Maintaining Aircraft Control: Upset Prevention and Recovery Training

Safe pilots prevent loss of control in flight (LOC-I), which is the leading cause of fatal general aviation accidents in the U.S. and commercial aviation worldwide. LOC-I includes any significant deviation of an aircraft from the intended flightpath and it often results from an airplane upset. Maneuvering represents the most common phase of flight for general aviation LOC-I accidents; however, LOC-I accidents occur in all phases of flight.

To prevent LOC-I accidents, it is important for pilots to recognize and maintain a heightened awareness of situations that increase the risk of loss of control. Those situations include: uncoordinated flight, equipment malfunctions, pilot complacency, distraction, turbulence, and poor risk management. Attempting to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) when the pilot is not qualified or proficient is a common example of poor risk management. The Emergency Procedures section of this site contains specific information regarding unintended flight into IMC. Sadly, there are also LOC-I accidents resulting from intentional disregard for safety.

To maintain aircraft control when faced with these or other contributing factors, the pilot needs to be aware of situations where LOC-I can occur; recognize when an airplane is approaching a stall, has stalled, or is in an upset condition; and understand and execute the correct procedures to recover the aircraft.

Defining an Airplane Upset

The term “upset” was formally introduced by an industry work group in 2004 in the “Pilot Guide to Airplane Upset Recovery,” which is a part of the “Airplane Upset Recovery Training Aid.” The work group was primarily focused on large transport airplanes and sought to come up with one term to describe an “unusual attitude” or “loss of control,” for example, and to generally describe specific parameters as part of its definition. Consistent with the Guide, the FAA considers an upset to be an event that unintentionally exceeds the parameters normally experienced in flight or training. These parameters are:
  1. Pitch attitude greater than 25°, nose up
  2. Pitch attitude greater than 10°, nose down
  3. Bank angle greater than 45°
  4. Within the above parameters, but flying at airspeeds inappropriate for the conditions

The reference to inappropriate airspeeds describes a number of undesired aircraft states, including stalls. However, stalls are directly related to angle of attack (AOA), not airspeed.

To develop the crucial skills to prevent LOC-I, a pilot may receive academic or on-aircraft upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT), which should include: slow flight, stalls, spins, and unusual attitudes.

Upset training places considerable emphasis on understanding and preventing an upset, so a pilot avoids such a situation. If an upset does occur, upset training also reinforces proper recovery techniques. A detailed discussion of UPRT follows, including core concepts, what the training should include, and what airplanes or kinds of simulation can be used for the training.

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