Demonstrating, Teaching, and Practicing Stalls

Debates about how to teach, practice, and demonstrate stalls continue, usually vociferously, after more than century of powered flight. In the U.S., FAA guidance on the topic has evolved to the current standards, described in the Airmen Certification Standards and the references (viz., handbooks and ACs) that expand on the tasks applicants are required to demonstrate.

Airplane Flying Handbook, Figure 4-7
Private Pilot ACS Task VII

Of course, the ACS is not a syllabus–a detailed sequence of lessons that describes the training required for a certificate or rating. The ACS is the guide examiners use during a practical test to determine whether an applicant is qualified for a new piloting privilege. The ACS samples an applicant’s knowledge and skill. It is the final exam, not the course.

The current edition of the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3B) includes detailed descriptions of the stall tasks in the ACS for private pilot and commercial pilot applicants. But that guide also offers guidance to flight instructors about how to introduce and teach stall-related skills. For example:

The practice of impending stalls is of particular value in developing the pilot’s sense of feel for executing maneuvers in which maximum airplane performance is required. These maneuvers require flight in which the airplane approaches a stall, but the pilot initiates recovery at the first indication, such as by a stall warning device activation. Impending stalls may be entered and performed in the same attitudes and configurations as the full stalls or other maneuvers described in this chapter. However, instead of allowing the airplane to reach the critical AOA, the pilot must immediately reduce AOA once the stall warning device goes off, if installed, or recognizes other cues such as buffeting. Hold the nose down control input as required to eliminate the stall warning. Then level the wings maintain coordinated flight, and then apply whatever additional power is necessary to return to the desired flightpath. (AFH FAA-H-8083-3B, 4-8)

Unfortunately, many CFIs still introduce stalls by jumping right into demonstrating the power-off and power-on stalls as described in the ACS. Those demos often confuse and frighten students, and as the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook emphasizes, if you’re scared, you can’t learn.

A previous edition of the AFH offered additional, detailed advice about how to introduce stalls:

Usually, the first few practices should include only approaches to stalls, with recovery initiated as soon as the first buffeting or partial loss of control is noted. In this way, the pilot can become familiar with the indications of an approaching stall without actually stalling the airplane. Once the pilot becomes comfortable with this procedure, the airplane should be slowed in such a manner that it stalls in as near a level pitch attitude as is possible. The student pilot must not be allowed to form the impression that in all circumstances, a high pitch attitude is necessary to exceed the critical angle of attack, or that in all circumstances, a level or near level pitch attitude is indicative of a low angle of attack. Recovery should be practiced first without the addition of power, by merely relieving enough back-elevator pressure that the stall is broken and the airplane assumes a normal glide attitude. The instructor should also introduce the student to a secondary stall at this point. Stall recoveries should then be practiced with the addition of power to determine how effective power will be in executing a safe recovery and minimizing altitude loss. (FAA-H-8083-3B, 4-5)

Here’s an example of that technique during a flight with a student in my Extra 300L, a high-performance aerobatic airplane.

I always show pilots the basic stall characteristics of the airplane before we move on to accelerated stalls, incipient spins, and the like.

You can find a series of videos that show stalls and spins at my YouTube channel, here.

If more instructors would follow that advice when introducing slow flight and stalls, perhaps we’d see fewer articles such as Be Afraid of Stalls, that advocate omitting stalls from pilot training, and more pilots would understand how best to avoid the stalls that result in accidents.