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Upset prevention and recovery training

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With new regs enacted, pilots must develop and maintain UPRT skills.


By Marty Rollinger
ATP. Challenger 600 & 604, Falcon 2000 EASy and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18
Contributing Writer

The venerable Extra 300 aircraft operated by Prevailance Aerospace for UPRT. Clients are provided digital video documentation of their training experience.
First things first – let’s define upset. We are not talking about your reaction upon being given an estimated departure clearance time (EDCT) that includes a 90-minute delay. We are not speaking of your feelings when served bitter coffee or a cold meal.

We are talking about airplane upsets that can result in loss of control in flight (LOC-I) and fatalities. The formal definition of upset is “unintentionally exceeding parameters normally experienced in line operations,” such as pitch greater than 25° nose up, or greater than 10° nose down; bank greater than 45°; or operating at airspeed inappropriate for the conditions.

Effectively, upset exists any time an airplane is diverging from what the pilots are intending it to do. While not all airplane upsets involve stall, an unintentional stall is an upset, even though the aircraft attitude may not exceed the above defined parameters.

Upset prevention means having the knowledge, situational awareness, and aeronautical skills to avoid upsets in the first place. Upset recovery involves crew recognition of an upset condition – the earlier, the better – and the appropriate actions to return the aircraft to a normal flight profile.

Upset sources include environmental causes – primarily wake turbulence encounter, but also severe turbulence, thunderstorms, airframe ice accumulation, windshear, or severe mountain wave. Pilots can inadvertently induce an upset.

Aircraft systems malfunctions can also cause an upset. For instance, autopilot mismanagement or misbehavior, asymmetric flap or spoiler deployment, or a jammed flight control surface can all trigger an upset.

uprtHistory

A rudder malfunction on United Airlines Flight 585 in 1991 caused NTSB to publish safety recommendation A-96-120, calling for flightcrews to be trainined in the recognition of, and recovery from, unusual attitudes and upset maneuvers, including upsets that occur while the aircraft is being controlled by automatic flight control systems, and unusual attitudes that result from flight control malfunctions and uncommanded flight control surface movements.

Training vendors saw the need for upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT), and developed curricula to fill the void. Furthermore, both US and European authorities have recently enacted regulations requiring initial and recurrent UPRT for commercial operators.

Insurance partnerships

Aviation insurance providers have a financial interest in reducing crashes of all types, and are willing to invest in risk reduction, to the point where some have partnered with UPRT providers and incentivized clients to complete the training.

In 2014, insurer Global Aerospace teamed up with Calspan, which provided UPRT for dozens of business jet pilots in its variable-stability Learjet aircraft. When Calspan exited the UPRT business, Global Aerospace partnered with Prevailance Aerospace as one of its Community of Excellence service providers within the SM4 Aviation Safety Program.

It is part of Global’s ongoing commitment to help achieve higher levels of operational safety. This is how our flight department became acquainted with Prevailance Aerospace. Each year, one of our pilots can attend UPRT free of charge.

Prevailance Aerospace

The Prevailance Aerospace UPRT course trains crews to recognize and recover from unusual attitudes and aircraft upsets. Clients gain the confidence to handle any situation that the environment or aircraft can throw at them.

Training is focused on realistic scenarios that pilots may find themselves in. UPRT is not an aerobatics course, but some necessary aerobatic skills are taught. The course demystifies those parts of the flight envelope where business aviation pilots do not routinely operate.

Based at CPK (Chesapeake VA), Prevailance Aerospace is run by CEO Vanessa Christie, a US Navy combat veteran who spent most of her active-duty time flying and instructing in the F-14 Tomcat, and now dedicates her time to countering the number 1 killer in aviation – LOC-I. LOC-I is defined as your flightpath not going where you want it to go, ie, a deviation from your intended flightpath, and it accounts for the largest percentage of fatalities in worldwide commercial jet flying.

Prevailance Aerospace has been providing UPRT since 2015, with clients numbering in the thousands. The company offers UPRT to traditional flight departments, university flight programs, government agencies, and various general aviation customers.

Prevailance uses Extra 300 aircraft primarily, but also offers a high-altitude course using the Eclipse 500 twin jet. The company also provides training to the US Naval Test Pilot School at NHK (NAS Patuxent River MD). Only 20% of Prevailance Aerospace’s UPRT flights originate out of its CPK home base, as most customers choose off-site training.

Future UPRT locations include Ann Arbor MI, Columbus OH, Lynchburg VA, Minneapolis MN, Morristown NJ (a regular), New Windsor NY, and Orlando FL. The price tag is roughly $4000, but this depends on location.

If you are looking for the lowest price, go to their CPK location – or even better, join Global Aerospace SM4 and attend for free.

Upsets are defined as “unintentionally exceeding normal flight parameters,” such as pitch greater than 25° nose up or 10° nose down, or a bank angle greater than 45°.

Risk

Undergoing UPRT in an aircraft involves risk – certainly more so than UPRT in a simulator. The training aircraft are sturdy and operated well inside their structural envelope and at safe altitudes. The instructors are highly qualified and experienced.

The biggest risk is to pilot egos and the possibility of an embarrassing physiological incident, like your stomach cruelly rejecting your last meal. Simulators cannot duplicate the stressful physiological environment.

Preparation

Study ahead of time. Know your plane’s stall recovery and upset recovery procedures. Review Airplane Upset Recovery Training Aid (AURTA) Revisions 2 and 3. Why both? Revision 3 is an abbreviated app-based version of the unabridged Revision 2.

To be thoroughly prepared, complete the self-test in Appendix 3A. Prevailance Aerospace will provide a contract that includes limits of liability. It’s best to read and agree to contract terms well before the start of training, so pilots can focus on the learning at hand.

Personal experience

With a 2-decade military career involving extensive upset experience, plus recent UPRT experience with both Calspan and FAA programs, I was delighted when it was my turn to train with Prevailance Aerospace.

Global Aerospace SM4 program benefits allowed me to participate fully in the Prevailance Aerospace UPRT at no cost. Escaping the gray Midwest winter, I chose to participate in the UPRT course offered at PIE (St Petersburg–Clearwater FL) in mid-February 2020.

The course leads off with 3 hours of UPRT ground school. Students gain important knowledge of the aerodynamics, recovery procedures, and human factors behind LOC-I situations. The academics are followed by 3 training flights designed to introduce, demonstrate, and practice upset recognition and recovery.

Spatial orientation is emphasized to reinforce basic dynamic airmanship that has likely eroded over time while flying highly automated business aircraft. Each training flight includes a thorough 1-hour prebrief to address the specific sequence of events.

Flights are conducted in Extra 300 unlimited aerobatic aircraft, which are ideally suited for UPRT. Prevailance Aerospace and other UPRT providers use the Extra 300 because of its high structural strength safety margin, excellent visibility from the cockpit, and relatively low operating costs.

The instructor sits behind the customer, allowing the former to oversee the latter’s experience. My instructor was Mike ”Cob” Burke, a veteran US Navy aviator with extensive experience flying combat operations worldwide.

During his 30 years of military service, Burke also served extensively as an Out-of-Control Flight Instructor and Wing Standardization Check Pilot in the T-34C Turbo Mentor. Each flight adhered to a “crawl, walk, run” methodology.

We started with warm-up turns of increasing bank angle, and then transitioned to advanced handling maneuvers, including rolls, wing-overs, and a “5 up, 5 down” maneuver to practice controlling large pitch-ups and pull-downs.

The focus then became upset recognition and recovery. Scenario-based upsets were practiced to proficiency so that the sensations associated with actual flight would become transferable to our specific business aircraft.

This is a good thing in the training environment. Consider your first instincts. UPRT helps you develop proper recovery instincts and muscle memory. This is analogous to driving a car on a slippery winter road, where we know that if we lose traction while accelerating, our first action is to stop asking the car to accelerate.

Wake turbulence from larger aircraft can leave smaller airplanes in an upset position. Vortices spread laterally away from the generating aircraft and descend 500–900 ft at distances of up to 5 miles behind it. Vortices tend to descend 300–500 ft/min during the first 30 seconds.

This instinctive reaction has to be learned through experience and is great when you are actively manipulating the controls, but if the upset comes while the autopilot or the other pilot has control of the aircraft, it’s more likely that you’ll be startled.

The purpose of the final flight was to practice and refine skills learned on the 2 previous flights. At the conclusion of training, the customer is provided with an inflight video of the final flight recorded from cockpit and external cameras to facilitate further learning.

Top takeaways include the knowledge that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and that reducing angle of attack is the most important pilot action in an upset event. Two weeks after the Prevailance Aerospace experience, I was back in the simulator for Falcon recurrent training.

I followed Vanessa Christie’s suggestion to “spice up” ordinary simulator upsets with hydraulic failures. What was normally a routine simulator drill was a wholly new encounter when I performed upset recoveries with a total hydraulic failure.

Learning went off-the-page high for me, my sim partner, and the instructor. What were otherwise benign upsets became very challenging without hydraulic power in the Falcon. This was an eye-opening experience.

To recover aircraft control, the pilot had to fly with electric pitch trim in addition to elevator, and this was easy to over-control. Options While this article has focused on my experience with Prevailance Aerospace, there are multiple other UPRT service providers. Aviation Performance Solutions (APS) has been in business since 1996. I sampled APS UPRT soon after they offered dedicated UPRT in 2005.

Aircraft insurer USAIG offers APS UPRT for its clients enrolled in the Performance Vector safety program. APS has training centers in Alabama, Arizona, Texas, and in Europe. They use the Extra 300L and SIAI-Marchetti S211 jet – and other aircraft as well – as dedicated simulator platforms.

The largest UPRT provider, APS has trained more than 25,000 pilots in a calendar year. Flight Research, based at MHV (Mojave CA), offers highly customizable UPRT in a variety of aircraft types. Patty Wagstaff offers UPRT out of SGJ (St Augustine FL), or she will come to you. In addition, major simulator training providers offer brief upset recovery training in their initial and recurrent type rating courses.

FlightSafety Intl (FSI) offers a dedicated UPRT simulator session as part of its Master Aviator program, and CAE offers select follow-on simulator training at its Morristown NJ facility for Prevailance Aerospace clients. FAA continues offering free UPRT in simulators at Oklahoma City OK.

This program was described in Pro Pilot (December 2019, p 58). Dr Jeff Schroeder runs the program, and he coaches pilots not to just go through the motions of stall recovery, but also to understand the reasons behind each step. After automation is disconnected (step 1), the next and most important step is to reduce angle of attack (AOA) until stall warning stops. Just reducing AOA is not enough, says Schroeder.

Aileron inputs to change bank angle while still stalled could make the situation worse. Schroeder further coaches pilots to not be too aggressive on the controls. The key is to apply an input in a smooth, deliberate, and proportional manner.

Closing

UPRT is rewarding and satisfying. Pilots gain practical knowledge to prevent upset in the first place. UPRT helps experienced professionals learn to recognize upset and reinforces the importance of reducing angle of attack in an upset event. My UPRT with Prevailance Aerospace was revitalizing and reinvigorated my passion for flying and emergency preparedness.


MartyMarty Rollinger has more than 35 years of flight experience in 68 different aircraft types. A career US Marine Corps pilot, he was a Liethen-Tittle Award graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School. He is director of flight ops for a Midwestern operator, and a member of the Falcon Operator Advisory Board.