Air France Flight 447: An Aft-Stick Stall Detailed

 - June 30, 2011, 5:20 AM

When Robert Barnes, president of the International Association of Flight Training Providers, read the initial BEA report on the crash of Air France Flight 447 the story reminded him of the aft-stick stalls he once practiced as an Air Force flight instructor. “We’d demonstrate to pilots that not all aircraft pitch over when the wing stops flying and that falling like a leaf can be a recipe for disaster if unchecked,” he said.

He told AIN this story.

“I was a young, low-time T-38 instructor pilot in the late 1960s with fewer than 1,000 hours total time. The T-38 was relatively new, and we learned a lot about flying it by simply flying it. Unfortunately, we also lost several aircraft and crews because they allowed the aircraft to enter a full stall too close to the ground to recover.

“As part of the curriculum, we taught students how to accomplish a basic approach-to-stall series much like in general aviation, where stalls were basically taught as required maneuvers. Of course, we never allowed the airplane to get close to a spin since the T-38’s spin recovery procedure was simply one word: EJECT.

“However, because of the number of crashes, HQ decided we needed to help students better understand how the T-38 stalled, so a full aft-stick stall demonstration/practice was introduced into the contact flying curriculum. We were given a procedure and sent out to implement it. I still remember most of it to this day:

1. Climb to the top of your training area (about FL 250).

2. Establish a landing configuration (gear and flaps 60) in wings-level flight.

3. Reduce power to 80 percent.

4. Allow the airspeed to bleed off while maintaining altitude with pitch until the stick is fully aft.

5. Hold the stick fully aft until the vertical velocity indicator is pegged down, indicating at least an 8,000 fpm rate of descent.

6. Observe the flight characteristics.

7. Recover.

AIN asked, “How did you recover?”

“The basic answer is unload the aircraft to break the stall while simultaneously adding power and flying back to level flight,” Barnes responded. “Where it starts getting complicated is whether the nose is above or below the horizon and the bank angle.”

Every pilot should understand, at its most fundamental level, what ‘recover’ means for the aircraft being flown. “I’ve never flown an A330,” Barnes added, “so I can’t really say that what we did 40 years ago in a supersonic, swept-wing fighter would necessarily be appropriate here. However, you can’t ‘recover’ from a flight condition you don’t recognize, which is why we taught Air Force pilots full aft stick stalls.”–R.P.M.