Unload the Elevator Before You Roll

Stall recovery is easy. Unload the elevator (release stick pressure). Following recovery from a stall, the pilot will typically need to recover the attitude by maintaining neutral elevator and rolling the wings to level using top rudder and aileron. This is a life-saving skill, but it requires altitude and airspeed. In this real-life drama caused by low catapult speed, the pilot was out of both.  The airplane subsequently hit the water nose first and inverted. My father, Major Ed Alsip USMC, survived. Thanks to tight shoulder straps and a good helmet he was again flying combat missions two days later.
Stall recovery is easy. Unload the elevator (release stick pressure). Following recovery from a stall, the pilot will typically need to recover the attitude by maintaining neutral elevator and rolling the wings to level using top rudder and aileron. This is a life-saving skill, but it requires altitude and airspeed. In this real-life drama caused by low catapult speed, the pilot was out of both. The airplane subsequently hit the water nose first and inverted. My father, Major Ed Alsip USMC, survived. Thanks to tight shoulder straps and a good helmet he was again flying combat missions two days later.
Whether a pilot develops good stick and rudder skills during basic pilot training or seeks to correct deteriorated skills, good habits based upon fundamentals always apply. In this series titled How to Become a Great Stick, I present ten great habits that promote good stick and rudder skill. In no particular order, #5 on my list is: Unload the Elevator Before You Roll. If I presented my ten top habits in order of importance, this would be number one.

Consider the following situations:
1. You are rolling out of a base to final turn on approach to landing.
2. You are rolling out of a steep turn (60 degree bank) on heading.
3. Your airplane has been upset to an inverted attitude following an encounter with wake turbulence.
4. After take-off with your aircraft at maximum gross weight, your exuberance during the climbing turn causes the airplane’s high wing to stall and the low wing flies over the top into a spin.

The first two situations can be considered routine, but situations #3 and #4 are real life in flight pilot emergencies. The control inputs you routinely make in situations #1 and #2 will form your habits. Those habits are the reflex reactions that you will use in situations #3 and #4. If those habits are based upon good airmanship, the upset and unusual attitudes are readily recovered. Poor technique and bad reflex reactions will probably result in a tragic outcome in situations #3 and #4.

Which statement is true with reference to proper control inputs common to all four of these situations?
1. The correct answer is not obvious to most pilots, because this maneuver is not taught in pilot school.
2. Fighter pilots are very much aware of control input and practice this maneuver.
3. Structural engineers are very concerned with these control inputs.

All three of the statements above apply to a roll, the fundamental use of flight controls common to the four situations presented. Unload the elevator and roll is the definitive airmanship maneuver. A pilot should always unload the elevator (release control pressure) before using the ailerons to roll. In airplanes that exhibit adverse yaw, rudder and aileron are used together to command a roll. The control elements in all four of the situations stated above are the same; whether rolling out of a turn, recovering an overbanked or inverted attitude, or recognizing and recovering spin entry, the control inputs are exactly the same:
1. Neutral elevator (unload, release pressure)
2. Top aileron (with rudder when applicable).

An important concern of aeronautical engineering is asymmetrical loading on each axis of rotation. Asymmetric loading makes flight controls work, and affords the pilot control of flight; however, when asymmetric loading occurs simultaneously on two or more axis of rotation, extreme loads can develop and challenge the structural integrity of the airplane. Simply stated as an example; pilots should not command roll with ailerons and pull on the elevator control at the same time.

Fighter pilots routinely perform maneuvers at the edge of the flight envelop and at incredibly high speeds. Asymmetric loading under those conditions will break even a fighter plane. Unloading the elevator before rolling is a use of flight controls characteristic of pilots who fly those airplanes. Watch a military demonstration pilot (Blue Angel) bank on flight path and then “break” (pull) into a turn. A basic turn using that technique looks good, feels good and is how those flight controls should be used.

Unload, then roll. This technique is not taught in pilot school. Actually, pilots learn to do just the opposite. In my two decades of instructing pilots on tailwheel skills and upset recovery, I rarely encounter a pilot who does not pull first to initiate a turn. That poor technique is even more apparent when a pilot fails to unload the elevator before rolling out of a turn. This habit turns deadly if a pilot experiences an unusual over bank or inverted attitude. It is a fact: without proper training, pilots always pull from an inverted attitude – it is a human reaction and the leading cause of loss of control. Learning to lead a turn with pull on the elevator control re-enforces that deadly response to pull from inverted.

Key point: Physics and the science of aerodynamics directs that asymmetrical loading of flight controls on cross axis is uncomfortable for airplane occupants and creates excessive loads that can affect structural integrity. Engineers who do structural analysis stay awake nights worrying about it, fighter pilots train to avoid it, yet pilot school does not teach the student pilot to avoid those control inputs.

Your pilot license is said to be a license to learn. In an emergency you will fly like you train. Learn the habits that will extract you from an unusual attitude or upset.
• Train to use top rudder and aileron to command the basic turn.
Learn to always unload the elevator before you roll.

Click here to see this month’s feature video: Top Rudder, the Definitive Life Saving Skill

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