Which way is up?

Loss of control accidents are the world’s new big killers since the installation of airborne terrain awareness warning systems (TAWS) dramatically reduced the numbers of controlled flight into terrain crashes.

The US FAA is considering mandating an upset recovery training programme for airline pilots. But what does it think is the best training method?

 

Capabilities of the VS Learjets

 

Right now the agency is looking at expensive airborne training, using Calspan variable-stability, semi-aerobatic Learjets. Airlines will not like the cost, given that, over decades, loss of control (LOC) accidents in which pilots played a part has not been a problem for US carriers.

But there have been a couple of high profile mishandling-induced LOC mishaps in the USA more recently – the Pinnacle Airlines Bombardier CRJ200 mishap in 2004 and the Colgan Air Q400 crash at Buffalo early this year – which have clearly worried the FAA. The fact that LOC might be in the frame as one of the factors in the Air France 447 loss may also be providing some impetus.

The FAA proposal is about how upset recovery training could be carried out effectively, not whether it is required or not. The agency starts from the assumption that simulators are inadequate because they cannot provide the acceleration feedback, and there is insufficient performance data for, say, a Boeing 737 at 130° bank with 50° nose up, to enable a simulator to replicate reliably the results of pilot input.

Sure, using a modified Learjet would be desirable, because it ticks all the boxes, including providing something akin to the inertial reactions of an airliner.

But the danger of proposing an expensive solution is that it may either be rejected altogether, or be under-used in practice – and upset recovery training does need to be recurrent, even if not annual.

Light aerobatic aeroplane training is less expensive, but maybe the FAA is worried pilots would over-react to upset recovery training as happened in the 2001 American Airlines AA587 wake encounter. Even training in the Learjet, however, would provide no guarantee against that.

Assuming no external visual cues, upset recovery training has to teach the pilot to mentally reject his/her sensory impressions, and react only to what the flight instruments reveal. Human sensory and balance organs are easily fooled, but they are very compelling. 

Teaching this hard discipline is critical, and an ideal training programme would include airborne practice, but it is not the only way. Simulators can provide practice at least in the drills for reacting to an unexpected scenario revealed by the flight instruments, because it is getting those drills right that is critical.

Boeing, in recent tests, has found that pilot background and long experience are not necessarily indicators of who will do best at upset recovery. Its results were revealing.

2 Responses to Which way is up?

  1. Oliie361 23 August, 2009 at 11:33 am #

    The blog concludes:
    >> Boeing, in recent tests, has found that pilot background and long experience are not necessarily indicators of who will do best at upset recovery. Its results were revealing.>>

    What if the indicators mislead for electromechanical snags? AF447 apparently had inaccurate displys!
    OG

  2. Oliie361 23 August, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    Another comment needs further thoughts.
    >> Light aerobatic aeroplane training is less expensive, but maybe the FAA is worried pilots would over-react to upset recovery training as happened in the 2001 American Airlines AA587 wake encounter. Even training in the Learjet, however, would provide no guarantee against that.>>
    The fact that the pilot over-reacted is because of lack of training and that is why FAA has a point in suggesting some sort of air training.

    OG