As club safety officers, we, your Flying Clubs Crew (Steve and Drew) regularly use the FAASTeam WINGS program’s Topic of the Month (ToM) and we present the provided material—generously tweaked and localized—during club safety meetings. Then, every month, in the Club Connector safety section, we provide downloadable PDFs of our PowerPoint slides to ensure that other clubs’ safety officers always have something useful and meaningful to present at their clubs’ monthly meetings. This month’s safety section is here.
We adhere quite closely to the FAASTeam ToM theme, but we take the opportunity to add experienced-based content and local stories to make the presentations a bit more relevant to our audience. Sometimes—only very occasionally—we find ourselves pondering the provided material, and the topic of the month for February 2022 FAASTeam was one of those occasions.
Now, taken as a standalone subject, the February ToM—"Expanding Your Horizons: Stall, Spin and Aircraft Upset Training” seems reasonable enough. The basic premise is that you can (and indeed will) expand your knowledge if you undertake such training—no argument there. But to understand our position (that of a more linear progression up the incline of experience), you need to look back at the January 2022 ToM, “The Startle Response”. This was a very good treatment of the deep-rooted human psychological and physiological responses to surprise. We learnt that these evolved responses can indeed save us if we are confronted with a startle event. The rub is, of course, that we have evolved as ground creatures and the flight, fight or freeze responses will not do us much good in the air—in fact these very responses that may keep us alive on the ground could kill us in the air.
In our version of the January ToM presentation, we pushed beyond the initial slides and looked further than the startle response itself, towards actually trying to do something about. You can find the presentation, here. By understanding more about the human response—ingrained things such as “limbic highjack”—we determined that we need to train further in order to embed in our heads some more appropriate responses. Essentially, that we need tools to overload and supplant our evolved reactions.
In aviation we talk a lot about “reverting to our training” as a way to help us handle various situations, but of course this will only work if we have actually performed the appropriate training. Moreover, we will only be better at handling unusual events if we have trained and practiced for them—that is, the unusual events. Note the two parts to this: we must first train to deposit that knowledge in our library of experience, and then we must practice it, regularly, to keep it “in our heads”—to ensure that we can actually pull it out, quickly, when needed. We (should) be doing this with “emergency procedures” listed in the POH, and we (should) be practicing these regularly…at least every 24-calendar months as part of the ritual of the flight review, although that really doesn’t quite cut it as “regularly”, does it?
Anyway…the February 2022 FAASTeam ToM is now available, and in its unabridged form, is entitled: "Expanding Your Horizons: Stall, Spin and Aircraft Upset Training”. It is a very good reminder of loss of control accident statistics and, as you would expect from the FAASTeam, it emphasizes the need for proficiency training…but it then launches into the benefits of aerobatic and upset recovery training as if this was the only way forward. This got us thinking. Just coming off the January ToM, are we saying that the best way to train for in-flight startles and other unusual situations is to do extreme maneuver training?
Don’t get us wrong here—and remember that Steve’s club, the Westminster Aerobats Flying Club, enjoys flying an Aerobat—we fully support and encourage pilots to expand their horizons and widen their comfort zones by doing different types of training, and we applauded the FAASTeam for recognizing that different can be good…but does it follow that this has to, at least initially, involve loops, spins, rolls, and so on?
Furthermore, from Steve’s experience conducting flight reviews, a large proportion of certificated pilots state “oh…I don’t like that” when asked to do 45-degree steep turns and the rather tame straight-and-level slow flight and power-off stalls. How many of these pilots then, realistically, are likely to enroll in a full-blown upset recovery course, and of those, how many will do it beyond just a checked-off bucket-list item and remain proficient, long-term? So, rather than suggesting that people undertake extreme types of training that most will probably not enjoy (or positively recall), perhaps we could get close to the desired result—safer, proficient pilots who stand a better chance of getting out of tricky situations— by working on more familiar maneuvers, but differently. Put another way, apart from accidents resulting from complete spatial disorientation and those people who “try” aerobatics without any training, isn’t it more likely that pilots will get into situations such as inadvertent level stalls from slowing down without flaps on an extended downwind, or potential stall-spin accidents from overshooting final due to a tailwind on base? If the answer is yes, and we believe it is, we suggest that before we launch into full-blown aerobatics where every sensation is going to be new and intense, perhaps we should strive to perfect the maneuvers that we should already know and, well, often “don’t like”.
This is the basis of our version of E3—Expanded Envelope Exercises. The point is to work on familiar maneuvers like slow flight, steep turns, stall recoveries, go-arounds, power-off procedures, and so on, but to actually train to improve how we do them. So, rather than just “doing”, say, a one-off stall and recovery, let’s spend some focused time on really understanding what is going on, why it happened and how we can train our responses and reactions for quick and correct recovery. The maneuver itself is not new, but we can learn much by treating and doing it, differently.
Let’s look at some examples that are more applicable to everyday flight. Going a bit further, remember that the Airman’s Certification Standards (ACS) is just that—a document that lists the exercises and standards of required performance for certification evaluation. The powers-that-be have determined that the ACS tasks allow an examiner to evaluate the performance of the candidate pilot. Clearly, not every possible in-flight scenario can be covered during a check ride, so these tasks are presumably designed to illustrate “mastery” of the airplane within a limited period of time.
Going even further, we would hope… no, we should expect…that through normal proficiency, we maintain our ability to perform ACS tasks to the same standards. Just repeating a few of them every 24-calendar months simply keeps you where you were, rather than expanding your horizons and growing as an aviator. In other words, a flight review that just focuses on the ACS is insufficient and probably quite boring. Moreover, you are not getting good value for money from the CFI conducting the review. This, then, is the opportunity. Apart from well-known exceptions (like earning a new certificate or rating which automatically ratchets you up the experience ladder), we know that we will have to do a flight review every 24-calendar months, or even better, earn a phase of WINGS. The former gets you flying with a CFI every 24 months, whilst the latter gets you in the air with a CFI 3 times a year. Umm…let’s see…A or B…
There are others to practice as well. These are all familiar maneuvers that you can—and should—be practicing during WINGS flight activities and most definitely during a flight review. In fact, we challenge you to take back control of your flight review and push back on “one hour of ground and one hour of flight” and use it as opportunity to be better. If your favorite instructor won’t do this, then find one who will, but don’t short-change yourself and your loved ones by not taking the opportunity to fly better and safer.
Here are some familiar exercises that you can strive to do better, and, even better, you can do them in your “normal category” club airplane—no special equipment required:
So, drawing this to a conclusion, and recognizing that loss of control accidents involving maneuvering have a 56% fatality rate (31st Nall Report), then it makes perfect sense that we do more training that involves maneuvering. From experience during flight reviews, we believe that a big improvement in aviation safety can be achieved by doing familiar maneuvering exercises differently and better, such that we actually understand them and start to feel comfortable with them. Perhaps we will even enjoy them! In doing so, we will have increased our repertoire of experience, which will help us if we were to be startled by some unexpected event and, simultaneously, we will have expanded our personal comfort zones. Then, then…it makes sense to go the extra mile and build on this continuum of knowledge by getting some more intense training, such as emergency upset recovery and aerobatics.
Which, in time, I hope you will come to agree, is the best thing since hot buttered multigrain toast smothered with Marmite.
As always, fly safety and fly lots!
For more information:
• E3—Expanded Envelope Exercises
• Preventing Aircraft Loss of Control with Expanded Envelope Exercises
• ASI Safety Spotlight—Expanding the Envelope
• 14CFR 91.303 Aerobatic Flight
• 14CFR 91.307 Parachutes and Parachuting
• AC No: 61-67C Stall and Spin Awareness Training
• FAA-H-8083 Airplane Flying Handbook