Anytime a pilot allows their aircraft to become a sort of airborne tail wagging the dog, a departure from normal flight or loss of control is usually not far behind. The most prominent LOC is the stall-spin, although LOC can be defined as any excursion from normal flight the pilot didn’t expect. In the classic stall-spin scenario, LOC begins with an aircraft slowed to approach speed, often with the gear and flaps in the landing configuration. Poor pilot technique includes overshooting the turn to final and too steep a bank angle close to the ground attempting to recover.
Not wanting to steepen the bank angle further, the pilot uses inside rudder to skid the aircraft around. In the skid, the aircraft’s nose drops, with a typical reaction being additional back pressure on the control wheel. That loads the wing as it also increases angle of attack. When the wing does stop flying, the airplane’s reaction is often incredibly quick. In a LOC-I webinar presented by the FAA Safety Team and conducted in late 2017, the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators and the FAA’s 2006 flight instructor of the year and master aerobatics instructor Rich Stowell says, “More than 90 percent of stall-spins occur below 1,000 feet agl … too close to the ground for a recovery.”
AOPA’s Air Safety Institute in 2005 revealed that nearly three out of every 10 LOC accidents were stall related. By 2014, that number had declined to approximately two out of 10, with the greatest risk on personal Part 91 flights, where 75 percent of stall accidents occur in good weather. Fully 50 percent of stalls also occur in the traffic pattern. Two-thirds of these accidents beginning between 100 and 200 feet agl were fatal. That number climbed to 75 percent between 200 and 500 feet agl.