Recovering Unusual Attitudes

The rudder on my Super Decathlon looks good, but what is it good for. Pundits of aviation speak of stick and rudder skills, but many pilots are not clear on rudder skills. Pilots on modern (jet) airplanes use the rudder to land in a cross wind; however, on older aircraft the importance of the rudder is significant during all phases of flight. The rudder controls yaw (rotation on the vertical axis). A skilled pilot uses the rudder to control adverse yaw, P-factor yaw and gyroscopic yaw.
The rudder on my Super Decathlon looks good, but what is it good for. Pundits of aviation speak of stick and rudder skills, but many pilots are not clear on rudder skills. Pilots on modern (jet) airplanes use the rudder to land in a cross wind; however, on older aircraft the importance of the rudder is significant during all phases of flight. The rudder controls yaw (rotation on the vertical axis). A skilled pilot uses the rudder to control adverse yaw, P-factor yaw and gyroscopic yaw.

Many pilots confuse unusual attitude training with aerobatic training. Like many training issues, I think the confusion stems from the pilot’s experience as a student. In pilot school, CFIs follow the standard training syllabus and teach recovery from attitudes as directed by FAA. Those “unusual” attitudes are comfortably inside the performance standards of GA aircraft – less than 30 degrees pitch and maximum bank of 60 degrees.
• Those attitudes are truly mundane when compared to a nearly inverted nose low attitude resulting from a real life encounter with wake-turbulence.
• The classic pilot school power off stall from level flight has absolutely no similarity to the accelerated stall and spin entry often associated with a base to final turn.

Following the pilot school experience, I think a pilot will come away with one of two self-assessments of his piloting skills:
1. Based upon his comfort level and praise from a CFI (or DE), the pilot will think he is well prepared to encounter an unexpected stall or unfamiliar attitude.
2. Many pilots are uncomfortable performing the attitude recovery taught in pilot school and they will correctly acknowledge their need for more training.

In both cases, the pilot should seek proper unusual attitude training. In the first case, the pilot does not know what he does not know. In the second instance, the pilot needs to mitigate his discomfort with flying before it develops into a debilitating fear.

Most CFIs will advise pilots to seek out an aerobatic instructor and an aerobatic airplane. That is good advice and seems logical, particularly the use of an aerobatic airplane; however, aerobatic training is not the same as training for recovering unusual attitudes. The essence of both training regiments is stick and rudder skills plus recognizing and being comfortable with all flight attitudes; however, the goals are dramatically different.

The skills and maneuvers associated with unusual attitude recovery should be applicable to non-aerobatic aircraft. Caution: the maneuvers are low g when properly done; however, they must be learned in an aerobatic aircraft (you might make a mistake – right?). The goal of unusual attitude training should be three fold:
1. Recognize, recover and avoid stalls
2. Recognize, recover and avoid spins
3. Recognize and recover unusual attitudes
The goals are easily accomplished with a training syllabus that teaches three fundamentals:
1. Do not cause the airplane to stall. Unload the elevator during emergency maneuvers (i.e. unusual attitude). Never use elevator and ailerons together.
2. Control yaw. Use rudder as required to control adverse, P-factor and gyroscopic yaw.
3. You cannot fly an airplane without attitude information. Develop a habit to watch, interpret and use the sight picture.

After completing a proper course in recovering unusual attitudes, a pilot should recognize a revelation – It is the same thing! Early recognition and recovering a spin, recovering from an inverted attitude (from wake turbulence) or making a fundamental level turn is the same stick and rudder skill – neutral elevator with top rudder and aileron. The fact that pilots do not learn this in pilot school is outrageous to me. It breaks my heart that pilots die every year because of this FAA oversight.

I encourage you to watch this month’s featured video about top rudder. click to watch