New Study of Upset Recovery Training

The FAA recently sponsored a study of the effectiveness of simulator-based upset-recovery training. The study was conducted by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Environmental Tectonics Corporation and published in September 2009.

An Experiment to Evaluate Transfer of Upset-Recovery Training Conducted Using Two Different Flight Simulation Devices (PDF)

Air transport training programs provide simulator-based upset-recovery instruction for company pilots. However, no prior research demonstrates that such training transfers to an airplane in flight. We report on an FAA-funded research experiment to evaluate upset-recovery training transfer. Two groups of participants were given simulator-based training in upset-recovery, one in a high-end centrifuge-based device, the other using Microsoft Flight Simulator running on desktop computers. A third control group received no upset-recovery training at all. All three groups were then subjected to serious in-flight upsets in an aerobatic airplane. Pilots from both trained groups significantly outperformed control group pilots in upset-recovery maneuvering. However, performance differences between pilots from the two trained groups were less distinct. Moreover, pilot performance in both trained groups fell well short of the performance exhibited by pilots experienced in all attitude flight. Although we conducted flight testing in a general aviation airplane, our research has important implications for heavy aircraft upset-recovery trainers.

Extended quote:

The altitude disparities reflected in Table 14 seem to call in question the implicit assumption that airline simulator-based upset-recovery training programs impart flying skills sufficient to make it probable that a typical line pilot can recover an airliner from a serious upset with minimum altitude loss. U.S. airline pilots no longer come primarily from military flight backgrounds where training afforded them extensive opportunity to perform aerobatic flight maneuvers. For military trained pilots there are no unusual attitudes, only unexpected attitudes. By contrast, most air transport pilots flying today have never experienced the extreme pitch and bank angles and high G forces associated with severe airplane upsets. Indeed, most have never been upside-down in an airplane even once. Informal conversations with current airline pilots suggest that while virtually all regard the company-provided upset training they receive as useful, a significant number also perceive it as a pro forma approach to a serious safety problem—better than nothing but far from what would be desirable if training costs were not a paramount consideration. Although aerobatic training has not so far been authoritatively related to upset-recovery success in a transport type airplane, aerobatic flight in a light airplane would provide an opportunity for pilots to practice maneuvering in extreme attitudes across wide airspeed and energy level ranges. This might in turn lead to greater confidence and maneuvering proficiency in an actual upset situation.


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