Upset Prevention and Recovery (Part 2)

Academic Material (Knowledge and Risk Management)

Academics establish the foundation for development of situational awareness, insight, knowledge, and skills. As in practical skill development, academic preparation should move from the general to specific while emphasizing the significance of each basic concept. Although academic preparation is crucial and does offer a level of mitigation of the LOC-I threat, long-term retention of knowledge is best achieved when applied and correlated with practical hands-on experience.

The academic material needs to build awareness in the pilot by providing the concepts, principles, techniques, and procedures for understanding upset hazards and mitigating strategies. Awareness of the relationship between AOA, G-load, lift, energy management, and the consequences of their mismanagement, is essential for assessing hazards, mitigating the risks, and acquiring and employing prevention skills. Training maneuvers should be designed to provide awareness of situations that could lead to an upset or LOC. With regard to the top four causal and contributing factors to LOC-I accidents presented earlier in this site, training should include scenarios that place the airplane and pilot in a simulated situation/environment that can lead to an upset.

The academics portion of UPRT should also address the prevention concepts surrounding Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) and risk management (RM), and proportional counter response.

Prevention Through ADM and Risk Management

This element of prevention routinely occurs in a time-scale of minutes or hours, revolving around the concept of effective ADM and risk management through analysis, awareness, resource management, and interrupting the error chain through basic airmanship skills and sound judgment. For instance, imagine a situation in which a pilot assesses conditions at an airport prior to descent and recognizes those conditions as being too severe to safely land the airplane. Using situational awareness to avert a potentially threatening flight condition is an example of prevention of a LOC-I situation through effective risk management. Pilots should evaluate the circumstances for each flight (including the equipment and environment), looking specifically for scenarios that may require a higher level of risk management. These include situations which could result in low-altitude maneuvering, steep turns in the pattern, uncoordinated flight, or increased load factors.

Another part of ADM is crew resource management (CRM) or Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM). Both are relevant to the UPRT environment. When available, a coordinated crew response to potential and developing upsets can provide added benefits such as increased situational awareness, mutual support, and an improved margin of safety. Since an untrained crewmember can be the most unpredictable element in an upset scenario, initial UPRT for crew operations should be mastered individually before being integrated into a multi-crew, CRM environment. A crew must be able to accomplish the following:
  • Communicate and confirm the situation clearly and concisely;
  • Transfer control to the most situationally aware crewmember;
  • Using standardized interactions, work as a team to enhance awareness, manage stress, and mitigate fear.

Prevention through Proportional Counter-Response

In simple terms, proportional counter response is the timely manipulation of flight controls and thrust, either as the sole pilot or crew as the situation dictates, to manage an airplane flight attitude or flight envelope excursion that was unintended or not commanded by the pilot.

The time-scale of this element of prevention typically occurs on the order of seconds or fractions of seconds, with the goal being able to recognize a developing upset and take proportionally appropriate avoidance actions to preclude the airplane entering a fully developed upset. Due to the sudden, surprising nature of this level of developing upset, there exists a high risk for panic and overreaction to ensue and aggravate the situation.


Last but not least, the academics portion lays the foundation for development of UPRT skills by instilling the knowledge, procedures, and techniques required to accomplish a safe recovery. The airplane and FSTD-based training elements presented below serve to translate the academic material into structured practice. This can start with classroom visualization of recovery procedures and continue with repetitive skill practiced in an airplane, and then potentially further developed in the simulated environment.

In the event looking outside does not provide enough situational awareness of the airplane attitude, a pilot can use the flight instruments to recognize and recover from an upset. To recover from nose-high and nose-low attitudes, the pilot should follow the procedures recommended in the AFM/ POH. In general, upset recovery procedures are summarized in Figure 1.

Upset Recovery Template
1. Disconnect the wing leveler or autopilot
2. Apply forward column or stick pressure to unload the airplane
3. Aggressively roll the wings to the nearest horizon
4. Adjust power as necessary by monitoring airspeed
5. Return to level flight
Figure 1. Upset recovery template

Common Errors

Common errors associated with upset recoveries include the following:
  • Incorrect assessment of what kind of upset the airplane is in
  • Failure to disconnect the wing leveler or autopilot
  • Failure to unload the airplane, if necessary
  • Failure to roll in the correct direction
  • Inappropriate management of the airspeed during the recovery

Roles of FSTDs and Airplanes in UPRT

Training devices range from aviation training devices (e.g., basic and advanced) to FSTDs (e.g., flight training devices (FTD) and full flight simulators (FFS)) and have a broad range of capabilities. While all of these devices have limitations relative to actual flight, only the higher fidelity devices (i.e., Level C and D FFS) are a satisfactory substitution for developing UPRT skills in the actual aircraft. Except for these higher fidelity devices, initial skill development should be accomplished in a suitable airplane, and the accompanying training device should be used to build upon these skills. [Figure 2]

Maintaining Aircraft Control, Upset Prevention and Recovery Training
Figure 2. A Level D full-flight simulator could be used for UPRT

Airplane-Based UPRT

Ultimately, the more realistic the training scenario, the more indelible the learning experience. Although creating a visual scene of a 110° banked attitude with the nose 30° below the horizon may not be technically difficult in a modern simulator, the learning achieved while viewing that scene from the security of the simulator is not as complete as when viewing the same scene in an airplane. Maximum learning is achieved when the pilot is placed in the controlled, yet adrenaline-enhanced, environment of upsets experienced while in flight. For these reasons, airplane-based UPRT improves a pilot’s ability to overcome fear in an airplane upset event.

However, airplane-based UPRT does have limitations. The level of upset training possible may be limited by the maneuvers approved for the particular airplane, as well as by the flight instructor’s own UPRT capabilities. For instance, UPRT conducted in the normal category by a typical CFI will necessarily be different from UPRT conducted in the aerobatic category by a CFI with expertise in aerobatics.

When considering upset training conducted in an aerobatic-capable airplane in particular, the importance of employing instructors with specialized UPRT experience in those airplanes cannot be overemphasized. Just as instrument or tailwheel instruction requires specific skill sets for those operations, UPRT demands that instructors possess the competence to oversee trainee progress, and the ability to intervene as necessary with consistency and professionalism. As in any area of training, the improper delivery of stall, spin and upset recovery training often results in negative learning, which could have severe consequences not only during the training itself, but in the skills and mindset pilots take with them into the cockpits of airplanes where the lives of others may be at stake.

All-Attitude/All-Envelope Flight Training Methods

Sound UPRT encompasses operation in a wide range of possible flight attitudes and covers the airplane’s limit flight envelope. This training is essential to prepare pilots for unexpected upsets. As stated at the outset, the primary focus of a comprehensive UPRT program is the avoidance of, and safe recovery from, upsets. Much like basic instrument skills, which can be applied to flying a vast array of airplanes, the majority of skills and techniques required for upset recovery are not airplane specific. Just as basic instrument skills learned in lighter and lower performing airplanes are applied to more advanced airplanes, basic upset recovery techniques provide lessons that remain with pilots throughout their flying careers.


UPRT can be effective in high fidelity devices (i.e. Level C and D FFS), however instructors and pilots must be mindful of the technical and physiological boundaries when using a particular FSTD for upset training. The FSTD must be qualified by the FAA National Simulator Program for UPRT; and, if the training is required for pilots by regulation, the course must also be FAA approved.

Spiral Dive

A spiral dive, a nose low upset, is a descending turn during which airspeed and G-load can increase rapidly and often results from a botched turn. In a spiral dive, the airplane is flying very tight circles, in a nearly vertical attitude and will be accelerating because it is no longer stalled. Pilots typically get into a spiral dive during an inadvertent IMC encounter, most often when the pilot relies on kinesthetic sensations rather than on the flight instruments. A pilot distracted by other sensations can easily enter a slightly nose low, wing low, descending turn and, at least initially, fail to recognize this error. Especially in IMC, it may be only the sound of increasing speed that makes the pilot aware of the rapidly developing situation. Upon recognizing the steep nose down attitude and steep bank, the startled pilot may react by pulling back rapidly on the yoke while simultaneously rolling to wings level. This response can create aerodynamic loads capable of causing airframe structural damage and /or failure.
  1. Reduce Power (Throttle) to Idle
  2. Apply Some Forward Elevator
  3. Roll Wings Level
  4. Gently Raise the Nose to Level Flight
  5. Increase Power to Climb Power

The following discussion explains each of the five steps:
  1. Reduce Power (Throttle) to Idle. Immediately reduce power to idle to slow the rate of acceleration.
  2. Apply Some Forward Elevator. Prior to rolling the wings level, it is important to unload the G-load on the airplane (“unload the wing”). This is accomplished by applying some forward elevator pressure to return to about +1G. Apply just enough forward elevator to ensure that you are not aggravating the spiral with aft elevator. While generally a small input, this push has several benefits prior to rolling the wings level in the next step – the push reduces the AOA, reduces the G-load, and slows the turn rate while increasing the turn radius, and prevents a rolling pullout. The design limit of the airplane is lower during a rolling pullout, so failure to reduce the G-load prior to rolling the wings level could result in structural damage or failure
  3. Roll Wings Level. Roll to wings level using coordinated aileron and rudder inputs. Even though the airplane is in a nose-low attitude, continue the roll until the wings are completely level again before performing step four.
  4. Gently Raise the Nose to Level Flight. It is possible that the airplane in a spiral dive might be at or even beyond VNE (never exceed speed) speed. Therefore, the pilot must make all control inputs slowly and gently at this point to prevent structural failure. Raise the nose to a climb attitude only after speed decreases to safe levels.
  5. Increase Power to Climb Power. Once the airspeed has stabilized to VY, apply climb power and climb back to a safe altitude.

In general, spiral dive recovery procedures are summarized in Figure 3.

Spiral Dive Recovery Template
1. Reduce power (throttle) to idle
2. Apply some forward elevator
3. Roll wings level
4. Gently raise the nose to level flight
5. Increase power to climb power
Figure 3. Spiral dive recovery template

Common errors in the recovery from spiral dives are:
  • Failure to reduce power first
  • Mistakenly adding power
  • Attempting to pull out of dive without rolling wings level
  • Simultaneously pulling out of dive while rolling wings level
  • Not unloading the Gs prior to rolling level
  • Not adding power once climb is established

UPRT Summary

A significant point to note is that UPRT skills are both complex and perishable. Repetition is needed to establish the correct mental models, and recurrent practice/training is necessary as well. The context in which UPRT procedures are introduced and implemented is also an important consideration. The pilot must clearly understand, for example, whether a particular procedure has broad applicability, or is type-specific. To attain the highest levels of learning possible, the best approach starts with the broadest form of a given procedure, then narrows it down to type-specific requirements.