Training: Change the Way Pilots Learn to Handle Aircraft Upsets
Paul Comtois knows why safety is a tough business for some people to comprehend: “Because it’s difficult to prove that what you’ve implemented actually had any effect.” Comtois, a former fighter pilot, is director of advanced pilot training programs at ETC, a Southampton, Pa.-based training company focused on upset prevention and recovery. “We need to change the way we train pilots today for upsets,” he told AIN, in the context of the Colgan 3407, Air France 447 and American 587 accidents resulting from loss of control in flight.
“The first reactions of all of those pilots were inappropriate,” Comtois said. “In civil aviation we expect pilots who fly and train within the normal flight envelope 99.9 percent of the time to someday go somewhere [within that flight envelope] they’ve never been before and perform perfectly the first time.” Comtois remembers much different flight training in the military. “I was fortunate, as I was able to try every maneuver in the aircraft.” Comtois believes a contributing factor in accidents is that pilots do not fully understand the simulators they fly. “Consider the AA587 accident,” involving an airline pilot who had been taught wake turbulence recovery in the classroom before performing the same maneuver in the simulator, where it all worked. “The problem was that the airplane really didn’t perform the way the simulator made it appear,” Comtois said. “We need instructors and pilots to fully understand the capabilities and limitations of the simulators they use, especially for upset prevention and recovery.”
Additionally, he said a variety of simulators beyond the standard level D (such as ETC’s Gyrolab continuous-G device) should be employed to ensure pilots get the needed physical and physiological stress that might be encountered in flight.