What is the origin for the term “on the step?” The earliest reference I could find was from a 1945 Air Force training manual.
The B-24 Liberator operating manual has only one approved method for establishing best performance in level cruise flight. The pilot is to climb above the selected altitude and then descend into level cruise flight.
The manual states to “always level off for cruising from the top in both speed and altitude. The purpose is to let the airplane build up full momentum for cruising. If you go directly from a climb to level flight with a B-24, and reduce power, it will mush along at a high angle of attack and in a high drag attitude while trying to gain speed. It will fly sluggishly and inefficiently. The heavier your load, the more important it is to level off properly.”
Getting “on the step” is a military procedure
Flying the B-24 Liberator, “on the step” is standard procedure for establishing best performance in level cruise flight. The Air Force operating manual lists a four-part process for leveling off:
- Continue your climb 300 to 500 feet above the desired cruising altitude.
- Level off, drop the nose slightly to get on the step and pick up speed.
- Reduce power to cruising setting and gradually descend to your cruising altitude.
- Synchronize propellers and trim the airplane.
Many thanks to Ken Kaae, from Boise, Idaho. Ken took the time to respond to AOPA in the July 2016 Letters to editor. Ken’s reference to flying on the step was correct. I found a copy of the B-24 Pilot Training Manual and there it was on page 68. The B-24 manual has both instructions and illustration on how to get “on the step” (Reference PDF insert above right).
If you are aware of another reference to flying “on the step” please share the source or point me in the general direction to search. I’m interested in finding the origin to the flying term “on the step.”
Ken Kaae, “Letters from our May 2016 Issue,” AOPA Pilot, July 2016, pg. 12.
Office of Flying Safety, B-24 Pilot Training Manual for the Liberator, published by Headquarters, AAF, Winston-Salem, NC, Revised May 1, 1945, p68.
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One thought on “What’s the lexicon for the term flying an airplane “on the step”?”
When I started civilian flying in 1965, I would hear old pilots talking about making great ground speed by flying on the step, or simply flying the step. What I took from it was that on a long trip with great barometric changes, they would maintain an indicated cruise altitude on the altimeter of say 7500 feet, but because of BP change, would actually be constantly descending which, in turn would yield great time, speed, distance, and fuel consumption figures. I often wondered if a tailwind was giving them a much greater advantage that they hadn’t calculated.