Upset Prevention and Recovery (Part Two)

Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT)

Upsets are not intentional flight maneuvers, except in maneuver-based training; therefore, they are often unexpected. The reaction of an inexperienced or inadequately trained pilot to an unexpected abnormal flight attitude is usually instinctive rather than intelligent and deliberate. Such a pilot often reacts with abrupt muscular effort, which is without purpose and even hazardous in turbulent conditions, at excessive speeds, or at low altitudes.


Without proper upset recovery training on interpretation and airplane control, the pilot can quickly aggravate an abnormal flight attitude into a potentially fatal LOC-I accident. Consequently, UPRT is intended to focus education and training on the prevention of upsets, and on recovering from these events if they occur. [Figure 4-14]

Figure 4-14. Maneuvers that better prepare a pilot for understanding unusual attitudes and situations are representative of upset training.

Figure 4-14. Maneuvers that better prepare a pilot for understanding unusual attitudes and situations are representative of upset training.

  • Upset prevention refers to pilot actions to avoid a divergence from the desired airplane state. Awareness and prevention training serve to avoid incidents; early recognition of an upset scenario coupled with appropriate preventive action often can mitigate a situation that could otherwise escalate into a LOC-I accident.
  • Recovery refers to pilot actions that return an airplane that is diverging in altitude, airspeed, or attitude to a desired state from a developing or fully developed upset. Learn to initiate recovery to a normal flight mode immediately upon recognition of the developing upset condition. Ensure that control inputs and power adjustments applied to counter an upset are in direct proportion to the amount and rates of change of roll, yaw, pitch, or airspeed so as to avoid overstressing the airplane unless ground contact is imminent. Recovery training serves to reduce accidents as a result of an unavoidable or inadvertently encountered upset event.

UPRT Core Concepts

Airplane upsets are by nature time-critical events; they can also place pilots in unusual and unfamiliar attitudes that sometimes require counterintuitive control movements. Upsets have the potential to put a pilot into a life-threatening situation compounded by panic, diminished mental capacity, and potentially incapacitating spatial disorientation. Because real-world upset situations often provide very little time to react, exposure to such events during training is essential for pilots to reduce surprise and it mitigates confusion during unexpected upsets. The goal is to equip the pilot to promptly recognize an escalating threat pattern or sensory overload and quickly identify and correct an impending upset.

UPRT stresses that the first step is recognizing any time the airplane begins to diverge from the intended flightpath or airspeed. Pilots must identify and determine what, if any, action must be taken. As a general rule, any time visual cues or instrument indications differ from basic flight maneuver expectations, the pilot should assume an upset and cross-check to confirm the attitude, instrument error or instrument malfunction.

To achieve maximum effect, it is crucial for UPRT concepts to be conveyed accurately and in a non-threatening manner. Reinforcing concepts through positive experiences significantly improves a pilot’s depth of understanding, retention of skills, and desire for continued training. Also, training in a carefully structured environment allows for exposure to these events and can help the pilot react more quickly, decisively, and calmly when the unexpected occurs during flight. However, like many other skills, the skills needed for upset prevention and recovery are perishable and thus require continuous reinforcement through training.

UPRT in the airplane and flight simulation training device (FSTD) should be conducted in both visual and simulated instrument conditions to allow pilots to practice recognition and recovery under both situations. UPRT should allow them to experience and recognize some of the physiological factors related to each, such as the confusion and disorientation that can result from visual cues in an upset event. Training that includes recovery from bank angles exceeding 90 degrees could further add to a pilot’s overall knowledge and skills for upset recognition and recovery. For such training, additional measures should be taken to ensure the suitability of the airplane or FSTD and that instructors are appropriately qualified.

Upset prevention and recovery training is different from aerobatic training. [Figure 4-15] In aerobatic training, the pilot knows and expects the maneuver, so effects of startle or surprise are missing. The main goal of aerobatic training is to teach pilots how to intentionally and precisely maneuver an aerobatic-capable airplane in three dimensions. The primary goal of UPRT is to help pilots overcome sudden onsets of stress to avoid, prevent, and recover from unplanned excursions that could lead to LOC-I.

Figure 4-15. Some differences between aerobatic training and upset prevention and recovery training.

Figure 4-15. Some differences between aerobatic training and upset prevention and recovery training. [click image to enlarge]

Comprehensive UPRT builds on three mutually supportive components: academics, airplane-based training and, typically at the transport category type-rating training level, use of FSTDs. Each has unique benefits and limitations but, when implemented cohesively and comprehensively throughout a pilot’s career, the components can offer maximum preparation for upset awareness, prevention, recognition, and recovery.


Academic Material (Knowledge and Risk Management)

Academics establish the foundation for development of situational awareness, insight, knowledge, and skills. As in practical skill development, academic preparation should move from the general to specific while emphasizing the significance of each basic concept. Although academic preparation is crucial and does offer a level of mitigation of the LOC-I threat, long-term retention of knowledge is best achieved when applied and correlated with practical hands-on experience.

The academic material needs to build awareness in the pilot by providing the concepts, principles, techniques, and procedures for understanding upset hazards and mitigating strategies. Awareness of the relationship between AOA, G-load, lift, energy management, and the consequences of their mismanagement, is essential for assessing hazards, mitigating the risks, and acquiring and employing prevention skills. Training maneuvers should be designed to provide awareness of situations that could lead to an upset or LOC. With regard to the top four causal and contributing factors to LOC-I accidents presented earlier in this chapter, training should include scenarios that place the airplane and pilot in a simulated situation/environment that can lead to an upset.

The academics portion of UPRT should also address the prevention concepts surrounding Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) and risk management (RM), and proportional counter response.

Prevention Through ADM and Risk Management

This element of prevention routinely occurs in a timescale of minutes or hours, revolving around the concept of effective ADM and risk management through analysis, awareness, resource management, and interrupting the error chain through basic airmanship skills and sound judgment. For instance, imagine a situation in which a pilot assesses conditions at an airport prior to descent and recognizes those conditions as being too severe to safely land the airplane. Using situational awareness to avert a potentially threatening flight condition is an example of prevention of a LOC-I situation through effective risk management. Pilots should evaluate the circumstances for each flight (including the equipment and environment), looking specifically for scenarios that may require a higher level of risk management. These include situations which could result in low-altitude maneuvering, steep turns in the pattern, uncoordinated flight, or increased load factors.

Another part of ADM is crew resource management (CRM) or Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM). Both are relevant to the UPRT environment. When available, a coordinated crew response to potential and developing upsets can provide added benefits such as increased situational awareness, mutual support, and an improved margin of safety. Since an untrained crewmember can be the most unpredictable element in an upset scenario, initial UPRT for crew operations should be mastered individually before being integrated into a multi-crew, CRM environment. A crew must be able to accomplish the following:

  • Communicate and confirm the situation clearly and concisely;
  • Transfer control to the most situationally aware crewmember;
  • Using standardized interactions, work as a team to enhance awareness, manage stress, and mitigate fear.

Prevention through Proportional Counter-Response

In simple terms, proportional counter response is the timely manipulation of flight controls and thrust, either as the sole pilot or crew as the situation dictates, to manage an airplane flight attitude or flight envelope excursion that was unintended or not commanded by the pilot.

The time-scale of this element of prevention typically occurs on the order of seconds or fractions of seconds, with the goal being able to recognize a developing upset and take proportionally appropriate avoidance actions to preclude the airplane entering a fully developed upset. Due to the sudden, surprising nature of this level of developing upset, there exists a high risk for panic and overreaction to ensue and aggravate the situation.


Last but not least, the academics portion lays the foundation for development of UPRT skills by instilling the knowledge, procedures, and techniques required to accomplish a safe recovery. The airplane and FSTD-based training elements presented below serve to translate the academic material into structured practice. This can start with classroom visualization of recovery procedures and continue with repetitive skill practiced in an airplane, and then potentially further developed in the simulated environment.

In the event looking outside does not provide enough situational awareness of the airplane attitude, a pilot can use the flight instruments to recognize and recover from an upset. To recover from nose-high and nose-low attitudes, the pilot should follow the procedures recommended in the AFM/ POH. In general, upset recovery procedures are summarized in Figure 4-16.

Figure 4-16. Upset recovery template.

Figure 4-16. Upset recovery template.

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