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Recovery from Unusual Attitudes

Introduction:

  • One of the leading causes of fatal general aviation accidents is the loss of control-Inflight (LOC-I)
    • LOC-I is defined as a significant deviation of an aircraft from the intended flightpath and it often results from an airplane upset
  • When an airplane attitude is maneuvered to that not normally required for flight, you have entered an unusual attitude
    • May also be referred to as unintended or unexpected attitude
  • Pilots must first know how to properly detect an unusual attitude to properly recover
  • 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
  • To maintain aircraft control when faced with these or other contributing factors, the pilot must be aware of situations where LOC-I can occur, recognize when an airplane is approaching a stall, has stalled, or is in an upset condition, and understand and execute the correct procedures to recover the aircraft

Understanding Unusual Attitudes:

  • Loss of Control-Inflight is usually is characterized as an upset, or unusual attitude
    • Upset Definition:

      • The Federal Aviation Administration defines an upset as an event that unintentionally exceeds the parameters normally experienced in flight or training. These parameters are:
        • Pitch attitude greater than 25°, nose up
        • Pitch attitude greater than 10°, nose down
        • Bank angle greater than 45°
        • Within the above parameters, but flying at airspeeds inappropriate for the conditions
        • The term "upset" is inclusive of unusual attitudes
    • Unusual Attitude Definitions:

      • Given the upset definition, there are a few key distinctions between an unusual attitude and an upset:
        1. First, an upset includes stall events where unusual attitude training typically does not
        2. Second, an upset can include overspeeds or other inappropriate speeds for a given flight condition, which is also not considered part of unusual attitude training
        3. Finally, an upset has defined parameters; an unusual attitude does not
          • For example, for training purposes an instructor could place the airplane in a 30° bank with a nose up pitch attitude of 15° and ask the student to recover and that would be considered an unusual attitude, but would not meet the upset parameters

Unusual Attitude Causal Factors:

  • The top four causal and contributing factors that have led to an upset and resulted in LOC-I accidents are:
    1. Environmental factors
    2. Mechanical factors
    3. Human factors
    4. Stall-related factors
  • Environmental Factors:

    • Maintain awareness of conditions that can lead to various types of turbulence, such as clear air turbulence, mountain waves, wind shear, and thunderstorms or microbursts
    • In addition to environmentally induced turbulence, wake turbulence from other aircraft can lead to upset and LOC-I
    • Icing can destroy the smooth flow of air over the airfoil and increase drag while decreasing the ability of the airfoil to create lift
      • Therefore, it can significantly degrade airplane performance, resulting in a stall if not handled correctly
  • Mechanical Factors:

    • Mechanical failures can occur from the malfunction or misuse of various aircraft systems, including: asymmetrical flaps, malfunctioning or binding flight controls, runaway trim, and the autoflight system
      • Advanced automation may tend to mask the cause of the anomaly
    • knowledge of systems and AFM/POH recommended procedures helps the pilot minimize their impact and prevent an upset
      • In the case of instrument failures, avoiding an upset and subsequent LOC-I may depend on the pilot's proficiency in the use of secondary instrumentation and partial panel operations
  • Human Factors:

    • VMC to IMC:

      • A loss of the natural horizon substantially increases the chances of encountering vertigo or spatial disorientation, which can lead to upset
    • IMC:

      • When operating in IMC, maintain awareness of conditions and use the fundamental instrument skills-cross-check, interpretation, and control-to prevent an upset
    • Diversion of Attention:

      • In addition to its direct impact, an inflight anomaly or malfunction can also lead to an upset if it diverts the pilot's attention from basic airplane control responsibilities
      • Failing to monitor the automated systems, over-reliance on those systems, or incomplete knowledge and experience with those systems can lead to an upset
      • Diversion of attention can also occur simply from the pilot's efforts to set avionics or navigation equipment while flying the airplane
    • Task Saturation:

      • The margin of safety is the difference between task requirements and pilot capabilities
      • An upset and eventual LOC-I can occur whenever requirements exceed capabilities
    • Sensory Overload/Deprivation:

      • A pilot's ability to adequately correlate warnings, annunciations, instrument indications, and other cues from the airplane during an upset can be limited. Pilots faced with upset situations can be rapidly confronted with multiple or simultaneous visual, auditory, and tactile warnings. Conversely, sometimes expected warnings are not provided when they should be; this situation can distract a pilot as much as multiple warnings can.4-19 The ability to separate time-critical information from distractions takes practice, experience and knowledge of the airplane and its systems. Cross-checks are necessary not only to corroborate other information that has been presented, but also to determine if information might be missing or invalid
    • Spatial Disorientation:

      • Spatial disorientation has been a significant factor in many airplane upset accidents. Accident data from 2008 to 2013 shows nearly 200 accidents associated with spatial disorientation with more than 70% of those being fatal. All pilots are susceptible to false sensory illusions while flying at night or in certain weather conditions. These illusions can lead to a conflict between actual attitude indications and what the pilot senses is the correct attitude. Disoriented pilots may not always be aware of their orientation error. Many airplane upsets occur while the pilot is engaged in some task that takes attention away from the flight instruments or outside references. Others perceive a conflict between bodily senses and the flight instruments, and allow the airplane to divert from the desired flightpath because they cannot resolve the conflict
      • A pilot may experience spatial disorientation or perceive the situation in one of three ways:
        1. Recognized spatial disorientation: the pilot recognizes the developing upset or the upset condition and is able to safely correct the situation
        2. Unrecognized spatial disorientation: the pilot is unaware that an upset event is developing, or has occurred, and fails to make essential decisions or take any corrective action to prevent LOC-I
        3. Incapacitating spatial disorientation: the pilot is unable to affect a recovery due to some combination of: (a) not understanding the events as they are unfolding, (b) lacking the skills required to alleviate or correct the situation, or (c) exceeding psychological or physiological ability to cope with what is happening
    • Startle Response:

      • Startle is an uncontrollable, automatic muscle reflex, raised heart rate, blood pressure, etc., elicited by exposure to a sudden, intense event that violates a pilot's expectations
    • Surprise Response:

      • Surprise is an unexpected event that violates a pilot's expectations and can affect the mental processes used to respond to the event
      • Startle may or may not lead to surprise
      • Untrained pilots often experience a state of surprise or a startle response to an airplane upset event
      • Pilots can protect themselves against a debilitating surprise reaction or startle response through scenario-based training, and in such training, instructors can incorporate realistic distractions to help provoke startle or surprise
      • To be effective the controlled training scenarios must have a perception of risk or threat of consequences sufficient to elevate the pilot's stress levels
      • Such scenarios can help prepare a pilot to mitigate psychological/physiological reactions to an actual upset

Unusual Attitude Detection:

  • Generally speaking, unusual attitudes can be characterized as nose high or nose low
  • Depending upon which you have, will depend upon the recovery procedure applied
  • It is important to understand what you have before applying the correct procedure
  • Nose High:

    • Altimeter increasing (gaining altitude)
    • VSI increasing (reflecting a climb)
    • Airspeed decreasing
    • Attitude indication
  • Nose Low:

    • Altimeter decreasing (losing altitude)
    • VSI decreasing (reflecting a descent)
    • Airspeed increasing
    • Attitude indication

Unusual Attitude Recovery Procedure:

WARNING:
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

Unusual Attitude Recovery 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:

Conclusion:

  • Recognizing an aircraft state requires a pilot to be familiar with the aircraft's instruments
  • 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

References: