The Value of Upset Recovery Training

Mac McClellan recently wrote a provocative article, “Why Upset Training Just Doesn’t Work” for Air Facts, an online aviation journal. Mac was the long-time editor of Flying Magazine. His arguments against URT, however, rang hollow to me and other aerobatic pilots and instructors, and the International Aerobatic Club asked some of us to respond.

My rebuttal, “VALUE OF URT,” is on the IAC website, here. That article includes links to several incidents that support my argument, and to several videos on my YouTube channel that illustrate key points.

A video that demonstrates recoveries from inverted.

I also addressed URT in an article in the November 2017 issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine: The Right Formula.

My Prescription for Stall/Spin Training

My feature about stall and spin training in the November issue of AOPA Flight Training is now available online, here.

Upset Recovery Exercises

The video below shows a series of practices I use with students in my stall/spin/upset recovery course. They fly modified barrel rolls to become familiar with all-attitude flying, to fly the airplane through its speed range, and to develop G-awareness. Next, we fly the same maneuver, but we deliberately stall the airplane at the top of the loop/roll, first in coordinated flight, then in skids and slips. These practices show the student what happens during botched maneuvers and they’re also great practice should they ever experience an upset due to wake turbulence, disorientation, or other factors. Students also learn about accelerated stalls in the vertical–the effect of abruptly increasing angle of attack, even when diving toward the ground.

You can find more videos at my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying. The Stalls and Spins playlist focuses on those exercises.

To learn more about making aviation videos, see Aviation Video Tips.

Draft Advisory Circulars: Flight Reviews, FIRCs, etc.

The FAA has published several draft ACs of interested to general aviation pilots and flight instructors. The documents are available for review and comment at the FAA website, here.

  •  AC 61-98C, Currency Requirements and Guidance for the Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check. This advisory circular (AC) provides information for certificated pilots and flight instructors to use in complying with the flight review required by Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61, § 61.56 and the recent flight experience requirements of § 61.57. This AC is particularly directed to General Aviation (GA) pilots holding sport or higher grades of pilot certificates who wish to maintain currency and to certificated flight instructors (CFI) who give flight instruction to support such activities. This AC does not apply to training programs or proficiency checks conducted pursuant to 14 CFR part 121 or 135, nor to curriculums approved pursuant to 14 CFR part 142.
  • AC 61-83H: Nationally Scheduled, FAA-Approved, Industry-Conducted Flight Instructor Refresher Course. This advisory circular (AC) provides information and standards for the preparation and approval of training course outlines (TCO) for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved, industry conducted flight instructor refresher courses (FIRC) in accordance with Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61, § 61.197(a)(2)(iii).

Two additional ACs, although directed primarily at air carriers, are nevertheless of interest to all pilots and instructors:

  • AC 120-UPRT, Upset Prevention and Recovery Training. AC 120-UPRT provides guidance to air carriers for the implementation of the new requirements in the Qualification, Service, and Use of Crewmembers and Aircraft Dispatchers (part 121 subpart N&O) final rule (provisions §§ 121.419, 121.423, and 121.427) to provide pilots with ground and flight training on upset. The AC also provides guidance for some of the flight instructor training requirements contained in §§ 121.412 and 121.414.
  • AC 120-109A, Stall Prevention and Recovery Training. The revision of AC 120-109 provides guidance to air carriers for the implementation of the new requirements in the Qualification, Service, and Use of Crewmembers and Aircraft Dispatchers (part 121 subpart N&O) final rule (provisions §§ 121.419, 121.423, and 121.427) to provide pilots with ground and flight training on stall prevention and recovery.

Changes in Stall/Upset Training

Aviation Week & Space Technology recently published an interesting article about changes in stall/upset training for pilots of transport aircraft. A video complements the story, which emphasizes immediate reduction in angle of attack first—before correcting bank angle or adding power.

The training standards before 2012 unwittingly led to stall recovery success in terms of lost altitude rather than the need to reduce angle of attack and aerodynamic load on the wing by immediately pushing the elevator control forward—the universally accepted solution to stalls that had been ignored in training.

That’s a point I’ve made in several posts here and in the video demonstrations on my YouTube channel (see, for example, this video of stalls in a Beechcraft Bonanza).

Recovery from Inverted/Overbank Attitudes

Here’s an exercise I do with students in my stall/spin/upset recovery courses. It demonstrates the importance of proper recovery–rolling back to upright flight–from an overbank or inverted attitude. Many pilots instinctively try to pull their way back to the horizon, a maneuver that typically leads to excessive airspeed, high Gs, and significant loss of altitude. More information is available at my website, here.

Videos: Stalls, Incipient Spins, and Recoveries from Inverted

Here’s a series of short videos captured during training for one of my customers last summer. They show a typical initial sequence in the stall/spin/upset recovery course that I offer to pilots of all experience levels in the Extra 300L.

After flying out to the practice area and warming up with steep turns to help the front-seat student get a feel for the Extra 300L, we begin with normal, slow-deceleration, wings-level stalls.
>Basic Slow Deceleration, Wings-Level Stalls

When I introduce stalls in any airplane, I like to follow the guidance in Chapter 4: Slow Flight, Stalls, and Spins of the Airplane Flying Handbook:

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. (AFH p. 4-5)

Accelerated (Turning) Stalls

Next, we fly a series of stalls while making coordinated turns. As the Airplane Flying Handbook notes:

An airplane will stall during a coordinated steep turn exactly as it does from straight flight, except that the pitching and rolling actions tend to be more sudden…The objectives are to determine the stall characteristics of the airplane and develop the ability to instinctively recover at the onset of a stall at other-than-normal stall speed or flight attitudes. An accelerated stall, although usually demonstrated in steep turns, may actually be encountered any time excessive back-elevator pressure is applied and/or the angle of attack is increased too rapidly…When the airplane stalls, recovery should be made promptly, by releasing sufficient back-elevator pressure and increasing power to reduce the angle of attack. If an uncoordinated turn is made, one wing may tend to drop suddenly, causing the airplane to roll in that direction. If this occurs, the excessive back elevator pressure must be released, power added, and the airplane returned to straight-and-level flight with coordinated control pressure. (AFH, p. 4-9—4-10)

I have my students fly coordinated stalls out of left and right turns, and just as during the basic stall practice, we recover by reducing angle of attack. Initially, we leave the power at a typical approach setting and we fly through at least 90 degrees of turn doing a series of secondary stalls while maintaining the bank angle. This exercise increases students’ confidence and helps them understand the importance of maintaining coordinated flight.

Skidding Stalls and Incipient Spins

After practicing stalls in coordinated turns, we move on to skidding and slipping stalls, emphasizing skidding stalls, which are the classic setup for an incipient spin. In general, these stalls are called cross-control stalls; you can read about them starting on p. 4-10 of the Airplane Flying Handbook.

The Extra 300L is an excellent platform for exploring skidding and slipping stalls because it’s fully aerobatic and approved for spins. As you can see in the video, I encourage students to let the stall develop so that they can see the effects of stalling while in a skidding turn.

Now, it’s true, as the student comments, that the Extra snaps right over to inverted or near-inverted when the wings stall out of a skid. But as I note in the video, even a tame Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior will yaw and roll aggressively if provoked into a skidding stall.

Recoveries from Inverted

My course also includes practice recovering from inverted or overbanked flight. The key lesson is to roll back toward wings level. Many pilots, disoriented by their first experience of inverted flight, try to pull back to upright flight (a split-S), which typically results in excessive airspeed, eats up a lot of altitude, and imposes excessive G-loads.

Recoveries from Rolling Upsets

Here’s an exercise that I have my upset-recovery customers perform to simulate a wake turbulence encounter or overbank/inverted attitude that might result from disorientation in poor visibility.

I have them fly one-and-a-half aileron rolls from upright to inverted and then recover. They key is to unload and, using rudder and aileron, roll the airplane back to wings-level, upright flight. It’s important to resist the urge to pull through (split-S), which rapidly increases airspeed eats up altitude, and typically leads to high-G loads during the recovery.

This customer resisted that urge and rolled upright, but we still lost about 1,000 ft., and the final airspeed was around 160 KIAS.

Spin Practice

Here’s one of my stall/spin/upset recovery customers flying his first spins. You can read more about spins at my website.