. Unintentional slips are most often the result of uncoordinated rudder/aileron application. Intentional slips, however, are used to dissipate altitude without increasing airspeed and/ or to adjust airplane ground track during a crosswind. Intentional slips are especially useful in forced landings and in situations where obstacles need to be cleared during approaches to confined areas. A slip can also be used as a means of rapidly reducing airspeed in situations where wing flaps are inoperative or not installed.

A slip is a combination of forward movement and sideward (with respect to the longitudinal axis of the airplane) movement, the lateral axis being inclined and the sideward movement being toward the low end of this axis (low wing). An airplane in a slip is in fact flying sideways through the air even though it may appear to be going straight over the ground. This results in a change in the direction that the relative wind strikes the airplane. Slips are characterized by a marked increase in drag and corresponding decrease in airplane climb, cruise, and glide performance. Because the airplane is banked, the vertical component of lift is reduced allowing for an airplane in a slip to descend rapidly without an increase in airspeed.

Most airplanes exhibit the characteristic of positive static directional stability and, therefore, have a natural tendency to compensate for slipping. An intentional slip usually requires deliberate cross-controlling of ailerons and rudder throughout the maneuver.

There are two types of intentional slips: sideslip and forward slips. Sideslips are frequently used when landing with a crosswind to keep the aircraft aligned with the runway centerline. A sideslip is entered by lowering a wing and applying just enough opposite rudder to prevent a turn. In a sideslip, the airplane’s longitudinal axis remains parallel to the original flightpath, but the airplane no longer flies straight ahead. Instead, the horizontal component of lift forces the airplane also to move somewhat sideways toward the low wing. [Figure 1] The amount of slip, and therefore the rate of sideward movement, is determined by the bank angle. The steeper the bank, the greater the degree of slip. As bank angle is increased, additional opposite rudder is required to prevent turning.

Airplane Intentional Slips
Figure 1. Sideslip
A forward slip is used to dissipate altitude and increase descent rate without increasing airspeed. In a forward slip, the airplane’s direction of motion continues the same as before the slip was begun. Assuming the airplane is originally in straight coordinated flight, the wing on one side is lowered by use of the ailerons. Simultaneously, sufficient opposite rudder is used to yaw the airplane’s nose in the opposite direction such that the airplane remains on its original flightpath.

However, the nose of the airplane will no longer point in the direction of flightpath. [Figure 2] In a forward slip, the amount of slip, and therefore the sink rate, is determined by the bank angle. The steeper the bank, the steeper the descent. In order to use the maneuver to lose altitude, power is normally reduced to idle. The pilot controls airspeed using elevator control. When a crosswind is present, the pilot should lower the upwind wing such that the airplane is banked into the crosswind since slipping into the wind makes it easier to remain on the original flightpath.
Airplane Intentional Slips
Figure 2. Forward slip
In most light airplanes, the steepness of a slip is limited by the amount of rudder travel available. In both sideslips and forward slips, the point may be reached where full rudder is required to maintain heading even though the ailerons are capable of further steepening the bank angle. This is the practical slip limit because any additional bank would cause the airplane to turn even though full opposite rudder is being applied. If there is a need to descend more rapidly, even though the practical slip limit has been reached, lowering the nose not only increases the sink rate but also increases airspeed. The increase in airspeed increases rudder effectiveness permitting a steeper slip. Conversely, when the nose is raised, rudder effectiveness decreases and the bank angle should be reduced.Discontinuing a slip is accomplished by leveling the wings and simultaneously releasing the rudder pressure while readjusting the pitch attitude to the normal glide attitude. If the pressure on the rudder is released abruptly, the nose swings too quickly into line and the airplane tends to acquire excess speed. Because of the location of the pitot tube and static vents, airspeed indicators in some airplanes may have considerable error when the airplane is in a slip. The pilot needs to be aware of this possibility and recognize a properly performed slip by the attitude of the airplane, the sound of the airflow, and the feel of the flight controls. Unlike skids, however, if an airplane in a slip is made to stall, it displays very little of the yawing tendency that causes a skidding stall to develop into a spin. The airplane in a slip may do little more than tend to roll into a wings-level attitude.

Note that some airplanes have limitations regarding slips. In some cases slips are limited in duration or by fuel quantity. These limitations are meant to preclude fuel starvation caused when fuel is forced to one side of a tank in uncoordinated flight. If a forward slip is being used to reach a landing area in an actual engine-out emergency, the time limitation or fuel limitation is irrelevant (unless a prolonged slip caused the engine issue). For aerodynamic reasons, there may also be recommendations or limitations related to slips with flaps extended. Consult the manufacturer’s AFM/POH for specific airplane information.

Some pilots try to avoid using forward slips. An approach with flaps allows for coordinated and more familiar flight orientation, while the sideways force on the occupants of the aircraft during a forward slip may seem uncomfortable. However, in a real emergency that involves engine failure, the ability to use a forward slip provides a pilot with a technique contributing to a better outcome. In that situation, a pilot may initiate a descent using a forward slip much more quickly than by deploying flaps. To reduce the descent, the pilot can remove the slip without penalty. On the other hand, retracting flaps on an approach could lead to an unwanted loss of altitude. Even with full rudder displacement during a forward slip, the pilot can adjust to the left and right of the intended ground track by increasing and decreasing aileron deflection. The value of the maneuver explains its inclusion as a task in the Private Pilot Airman Certification Standards (ACS).

Forward Slip to a Landing

When demonstrating a forward slip to a landing in an airport traffic pattern, the pilot plans the descent such that a forward slip may be used on final approach. Flaps usually remain retracted, and using a forward slip on downwind or base may be a necessary part of the maneuver. When abeam the landing point on the downwind leg, the pilot initiates a descent by reducing power to idle. If an insufficient rate of descent occurs on downwind, the pilot uses a forward slip to increase the rate of descent. The pilot should make a coordinated turn to base. At this point, ongoing evaluation of height takes place. If the airplane is high on base, continued forward slip should occur. However, the pilot should make a coordinated turn to line up with the final approach course. Once established on a final approach, the height above ground should be sufficient to allow the pilot to use a forward slip and establish a suitable approach path to the runway aiming point. At the appropriate time, when the round out begins, the pilot removes the forward slip and transitions to a normal landing.

Common Errors

Common errors with forward slips to a landing:

  1. Incorrect pitch adjustments that result in poor airspeed control.
  2. Reacting to erroneous airspeed indications.
  3. Using excess power while trying to lose altitude.
  4. A slip in the same direction as any crosswind.
  5. Poor glidepath control.
  6. Late transition to a sideslip during landing with crosswinds.
  7. Landing without the longitudinal axis parallel to runway.
  8. Landing off the centerline.