Extra Maneuvers Training

||| |---|---| | | | Consider the following scenarios:

…You are on final approach to a major airport when your airplane unexpectedly hits wake turbulence, which turns it upside down.

…As you initiate your takeoff roll, the gust front from an approaching storm blows you into the air at a low airspeed and high angle of bank.

…You are flying in the clouds on your first flight in actual instrument conditions. You begin to study the approach plate in preparation for the approach. Suddenly, you realize something does not seem right. You look up and find the attitude indicator showing a steep nose-down spiral with the wings banked past 90 degrees.

…You are an instructor demonstrating spin entries and recoveries to a pilot working on his CFI. After demonstrating a spin entry, you go through the recovery procedure but the spin only gets tighter.

…As you are turning base to final you realize you are going to overshoot final so you cheat by adding a little rudder. Then you put in some aileron opposite to the turn to keep the airplane from banking any steeper. You also notice you are getting a little low, so you pull back on the wheel. Suddenly the airplane snaps inverted.

For many pilots, any of these situations could spell disaster. This is because typical flight training curricula don't go beyond steep turns (to 45 degrees of bank), recovery from two canned unusual attitude situations, and for a CFI candidate, training in stall awareness, spin entry, spins and spin recovery procedures. Most pilots have never been upside down in an airplane, and many have never even banked the airplane beyond 30 degrees since they got their license. For normal flight operations this training is sufficient, but sometimes things can happen that are not what we consider normal.

Rich Stowell (www.richstowell.com) is an expert in this subject who has been researching and writing about it for over 15 years. He specializes in providing stall/spin awareness training and Emergency Maneuvers Training® and has done close to 20,000 instructional spins at his home base in Santa Paula, California, and at clinics he conducts around the country. Rich found that "in recent years stall/spin accidents have accounted for roughly 12 percent of general aviation accidents, but are responsible for 25 percent of fatal accidents." What caught his attention, however, was that "of these fatal stall/spins, 15-20 percent occurred during dual instructional flights-with FAA-certified flight instructors on board! None of these statistics, sad to say, are out of line considering the cursory treatment stalls and spins receive in the typical training environment. Nor are they out of line considering the minimal spin experience required of flight instructor applicants."

Researcher Patrick Veillette confirmed this assessment in his detailed stall/spin survey of flight schools, pilots and instructors. He found that civilian flight instructors and designated pilot examiners demonstrated marginal and even unsatisfactory performance in many critical areas of stall and spin training, avoidance and recovery techniques. Fully 98 percent of the civilian flight instructors who responded to his survey said that their spin training consisted of no ground training and only one spin in each direction. They also said they had not received any training on the conditions leading to inadvertent spins, spin aerodynamics, common student errors and the effects of controls in a spin. None of the instructors had a pre-spin checklist, and only a few instructors could describe how to determine if a particular aircraft is safe to spin or what the recommended spin entry and recovery techniques are.

Instructors seem to agree that the training in this area is woefully inadequate, with comments like:

"Our industry has committed an error in not teaching stalls and spins properly."

"Instructors do not teach stalls properly because they are afraid to get into a spin by accident."

"Accidents that occur during instructional flights are occurring because a maneuver goes bad and the student and/or instructor have not had the training to recover."

Upsets due to turbulence or control failures are rare but also often lead to accidents and fatalities. A good example is the USAir 737 accident at Pittsburgh. The flight data recorder showed that as the bank angle reached 90 degrees the control column was pulled all the way back and stayed there as the aircraft continued to roll upside down. This is actually a very typical reaction to a severe upset. However, it was the wrong reaction and it removed any chance of surviving the upset.

Does training make a difference? Stowell reports that an FAA-funded study "showed unequivocally that just 30 minutes of the right kind of spin training reduced the accidental spin rate of the test group to zero. In other words, no one in this test group fell prey to an accidental spin during the evaluation flight administered after the spin training."

So what can you do if you want to learn how to recover from spins or other unusual or even extreme situations? Rich Stowell is trying hard to make this training available across the country, but he is only one person; he also has a very high percentage of pilots who return to take his training every year, which speaks very highly for his training but makes it hard to fit in new pilots who want the training. You could go to a flight school that teaches aerobatics, but they are typically oriented more toward teaching aspiring airshow or competition pilots how to fly aerobatics and may not have a comprehensive curriculum for teaching general aviation pilots how to recover from upsets and spins.

One organization that has recognized the need for emergency maneuvers training for general aviation, commercial and airline pilots is Fighter Combat International (www.fightercombat.com/training.htm or 866/359-4273). FCI originated as Air Combat Canada at the Niagara District Airport in Ontario, and it has recently expanded to Williams Gateway Airport (IAW) in Mesa, Arizona. As the name implies, FCI's bread and butter consists of allowing the general public, with or without any flight training, to experience an aerial combat mission in the Extra 300L, which is an unlimited class aerobatic aircraft.

Paul "B.J." Ransbury and Paul Molnar, co-owners of FCI, are especially concerned about the lack of a good training program for general aviation, corporate and airline pilots who want to obtain a greater understanding of how and why upsets, spins and spirals happen, how to avoid getting into that predicament, and how to quickly and successfully recover from any attitude or situation they might find themselves in. Even though all their instructors are retired military fighter pilots who have graduated from the equivalent of their services' "Top Gun" or Fighter Instructor schools, they recognized that they needed someone with experience in emergency maneuvers training to help them develop a curriculum that would achieve their objectives. They decided to base their training on the approach used by Stowell. As a result, Stowell has endorsed FCI's Emergency Maneuvers Training program and will be working closely with them by providing seminars and clinics at IAW in conjunction with FCI. The first clinic is scheduled for January 24-27, 2002, at Williams Gateway Field in Mesa, Arizona.

I decided to sample an overview of the Emergency Maneuvers Training provided by FCI. Until its new $3.5-million hangar is completed, it is based in the Air Force operations building that many of the instructors operated out of when they were stationed at Williams. Karl "Schlimmer" Schlimm, FCI's chief pilot, conducted my training. He obviously believes in what he is doing and enjoys teaching. He conducted a very thorough briefing that covered the safety and physiological aspects of the flight and delved into aerodynamics that I either never knew or forgot long ago.

Karl said that many pilots are so afraid of stalls and spins that when they do their first spin with him they will just put their hands up in the air or start stirring the controls, and in a steep bank or inverted situation they will pull back on the wheel or stick until they see the horizon.

One serious problem for the pilot who has not experienced Emergency Maneuvers Training is that he usually associates the controls with the horizon. In other words, pull back on the wheel and the houses get smaller. In an upset situation this may not be true, and if the aircraft is inverted everything is "backwards" from what the pilot is used to, so pulling the wheel back actually makes the houses get bigger. If there is enough altitude, pulling back in the inverted position results in a split-S, which will eventually achieve the desired result but takes a lot of altitude and requires much higher Gs in the pullout. A faster and more effective recovery can be accomplished by pushing forward slightly on the wheel and then rolling upright, but this is very hard for most pilots to do if they have never practiced it before.

The full Emergency Maneuvers Training curriculum at FCI includes five flights and covers such topics as loss of control, stalls (in many different configurations), rolling upsets and turbulence recovery, advanced aggravated spin modes and recovery, control failure, inverted flight recovery and engine-out landings. However, FCI will adapt the curriculum to whatever the client desires and even offers a course in anti-terrorism tactics, which teaches airline pilots how to utilize the controls to defeat an attacker without leaving their seat or overstressing the aircraft. They carefully monitor the student to ensure he or she is holding up well, and there is never any pressure to continue if the student starts to feel queasy. Each Extra 300L is equipped with four cameras and a video recorder, and after the flight the instructor conducts a thorough debriefing of the entire flight.

I know that I am now a much safer pilot following the training I received at FCI and will be much better prepared to recover from any situation or attitude I might find myself in. While it would be ideal if all pilots could experience Emergency Maneuvers Training with someone like Rich Stowell or at an organization like FCI, it is not a realistic goal given the limited availability for this type of training. However, it would be possible to train instructors at each major flight school who could then take the training and curriculum back to their schools and even train other instructors in their area. Likewise, airlines could send instructors through the training and then have them train the rest of their instructors. Aerobatic aircraft are not necessary, as Stowell has also developed an Emergency Maneuvers Training curriculum for normal-category aircraft. As a former simulator instructor, I know that airline and corporate pilots can practice recoveries and even anti-terrorism techniques in the simulator.

Pilots who have experienced Emergency Maneuvers Training typically say that it is the best training they have ever received and that it gave them the confidence and the tools to respond appropriately to any situation they might encounter in flight. I challenge every pilot to use Emergency Maneuvers Training to complete their next BFR or Wings program certification, and I hope that in the future all instructors can have an opportunity to benefit from this training.


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