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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The best advice often comes in the fewest words, Part 2: Doing it wrong

Tom Brady, from Part 1, is a good example of how to do things well. His no-nonsense, "you don't have to recover from what you don't get yourself into" style of advice is something to live by.

A classic (and unfortunately all-too-common) example of how not to teach comes from the instructor who checked me out when I was working for one of the worst flight schools in the country. (I won't name names, but to give you a concrete example of how bad they were, one of my paychecks from them bounced. If you want to know which flight school in the Cleveland, Ohio area to avoid like the plague, send me an email. I really don't want you to waste your time and money or to think that all flight schools like this, because they aren't.)

Although I had more hours than this instructor, he was the one who did the aircraft checkouts for new hires. Since it was a simple Diamond DA20, the checkout process was pretty standard: go up and do some maneuvers from the PTS, hit a few landings, and call it a day. Easy.

When we got to the part when we were doing stalls, I went ahead and did a power-off stall just like I teach them: power to final approach setting, approach flaps down, establish a descent, gradually raise the nose as if I'm trying foolishly to stretch the glide with pitch instead of power, hold it through the buffet, and once the stall break occurs, power up and recover. Doing it this way simulates how you'd actually encounter a power-off stall in real life and goes through all the stages of when you should have recovered (sloppy control feel --> stall warning horn --> buffet --> break). It also involves no excessive, unnatural control movements and has a relatively gentle break.

Like many student pilots, I hated doing stalls when learning to fly. However, as an instructor, I quickly learned to like them, and now they're one of my favorite things. Going through the process of stalling (and, if done correctly it is a process and not a "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am" event) gives you a chance to really feel the aircraft sliding through the backside of the power curve and wading/waddling/wobbling into a different flight regime. In cruise flight, the plane is always quietly murmuring to you in a bit of a one-sided chat. In slow flight and into stall territory, it is holding a full conversation with you which requires you to listen to what it is saying and say something intelligent back.

If that's a bit too Ernie Gann for you: stalls are fun once you get the feel for them.

After the first stall, he had me do another one because he didn't think I'd actually stalled it. I had, but since I like doing them, I went ahead and did it again the same way. Again he thought I hadn't, but he figured that maybe it was just one of those things that day. (The DA20 has a nice, clean, efficient wing—which is what you'd expect from a modified glider—so there are times that it just keeps on flying in a deep mush instead of a full stall. That is a sign of a wing with a good temperament.)

We moved on to a power-on stall. No problem. I put in takeoff power, raised the nose to establish Vy, then eased it back gradually past that into an eventual stall attitude. Past the sloppy controls, past the stall warning horn, past the buffet, and then a nice, gentle break. I lowered the nose about 5 degrees (still above the horizon, but below the critical angle of attack) and let it build up airspeed and fly. Done correctly, in many light airplanes you can recover from a power-on stall with no loss of altitude, just significantly reduced rate of climb.

At this point I started to get the first hint that this wasn't a good instructor. When I lowered the nose enough to break the stall (i.e., get it below the critical angle of attack) but still above the horizon, he kept saying, "Push the nose down! Push the nose down!" This while the plane had already started flying again, which is the goal in a recovery.

So he had me do it again. I did it the same way and the said, "No, do it like this!" and, unsurprisingly, yanked back on the stick. Sure, it stalled, and did it ever. He jammed the nose down to 10 degrees below the horizon to recover, and we managed to only lose 300 feet. That's great, as long as you're not 299 feet above the ground. He said something like, "See, it will stall!"

It sure will, and if your goal is to teach someone how to stall an airplane, that will do it. Unfortunately, as Colgan 3407 (the accident that led to the safety-reducing changes in ATP requirements) and Air France 447 tragically demonstrated—at the cost of a combined 278 lives—you're supposed to learn how to recognize, avoid and recover from stalls, not how to stall an aircraft.

Training + practice = performance.

If you're trained to yank on the stick to stall an airplane, then you have been trained wrong. Unfortunately, that also means you'll practice it wrong. It also means that in the event you ever do have to perform a stall recovery for real, you won't know what to do because it will happen in a way that you never saw coming. No one just hauls back on the stick and yanks the nose to the sky on short final, but if I had a corpse for every time I've seen someone try to correct being low on approach by easing the nose up instead of adding a little power, I'd have a graveyard.

My personal goal when I am giving instruction is not to crank out pilots, but to craft an aviatior. A pilot is someone who knows how to recover from a stall. An aviator is someone who doesn't stall an airplane in the first place. To echo what started this series in Part 1:

Q: How do I recover from a stall?
A: Never let this situation develop.

As long as you always fly the airplane, it won't. As long as you always retain control, whether in the cockpit or in your everyday life, no situation will develop that you can't recover from.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I went to the 15 day American Flyers CFI course in Florida and the lead instructor spent quite a bit of time drilling into our heads that a stall recovery does not need to be scary or dramatic. Just lower the nose below the critical angle of attack and recover. I also enjoyed the post on getting your AGI and AGI. I'm taking the AGI test this week to keep my FOI written from expiring. I'm looking forward to reading more of your writing. Thank you