Family, friends, and colleagues all know that I have a near-primal need for order and structure in my universe. This personal Prime Directive engenders an intense need for control – not so much control over other people (yes, opinions differ), but rather control over self and life circumstances.
I’m in Control Here!
This zest for order, structure, and control aligned very nicely with the discipline of flight training. I read, I learned, I practiced, and then practiced still more to make the airplane do what I wanted it to do at any given moment. In an article I wrote for this magazine several years ago, I even compared the principles of airplane control to canine obedience training (“Secrets of the Airplane Whisperer” – FAA Aviation News, July/August 2007).
…Except When I’m Not…
As we all know, though, life has a way of disrupting the most carefully made plans. And, as the list of “LOC contributing factors” in the #FlySafe campaign shows, a variety of factors can conspire to upset – literally – a pilot’s grasp on airplane control. Even before I qualified as a flight instructor, I always had the nagging feeling that the (many) things I didn’t know about airplane control could bite – and bite hard.
Management and Mastery
That’s why, in early 2008, I journeyed to the southwestern desert to invest in highly structured upset recovery training. Control freak that I am, I had carefully researched the school I chose to assure myself of its top-notch instructors, aircraft, and training techniques. I’ve since been back several times for refresher training, but I can say unequivocally that the initial three-day training I did was the best aviation investment I’ve ever made.
The training program included every kind of stall you can imagine, and I quickly learned why the skidding stall featured in far too many base-to-final LOC accidents merits its reputation for disaster. I learned how to recover from such self-induced upsets. More importantly, though, I learned how to prevent them in the first place. Just as a dog will rarely bite without warning, I found that an airplane generally gives its pilot plenty of “I’m-really-not-happy” signals before it departs controlled flight.
Another benefit of specialized training was the ability to experience and repeatedly recover from fully developed spins, both upright and inverted. I had of course practiced spin recovery as part of my flight instructor training program, but I came away from the upset recovery sessions with a lot more knowledge, skill, and confidence in this crucial area.
The stall and spin recovery training was terrific, but even better were the lessons on recovering from unusual attitudes, whether pilot-induced (e.g., during those infamous VFR-into-IMC forays) or otherwise-induced (e.g., wake turbulence encounters). When it was time to tackle the wake turbulence part of the syllabus, my instructor in the tandem cockpit airplane very cleverly set me up “on approach” behind a simulated larger aircraft. Even though I knew what he was up to, it was impossible to be fully prepared for the sudden simulated “wake turbulence encounter” that rolled the airplane nearly inverted.
Obviously it’s important to avoid such things in real life by strict adherence to wake turbulence avoidance procedures, but – as I said – we all know that real life and real life flying are full of unseen perils. I’m glad I had a chance to learn techniques for quickly restoring order to a wake-disrupted aviation universe.
The upset recovery training I took wasn’t cheap. As with many GA training programs, it required a positively painful withdrawal from my checking account. Nevertheless, it was worth every penny and, in pursuit of LOC-proofing myself, I would enthusiastically do it again. (FAA Safety Briefing – MarApr 2016)