The Benefits of Airborne Upset Training

The Benefits of Airborne Upset Training

An expert pilot stalls and recovers from a spin.

High-profile airline accidents in recent years — Air France Flight 447, Colgan Air Flight 3407 and Asiana Flight 214 among them — have renewed focus on loss of control — in flight (LOC-I), the leading cause of aviation fatalities. To counter these preventable accidents, regulatory authorities and safety experts around the world now recommend that pilots undergo upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT). With the increasing emphasis on automation in the cockpit and less time spent hand-flying, UPRT is more important than ever, according to experts. "This is training you can't afford to live without," says Vanessa Christie, a former U.S. Navy F-14 instructor and combat aviator, and currently Vice President for Strategic Development at Prevailance Aerospace Safety Academy in Chesapeake, Virginia. Prevailance Aerospace provides UPRT and other specialty training programs.

While both appropriately configured simulators and aircraft can qualify for use in upset training programs, experts acknowledge a qualitative difference between the two platforms. As Christie notes, “Even a full-flight simulator (FFS) can’t create the sensory and physiological reactions that an impending or developed upset in the air produces.”

Of more concern, simulators can teach the wrong lessons. The Federal Aviation Administration advises that when using simulators for full-stall training, “additional testing and validation of the specific FFS is necessary” in order to eliminate “the potential for negative transfer of training” to the aircraft the pilot flies. In other words, upset recovery techniques that may work in the sim may not work in LOC-I. Further bolstering the case for airborne UPRT, the FAA’s 2015 Advisory Circular on Stall and Stick Pusher Training (AC120-109A) states that the primary purpose of the platform selected is “to provide the pilot with the most realistic environment possible,” and nothing tops the verisimilitude of a real aircraft in an actual upset. That’s why several major carriers, including Delta Airlines and South African Airways, as well as a growing number of corporate flights departments, put their pilots through airborne UPRT.

Several training facilities around the U.S. provide airborne UPRT, utilizing a variety of training aircraft. Prevailance Aerospace uses the Extra 330LX, the latest design of this certificated aerobatic monoplane, for its UPRT program.

“The 330LX can recover from virtually any attitude or flight condition and withstand any stress a pilot can place on the airframe, providing a wide safety margin while getting pilots comfortable with unusual attitudes and perfecting upset recoveries,” Christie says.

But the type of aircraft a program employs is only one consideration. For optimum training results, the FAA also says providers "should use instructors specifically qualified to provide UPRT in airplanes." Prevailance Aerospace's instructors clearly meet those standards: all are former military aviators and graduates of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) and have significant civilian airborne UPRT experience.

“You can’t replicate the surprise and startle of being airborne and inverted in a simulator,” Christie sums up. “Statistics and accident histories show that even seasoned pilots put in that position without proper training can either freeze up or provide the wrong control inputs. That’s why UPRT is so important.”


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