“We can lower the number of loss of control accidents by 50 percent,” claims John Cox, who told AIN this can be done by applying a combination of academics, simulator and in-aircraft training. Capt. Cox is CEO of Washington, DC-based Safety Operating Systems and a veteran pilot for a major airline, as well as of corporate and general aviation aircraft. He has notched more than 14,000 flight hours.
Cox recently flew an S211 Marchetti swept-wing jet trainer, doing stalls at 32,000 feet and wake encounters as part of a high-altitude upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) course offered by Advanced Performance Solutions (APS) in Mesa, Arizona–similar to that done by new AIN editor-in-chief Matt Thurber last year.
“Pilots don’t understand that what we taught for 30 years was horribly flawed, because you can’t power out of a stall or even a high angle-of-attack condition in a jet at high altitude,” Cox, who flew with APS President Paul ‘B.J.’ Ransbury, said. “We wanted to take the Marchetti up high and prove it.”
Cox has been involved in efforts to mitigate loss-of-control-inflight (LOC-I) accidents since US Airways Flight 427 in 1994, and American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001, highlighted deficiencies in traditional pilot training. The LOC-I problem persists, as evidenced by Air France 447, Colgan 3407, Air Asia Flight 8501 and, more recently, the wake turbulence event over the Arabian Sea that seriously damaged a German-owned Bombardier Challenger 604.
“The fact that we are still having a significant number of loss-of-control events that have a high number of fatalities, and 50 percent of those are stall related, says to me that the training we’re getting is not fully adequate,” noted Cox. “It is better, but it is not yet good enough.”
As UPRT is made mandatory by more aviation authorities (April 2018 for all EASA licensing training courses, 2019 for FAA Part 121 carriers), providers and programs are proliferating. Cox cautioned, however: “There are still providers out there, particularly using the in-aircraft environment, that are basically teaching aerobatics, and that can very easily transition to be negative training.
“The fundamental difference is that an upset is an unexpected event where you’re trying to drive the airplane back into the heart of the envelope; an aerobatic manoeuver is precision-flown to the edge of the envelope. From a fundamental standpoint, they are exactly the opposite. The training needs to be geared toward an upset recovery so you have experience in unusual attitude recognition.”
In February, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) issued the third revision of its seminal guide on the topic, inserting for the first time the word ‘prevention’ in the title: Airplane Upset Prevention and Recovery Training Aid. The revision expanded the scope to include transport category straight-wing turboprops and regional jet airplanes. It also simplified the terminology of an upset as “anytime an airplane is diverging from what the pilots are intending it to do,” rather than the previous technical definition of exceeding pitch beyond +25 or -10 degrees, bank angles greater than 45 degrees or speed inappropriate for the conditions.
The document’s executive summary states, “It is the OEM’s intent to emphasize that training within the entire operational flight envelope…is needed to develop pilots’ awareness and handling skills, both in manual and automated flight. Training outside the operational flight envelope should not be necessary for awareness and skill development.”
Some industry experts were dismayed at being excluded from the revision discussions–which were limited to aircraft manufacturers Airbus (Static C4), ATR (Static B2), Boeing (Chalet 332), Bombardier (Chalet 282) and Embraer (Chalet 314)—unlike the first two editions of the document which drew upon a broad range of stakeholders. One critic told AIN the committee composition was “a control issue, pure and simple. They wanted to eliminate dissent.”
The group with the least exposure to UPRT training is current airline pilots. Capt. Richard Ward, who flies for a major UK airline, said, “I don’t know of anybody in the UK airline environment that has done any of these ‘Gucci version’ upset and prevention recovery courses, flying Skyhawks and military trainers. It isn’t on our radar."
“If you’re in the recovery phase, you’ve already failed,” Ward noted. “We need to take one step back and go to the root of the problem, which is hand-flying skills, and that’s quite a boring topic. If you’ve got a 25-year-old coming through, we need to focus on getting the feel of the aircraft he’s operating—for example, hand fly from 10,000 feet, decelerate from 320 knots all the way back to 140 knots, and change the configuration. Feel how the aircraft handles as the center of pressure moves and the pitch attitudes change. That’s really important stuff. But it’s hard to argue for that kind of exercise when you are constrained by time and cost.”
Two Schools of Thought
Commercial airline pilot UPRT training is largely confined to classroom and simulators, many of which are in the process of being upgraded to provide extended envelope training. In business aviation, APS offers the combination of academic-simulator-aircraft training, including partnerships with CAE (Chalet 62) and Bombardier. FlightSafety International’s UPRT curriculum mimics the airline’s academics-plus-sim approach.
Randy Brooks, vice president of training and business development for APS, said, “Everybody agrees that it’s better to prevent an upset in the first place. The divergence of opinion in some camps is that if we just did a better job of prevention, we wouldn’t need to teach recovery.
“There are certain techniques a pilot needs to use, once a situation has progressed to where recovery is required, that are counterintuitive to a pilot who has spent their career in the normal envelope…different skills that need to be called upon in a matter of seconds,” Brooks explained. “If you haven’t been provided with the concepts, techniques and skills in advance, you aren’t going to figure it out in the seconds you have available. In upset recovery, the rules change in terms of flight dynamics and the way we use the controls."
Brooks said APS’s experience in training airline instructors to teach UPRT has required a bit of relearning. “The level-flight, two-dimensional flying mindset has proven to be a little more resistant to change than we thought.”
APS has grown to a dozen instructors at locations in Arizona, Texas, the Netherlands, and the U.S. Army’s fixed-wing training school in Dothan, Alabama, as UPRT gains increasing acceptance with regulators, insurers and (especially) business aircraft operators. “Many people are beginning to embrace the concept,” said Brooks, “but it’s certainly not mainstream yet. The majority of pilots worldwide are not yet getting it.”