The International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (Icatee) published an article this summer in the ICAO Training Report that said, “The number-one cause of commercial jet transport fatalities…[is] loss-of-control-in-flight (LOC-I).” Icatee chairman Sunjoo Advani said, “[The problem] cannot be simply solved through technology or through current pilot training paradigms.” Coincidentally, Boeing’s statistical summary of commercial jet airplane accidents worldwide operations 1959–2011 showed more fatalities caused by LOC-I accidents than by any other. In fact, the Air France 447, Continental Express 3407 and even the USAir 427 rudder hard-over accidents involved pilots being unable to recognize they were losing control of their aircraft.
Mesa, Ariz.-based Aviation Performance Solutions (APS) emergency maneuver training aims to put a dent in those accident statistics by better training pilots to recognize and cope with unusual attitudes. APS’s team wants to plug the huge hole it sees in today’s flight training that tells pilots little about topics such as swept-wing aerodynamics and high-speed compressibility effects. APS also provides all upset recognition and recovery training for the leading-edge program Bombardier offers its Global, Learjet and Challenger customers.
UPRT in Action
APS offered this AIN editor a one-day glimpse at its three-day integrated upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) course that’s been taught to more than 5,000 airline and business aviation pilots through a blend of classroom and full-motion simulator training–provided through a partnership with CAE–accentuated by in-flight education in an Extra 300, one of the most aerobatic light aircraft. APS also offers a web-based look at the academics behind its theories.
Despite the use of an Extra 300, APS upset recovery training is not about teaching aerobatics. APS instructors Paul “BJ” Ransbury (also APS president), Clarke “Otter” McNeace (v-p of flight operations) and Randy “Random” Brooks (v-p of training) made it clear that the real emphasis of APS training is recognizing an impending loss of control as the primary means of reducing the accident rate. But should a pilot still fall prey to an airplane about to fall from the sky, the APS all-attitude recovery method teaches escape maneuvers that should save lives. The airplane and simulator are simply tools to demonstrate and practice what pilots learn in the classroom.
APS training blends guidance from the official 2008 Upset Prevention and Recovery program report delivered to the FAA by the Upset Recovery Industry Team chairs at Boeing, Airbus and the Flight Safety Foundation. The report said that stall training should no longer focus primarily on minimal altitude loss in the recovery because pilots sometimes need to be aggressive with their aircraft. They just need to be sure they’re aggressive in the right ways. The APS training comes at just the right time too. Public Law 111-216, written in the aftermath of the Continental Express accident in Buffalo, N.Y., requires upset and recovery training, although that is expected to be conducted in simulators only.
Having attended another upset recovery course a decade ago that was focused on aerobatics as the primary escape tool, I left that experience more aware, but not necessarily more confident of being able to recover a transport aircraft from an upset. Although initially skeptical of any upset training, my single day of APS exposure left me feeling I could recover an airplane in a pinch. CAE (Booth No. 364) was impressed enough with the APS training system that it plans to integrate a version of UPRT into the ab initio flight training it offers 200 students annually through its Oxford Aviation Academy at Falcon Field in Mesa. CAE expects to begin similar training in Europe in six months, and APS plans to extend its reach in the U.S. when it opens another training center in 2013 at Dallas Arlington Airport.
Protecting Future Pilots
This new training effort represents truly good news. It means some next-generation pilots will climb into an airliner or business jet understanding more about loss-of-control aerodynamics and recovery than most current-generation pilots. Ransbury explained that the APS philosophy is designed to enhance knowledge pilots already possess.
APS believes there are three root causes of upsets: environmentally induced events, such those caused by weather; pilot-induced circumstances; and those generated by equipment failures. The leading LOC-I event, however, is still the stall and resultant inappropriate actions by the pilot. The answer to this kind of upset sounds simplistic–reduce the angle of attack–but statistics show it apparently is not. Ransbury said, “We want to develop an enhanced awareness of stall recognition long before pilots require extraordinary skill to recover. We also want to show them that many of the skills pilots possess today can actually make these situations worse.”
Current flight training doesn’t take pilots far away from the traditional flight envelope where they spend 99 percent of their normal flying day. Ransbury said, “The further pilots and their aircraft stray from the envelope of normal, the less likely their skills are to save them during an upset.”
APS training focuses on early recognition of an impending upset through an enhanced education of the aerodynamics most pilots often think they already understand. “We teach them a fundamental strategy, new gross skills to help them get the aircraft flying once again. The training identifies an envelope of nose-high and -low attitudes and airspeeds beyond which recovering the aircraft is the only thing the pilot should focus on–the only thing.”
Then APS shows pilots the path out with an all-attitude recovery memory checklist: push, power, rudder, roll, climb. Push the stick/wheel forward (slightly) to reduce the angle of attack, add power as necessary, don’t kick the rudders, then roll wings level and be sure the airplane is climbing. This is a far cry from what most pilots have been learning the past 30 years. We’ve all been taught to power out of the stall with a minimum of altitude loss, a move that can hang an aircraft on the edge of a stall for a long time.
Recovery Skills, Not Aerobatics
Brooks was in charge of the early Aero L-39 upset training at Eclipse Aviation before joining APS. “The education here is a generation beyond what we taught in Albuquerque,” he said. “This isn’t aerobatics. We introduce information in the classroom and demonstrate to proficiency in the Extra 300 and the simulator. Recovery skills need to complement prevention skills. Practicing recovery skills also brings enhanced recognition skills.” APS believes that, like instrument training, it is the knowledge that is critical, not the platform on which pilots train.
“Most of our customer pilots have never flown any aerobatics,” Brooks explained. “They are normally pretty apprehensive on the first flight, but they come to trust our building-block approach. We demand more by the second flight, so that by the third flight the gloves come off. We can really train them with the skills they’ll need to survive. We don’t teach spins, for instance, since most transport airplanes wouldn’t recover from a spin. But we do teach spin recognition. The fourth flight gives pilots the opportunity to practice all the skills they’ve learned in VFR and IFR flight. They get to see that it all works the same way.”
Ransbury spoke to the idea of using rudders early on in the recovery. “That might work in some fighter jets, but not on transports.” He also explained why APS trains first in the airplane and follows with the simulator. “We realized early on that no matter how much we talked in the simulator, the reality of the flight experience, including the startle factor, simply overwhelmed pilots.” Ransbury said another vague hole in flight training today is that stall training is handled at low altitudes–often 15,000 feet in the simulator–where thrust is plentiful. Up high at cruise altitude with engines running hard, recovery is a different ball game. “Pilots also think the first thing they should do in a stall is roll the wings level or pull the speed brake. That can make things worse. The goal is to reduce the angle of attack first.”
Time To Fly
It was time to learn up close whether or not this APS theory worked in the air. I climbed into the front seat of Extra 300 N203EX with my instructor, Otter, in back. The panel was Spartan–airspeed indicator and altimeter, nothing else. We took off eastward toward the Superstition Mountains, initially climbing to 5,500 feet and keeping in mind that this was not about aerobatics, something I’m not particularly keen on anyway. It was about stall recognition first of all and recovery when necessary.
“When someone’s anxious,” Otter said, “we use a building-block approach that starts with very low-key, low-pressure flights.” We tried stalls using the methodology. Power to idle and feed in back pressure waiting for the stall. When it happened, I made a small, but positive push on the Extra’s control stick, increased power, checked that the ball was centered and made the airplane climb. In a power-on stall with a climbing left turn, I reduced angle of attack first. “Even if a wing drops in the stall those ailerons can actually aggravate the stall,” Otter said. “Pilots still think life will get better if they roll the wings level first.”
A flight envelope exercise of sustained stalls was next, to examine changing stability and controllability. Otter held the stick back and asked me to recover using only rudder at the break when the right wing dropped. I tried correcting with left rudder and the Extra rolled sharp left 150 degrees. Despite being nearly inverted, I pushed forward on the stick a bit and the airplane was instantly flying once again. Another example included pushing half a positive g in the recovery, something most pilots say they’d never try for fear of hurting the airplane. I pulled the nose up and, just before the stall, pushed the nose over to the half-g point and realized the Extra was perfectly controllable with the airspeed showing less than stall speed because we’d unloaded the wing. We were very stable and controllable.
I also tried yanking back on the stick at 80 knots and the airplane stalled instantly. By simply releasing back pressure, the airplane flew like a bird. Finally, we tried a skidding turn-to-final demo. As the aircraft skids and a wing drops, the instinct is to pull the nose up. Without any warning the Extra rolled on its back. Ransbury did a pretty nice recovery the first time but we still lost 800 feet. You’d never see this base-to-final skidding stall coming. How could we? No one ever shows it to pilots in training, although they should.
In the USAir 427 accident, the Boeing 737 experienced an uncommanded left rudder hard-over at 5,000 feet. Like my test, that crew added right aileron and rudder, and the Boeing spun into the ground. Otter told me some APS-trained pilots re-created the situation in the simulator. Using the all-attitude recovery checklist they lost only 1,000 feet before the aircraft was flying again.