Bad Habits and Improper Turns Can be Deadly

The #1, the most fundamental, principle of flying an airplane is don’t stall. When faced with an emergency situation, an unusual attitude, the habit of applying elevator pressure will likely cause a stall, and probably a deadly stall-spin event
The #1, the most fundamental, principle of flying an airplane is don’t stall. When faced with an emergency situation, an unusual attitude, the habit of applying elevator pressure will likely cause a stall, and probably a deadly stall-spin event
Loss of control during maneuvers is currently a hot topic with the FAA, and it has always been one of my major talking points. I never tire of my quest to caution pilots against improper use of an airplane’s controls, and I hope you remain on guard against developing a bad habit.

Every year, pilot loss of control continues to be a significant cause of fatal accidents. Most of those fatal accidents involve a turn. Many pilots have developed a habit of applying back stick every time they use the ailerons. This habit is a muscle memory that can kill when the pilot is faced with an emergency or an unusual attitude.

Key Point: The first fundamental, do not stall, is a lifesaving principle. In any and all conditions of flight, regardless of the situation, job number one of every pilot is do not cause the airplane to stall.

Certified airplanes are stable in flight—they are built to fly! Certified airplanes do not stall. Pilots cause airplanes to stall by applying excessive back pressure on the elevator; the wing then exceeds its critical angle of attack. The pilot has caused the airplane to stall. (Airplanes also stall during inverted flight when the pilot applies excessive forward pressure.)

The legendary Bob Hoover, one of the greatest pilots that ever lived, is renowned for his advice to other pilots. Bob said, “Fly the thing.” If you are a flyer, you understand that means “Do not cause the airplane to stall.”

Most fatal loss of control accidents involve a stall during a turn. It seems too many pilots have forgotten, or never learned, basic stick and rudder skills. Many pilots have developed bad habits. Pilots should practice turns until proper technique is instinctive:

  • Use rudder and aileron together when rolling into and out of a bank.
  • Always maintain neutral elevator when using the ailerons.
  • When established in a turn, use elevator only IF and AS MUCH as needed. Use rudder only to control P-factor. 

Key Point: Certified airplanes don’t stall—pilots cause airplanes to stall. Do not develop the habit of applying elevator pressure when you roll into a turn.

Since the pilot causes the stall, stall recovery is easy. The pilot needs to stop pulling back; just let go of the stick (yoke)! When back pressure is released, the airplane’s certified stability causes the airplane to seek an immediate reduction in the angle of attack, and the airplane is flying again.

Learn to recognize a stall. Most general aviation aircraft give notice to the unset of a stall with a pronounced buffet; the airplane will “shudder.” Train to recognize a stall. Make it your habit to fly with a very light touch on the controls when doing maneuvers. You will not feel a buffet with a white- knuckle grip. Practice all kinds of stalls, be familiar with your airplane’s stall characteristics, and master stall recover.