"Thousands of hours of flying doesn't necessarily make a good pilot. It's just proof of survival - a relatively easy thing to achieve in today's reliable aircraft." I argued that in a previous blog about pilot training standards.
Boeing has provided one little boost for that theory (I would argue it's a fact), having carried out a simple but devilishly clever series of simulator-based tests. They were designed to find out whether providing pilots with upset recovery training actually makes a positive difference to their performance when they are faced with recovering the aircraft from extreme attitudes by sole reference to instruments.
Boeing found it does, but that's not the main point of this little piece.
The reason for carrying out the tests is that loss of control (LOC) accidents now kill more airline passengers and crews than any other category of serious mishap, including controlled flight into terrain.
The Boeing test provided each of 30 or so pilots with three attitudes to recover from, and unfroze the 737 simulator just before they were allowed to look up and manoeuvre the aircraft to straight and level at a safe speed. Scoring was done by subtracting marks from the "perfect" score of ten for mistakes, omissions, and exceedences. The manufacturer did this to all the pilots before upset recovery training, and then again after it. The average "before" score was 5, the average "after" score was 8.
Maybe you would think that pilots with a military fastjet background, or aerobatic training, would be best, at least in the "before" session.
The only pilot who got three perfect tens was a low-hour pilot with purely civil training and no aerobatic experience. But his basic training was recent, his age way below the average for the group, and his discipline clearly good.
In fact, Boeing observed - although it was not the primary purpose of the exercise to find this out - there was no apparent correlation between individual scores and the pilots' backgrounds or experience levels.
I suppose you want to know what "extreme attitudes" the pilots were faced with?
Well, the first was 40deg nose-high, zero bank, 190kt with autothrottle engaged.
The second was 25deg nose-low at 60deg bank.
The third was 25deg nose-low with 120deg bank.
So, Capt Top Gun, you think you can handle the situation because once, long ago, you used to be able to?
Don't bet on it! After years of autopilot with bank angles rarely exceeding 25deg, maybe you've forgotten the routine. Most of these pilots had. Some scored zero.