Flight School: Fighting Fear

How can you make a student who is nervous about practicing stalls more comfortable?

Eric Crump is the aviation editor and Part 141 chief instructor for Gleim Publications. He designs, edits and manages training curricula and training programs for Sport Pilot through ATP certification. He is an active CFI with a particular interest in the integration of simulation in GA pilot training. He says:

More so than any other maneuver we teach, stalls generally evoke the most terror in new student pilots. I, for one, was terrified of stalls during my primary training. I assumed that, at any moment, the wings would fall off and the airplane would hurl itself, and me, toward the ground in a flaming fireball.

Since the fear of stalls appears to be pervasive among student pilots, we have to be careful how we introduce the maneuver into the training curriculum. We have to properly explain the objective of the instruction we provide to the student. We should explain to students what a stall is, why it’s important to understand it, and how to perform and recover from one. Of course, we also have to emphasize the safety aspect — performing stalls at altitude and away from the airport area.

Ideally, the instructor can introduce slow flight and stalls in an aviation-training device (ATD) or a simple desktop simulation aid before putting the student in the airplane. This technique will build the student’s familiarity with the airplane’s behavior during these abnormal flight conditions. Student pilots, especially those with “roller coaster aversion,” do not like the high angle of attack and sudden drop of the nose inherent in stall training. The CFI can help them conquer this fear by building their comfort level near the stall in the nonthreatening environment of the simulator.

Once in the airplane, the instructor should gradually introduce the student to the stall by teaching proficiency in slow flight. Once the student understands how the airplane behaves at its minimum controllable airspeed and becomes comfortable with that flight condition, stalls can be introduced through careful, methodical demonstration. The instructor should follow through with the student as he or she performs stalls and recoveries to help the student build a positive opinion of his or her performance.

I am not implying that we can make every student long to practice stalls, but I do believe that we can remove their fear of the maneuver by making sure they understand what they are doing and why before we have them attempt it.
David Clark**_ is a commercial pilot, certified flight instructor and advanced ground instructor with a master's degree in engineering technology. He teaches aircraft systems as well as private, instrument and commercial ground schools at Central Washington University. He also provides simulated flight training for the Beechcraft Baron and King Air 200. He says:_

The aerodynamic factors that cause a stall and the ability to recognize a stall are critical factors that student pilots must learn during their flight training. When I first started my flight training and learned about stalls, I had a little excitement, but I was also nervous about what was going to happen with the airplane when it stalled. For me, the nervousness went away with practice.

In order to make a student more comfortable, it is important to thoroughly explain the maneuver on the ground so the student will understand what will happen in the air. While teaching the maneuver on the ground, the instructor should explain that it is perfectly normal to be nervous about stalls and that most student pilots are. The instructor should then ask the student why he or she is nervous about stalls, address the areas that the student brings up and help explain that a training airplane is designed to be recoverable from a stall and even a spin.

It is also very important to show the student that, even when the airplane stalls, it is still controllable. For students who are nervous about stalls because they think they are going to spin the aircraft, it is a good idea to give them a lesson in a spin-certified aircraft and show them what a spin is. Demonstrating what a spin looks like and showing how to recover the airplane are good ways to put the student at ease. But it is critically important to explain in depth what a spin is prior to that lesson or the lesson could have the opposite effect of scaring the student even more.

With a better understanding of the aerodynamic factors that cause a stall and the ability to recognize a pending stall, the student should feel more in control of the airplane and more comfortable. The key is to introduce the concepts step by step to prevent the fear of stalling from growing.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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