Loss of Control (LOC) has been all too common in recent years, and is currently the leading cause of deadly accidents. I am pleased that the major aviation magazines are addressing the subject in articles and comment; the FAA is concerned; and I am especially encouraged that the membership of SAFE is showing leadership with this issue.
At the same time, I am frustrated that the resulting commentary is showing the all too common signature of “group think.” For example, the current FAA paper on LOC mentions almost every aspect of the pilot condition. It seems everything contributes to LOC. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive cause, so the pundits are short on direct and effective solutions. It seems to me that discussion of the fundamentals is blatantly omitted from the conversation. What I do not see is the big KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle showing up in current pontifications about LOC.
Can we all agree that fundamentals, by definition, always apply? Can we also agree that in an emergency, pilots fly like they trained. They respond in accordance with habits? Those habits can be good or bad. In an emergency, the way a pilot responds is either correctly done, or improperly done.
You might say the fundamentals of flying an airplane are not simple. That’s a big subject, and someone could write a book on it (and I did — Artistry of the Great Flyer – A Pilot’s Guide to Stick and Rudder and Managing Emergency Maneuvers). Still, the fundamentals as they apply to LOC are not complex. I’ll bullet point my arguments:
- In the discussion of LOC, it is implied that the pilot is maneuvering, frequently at low altitude. Loss of control typically involves stall-and-spin incidents.
- To avoid LOC, a true flyer (as opposed to just a “pilot”) need master only two fundamental dos and don’ts: do control yaw; and do not stall.
- I suggest too many student pilots are not learning to be flyers; in that they are not learning the fundamentals. Pilots who did learn might have forgotten and/or developed bad habits that negate fundamental skills.
- Every student pilot and every current certificated pilot should know how to recognize and recover from accelerated stalls. They should practice accelerated stalls frequently.
- Student pilots must learn to recognize and control yaw. Essential to this task is correctly using the sight picture for attitude awareness. I continue to be amazed at how “good pilots” do not understand how the sight picture can be used for attitude information. Maybe we should return to yesteryear and re-name the attitude indicator an Artificial Horizon.
Teaching the fundamentals to student pilots is essential to keep them safe throughout their flying careers, but to reduce LOC accidents among existing pilots, we need to help them build and retain good habits – that means practice. I suggest that simply teaching pilots to properly turn an airplane is one solution to saving lives lost to LOC. Too many instructors teach only shallow bank angle and constant-rate change of direction maneuvers. When you repeatedly practice maneuvers incorrectly, you become proficient at a bad habit.
And there is one maneuver that encompasses all the fundamental aspects of flying an airplane. If only we would teach all pilots to learn — and practice — proper turns, like this:
- Use rudder and aileron together. Teach use of cadence to develop that skill – say aloud “on it – off it” as you use rudder and aileron together to establish desired bank angle. Proficient pilots will be comfortable with fast roll rates (lots of aileron).
- Elevator should be neutral when inputting aileron. Premature application of back elevator pressure is a “killer” bad habit. I have flown with way too many pilots who always “pull’’ as they roll.
- During a level turn, once established in the bank, aileron and rudder become neutral. Then use elevator if needed, to control loss of lift. This is another area of misunderstand among pilots. Too many pilots never learn that sometimes (often?), the need for up elevator is a result of an uncoordinated roll.
- Release any elevator back pressure before rolling out of a turn with “top rudder” and aileron.
Do you get the connection? A proper turn, recovery from an upset, recognition and recovery from a spin. If pilots know the fundamentals and develop good habits in executing turns, their skill intuitively avoids LOC. And should they succumb to LOC (for example; upset from wake turbulence) intuitive control inputs from the acquired skill will direct the airplane to an immediate and safe recovery.
If the FAA and their associates in academia are serious about reducing LOC accidents, they can easily and quickly establish standards that require students to be “flyers” before they train to be pilots. Back in the day, that concept was called basic training.
Keep it simple, stupid – control yaw and don’t stall.