Unusual Attitudes


  • When an airplane attitude is maneuvered to that not normally required for flight, you have entered an unusual attitude
  • Pilots must know how to properly recover from unusual attitudes solely by reference to the flight instruments
  • When in IMC it is possible to loose control of the aircraft without realizing it
  • During IMC conditions you should rely on the instruments and not your senses
  • Neutralize controls (stick and rudder), analyze and evaluate the situation to determine recovery
  • Occurs when the perceived aircraft attitude and the actual aircraft attitude different
  • The real attitude may or may not be extreme relative to the horizon
  • To ensure you can recover under the worst conditions (unaided night/IMC) you will be expected to follow a mini-checklist (this is a form of an emergency)
  • Results from turbulence, disorientation, instrument failure, confusion, preoccupation, carelessness, errors, lack of proficiency

Unusual Attitude Detection:

  • Nose High:

    • Altimeter increasing
    • VSI increasing
    • Airspeed decreasing
    • Attitude indication
  • Nose Low:

    • Altimeter decreasing
    • VSI decreasing
    • Airspeed increasing
    • Attitude indication

Recovery from Unusual Attitudes Procedure:

All procedures here are GENERALIZED for learning.
Always fly in accordance with Pilot Operating Handbooks (POHs)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

  1. Perform clearing turns
  2. Recovering from nose-high unusual attitudes: (airspeed decreasing or below desired airspeed)
    • Increase power to full or in proportion to the observed deceleration
    • Lower the nose and prevent a stall by applying forward elevator pressure
    • Level the wings by applying coordinated aileron and rudder pressure
    • Return to the original altitude and heading
  3. Recovering from nose-low unusual attitudes: (airspeed increasing or above desired airspeed)
    • Reduce power as necessary to prevent excessive airspeed and loss of altitude
    • Level the wings by applying coordinated aileron and rudder pressure
    • Raise the nose to level flight attitude by smoothly applying back elevator pressure
    • Return to the original altitude and heading
  4. Complete cruise checklist
  • Instrument Reference:
    • If the attitude indicator has exceeded its limits in an unusual attitude, nose-low or nose-high attitude can be determined by the airspeed indicator and the altimeter
    • When recovering without the aid of the attitude indicator, level flight attitude is reached when the altimeter and the airspeed indicator stop prior to reversing their direction of movement and the vertical speed indicator reverses its trend

Common Errors:

  • Moving the jet before you've assessed the attitude
  • Talking instead of flying
  • Trying to recover from a supersonic and 90° ND at 3,000' rather than ejecting (sim)
  • Forgetting the jet is still going down if you merely pull the nose to the horizon while slow (i.e. lots of alpha on the jet)
  • Incorrect identification of unusual attitude
  • Incorrect recover from unusual attitude
  • Failure to keep the airplane properly trimmed. A flight deck interruption when holding pressures can easily lead to inadvertent entry into unusual attitudes
  • Disorganized flight deck. Hunting for charts, logs, computers, etc., can seriously distract attention from the instruments
  • Slow cross-check and fixations. The impulse is to stop and stare when noting an instrument discrepancy unless a pilot has trained enough to develop the skill required for immediate recognition
  • Attempting to recover by sensory sensations other than sight. The discussion of disorientation in Chapter 1, Human Factors, indicates the importance of trusting the instruments
  • Failure to practice basic instrument skills. All of the errors noted in connection with basic instrument skills are aggravated during unusual attitude recoveries until the elementary skills have been mastered

Airman Certification Standards:


  • Note that all control applications made should be changed simultaneously in the sequence given for a smooth recovery
  • Recovery should be initiated by reference to the airspeed indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, and turn coordinator
  • Consider practicing maneuvers on a flight simulator to introduce yourself to maneuvers or knock off rust