Upset Prevention and Recovery (Part Three)


Common Errors

Common errors associated with upset recoveries include the following:

  • Incorrect assessment of what kind of upset the airplane is in
  • Failure to disconnect the wing leveler or autopilot
  • Failure to unload the airplane, if necessary
  • Failure to roll in the correct direction
  • Inappropriate management of the airspeed during the recovery

Roles of FSTDs and Airplanes in UPRT

Training devices range from aviation training devices (e.g., basic and advanced) to FSTDs (e.g., flight training devices (FTD) and full flight simulators (FFS)) and have a broad range of capabilities. While all of these devices have limitations relative to actual flight, only the higher fidelity devices (i.e., Level C and D FFS) are a satisfactory substitution for developing UPRT skills in the actual aircraft. Except for these higher fidelity devices, initial skill development should be accomplished in a suitable airplane, and the accompanying training device should be used to build upon these skills. [Figure 4-17]

Figure 4-17. A Level D full-flight simulator could be used for UPRT.

Figure 4-17. A Level D full-flight simulator could be used for UPRT.

Airplane-Based UPRT

Ultimately, the more realistic the training scenario, the more indelible the learning experience. Although creating a visual scene of a 110° banked attitude with the nose 30° below the horizon may not be technically difficult in a modern simulator, the learning achieved while viewing that scene from the security of the simulator is not as complete as when viewing the same scene in an airplane. Maximum learning is achieved when the pilot is placed in the controlled, yet adrenaline-enhanced, environment of upsets experienced while in flight. For these reasons, airplane-based UPRT improves a pilot’s ability to overcome fear in an airplane upset event.

However, airplane-based UPRT does have limitations. The level of upset training possible may be limited by the maneuvers approved for the particular airplane, as well as by the flight instructor’s own UPRT capabilities. For instance, UPRT conducted in the normal category by a typical CFI will necessarily be different from UPRT conducted in the aerobatic category by a CFI with expertise in aerobatics.

When considering upset training conducted in an aerobatic-capable airplane in particular, the importance of employing instructors with specialized UPRT experience in those airplanes cannot be overemphasized. Just as instrument or tailwheel instruction requires specific skill sets for those operations, UPRT demands that instructors possess the competence to oversee trainee progress, and the ability to intervene as necessary with consistency and professionalism. As in any area of training, the improper delivery of stall, spin and upset recovery training often results in negative learning, which could have severe consequences not only during the training itself, but in the skills and mindset pilots take with them into the cockpits of airplanes where the lives of others may be at stake.


All-Attitude/All-Envelope Flight Training Methods

Sound UPRT encompasses operation in a wide range of possible flight attitudes and covers the airplane’s limit flight envelope. This training is essential to prepare pilots for unexpected upsets. As stated at the outset, the primary focus of a comprehensive UPRT program is the avoidance of, and safe recovery from, upsets. Much like basic instrument skills, which can be applied to flying a vast array of airplanes, the majority of skills and techniques required for upset recovery are not airplane specific. Just as basic instrument skills learned in lighter and lower performing airplanes are applied to more advanced airplanes, basic upset recovery techniques provide lessons that remain with pilots throughout their flying careers.


UPRT can be effective in high fidelity devices (i.e. Level C and D FFS), however instructors and pilots must be mindful of the technical and physiological boundaries when using a particular FSTD for upset training. The FSTD must be qualified by the FAA National Simulator Program for UPRT; and, if the training is required for pilots by regulation, the course must also be FAA approved.

Spiral Dive

A spiral dive, a nose low upset, is a descending turn during which airspeed and G-load can increase rapidly and often results from a botched turn. In a spiral dive, the airplane is flying very tight circles, in a nearly vertical attitude and will be accelerating because it is no longer stalled. Pilots typically get into a spiral dive during an inadvertent IMC encounter, most often when the pilot relies on kinesthetic sensations rather than on the flight instruments. A pilot distracted by other sensations can easily enter a slightly nose low, wing low, descending turn and, at least initially, fail to recognize this error. Especially in IMC, it may be only the sound of increasing speed that makes the pilot aware of the rapidly developing situation. Upon recognizing the steep nose down attitude and steep bank, the startled pilot may react by pulling back rapidly on the yoke while simultaneously rolling to wings level. This response can create aerodynamic loads capable of causing airframe structural damage and /or failure.

  1. Reduce Power (Throttle) to Idle
  2. Apply Some Forward Elevator
  3. Roll Wings Level
  4. Gently Raise the Nose to Level Flight
  5. Increase Power to Climb Power

The following discussion explains each of the five steps:

  1. Reduce Power (Throttle) to Idle. Immediately reduce power to idle to slow the rate of acceleration.
  2. Apply Some Forward Elevator. Prior to rolling the wings level, it is important to unload the G-load on the airplane (“unload the wing”). This is accomplished by applying some forward elevator pressure to return to about +1G. Apply just enough forward elevator to ensure that you are not aggravating the spiral with aft elevator. While generally a small input, this push has several benefits prior to rolling the wings level in the next step – the push reduces the AOA, reduces the G-load, and slows the turn rate while increasing the turn radius, and prevents a rolling pullout. The design limit of the airplane is lower during a rolling pullout, so failure to reduce the G-load prior to rolling the wings level could result in structural damage or failure.
  3. Roll Wings Level. Roll to wings level using coordinated aileron and rudder inputs. Even though the airplane is in a nose-low attitude, continue the roll until the wings are completely level again before performing step four.
  4. Gently Raise the Nose to Level Flight. It is possible that the airplane in a spiral dive might be at or even beyond VNE (never exceed speed) speed. Therefore, the pilot must make all control inputs slowly and gently at this point to prevent structural failure. Raise the nose to a climb attitude only after speed decreases to safe levels.
  5. Increase Power to Climb Power. Once the airspeed has stabilized to VY, apply climb power and climb back to a safe altitude.

In general, spiral dive recovery procedures are summarized in Figure 4-18.

Figure 4-18. Spiral dive recovery template.

Figure 4-18. Spiral dive recovery template.

Common errors in the recovery from spiral dives are:

  • Failure to reduce power first
  • Mistakenly adding power
  • Attempting to pull out of dive without rolling wings level
  • Simultaneously pulling out of dive while rolling wings level
  • Not unloading the Gs prior to rolling level
  • Not adding power once climb is established

UPRT Summary

A significant point to note is that UPRT skills are both complex and perishable. Repetition is needed to establish the correct mental models, and recurrent practice/training is necessary as well. The context in which UPRT procedures are introduced and implemented is also an important consideration. The pilot must clearly understand, for example, whether a particular procedure has broad applicability, or is type-specific. To attain the highest levels of learning possible, the best approach starts with the broadest form of a given procedure, then narrows it down to type-specific requirements.