Washington Report: changes in stall training

AC 120-109
AC 120-109 was released this year to deal with stall training.

Stall training has been a hot topic for many years, but it’s taken on even more importance in the wake of some high profile airline crashes in recent years. The FAA has now responded, with Advisory Circular 120-109, covering training for stalls and stick pusher activation. While the AC focuses on large airplanes with stick shakers and pushers, there is a lot here for light airplane pilots as well.

Specifically, the FAA is emphasizing that pilots focus on reducing the angle of attack during a stall (or stick pusher activation, which is considered a stall in airplanes with these systems). That may sound like common sense to general aviation pilots, but for many years jet training has emphasized “powering out of a stall” with a minimum of altitude loss. Until recently the Practical Test Standards specifically mentioned altitude loss as a part of the maneuver (this has since changed). Some have speculated that this focus on altitude may have contributed to the Air France 447 crash.

The entire AC is worth reading, with some interesting training examples. The first page offers a nice summary:

  • Reduction of AOA is the most important response when confronted with a stall event.
  • Evaluation criteria for a recovery from a stall or approach-to-stall that does not mandate a predetermined value for altitude loss and should consider the multitude of external and internal variables which affect the recovery altitude. (Reference: Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFO) 10012, Possible Misinterpretation of the Practical Test Standards (PTS) Language “Minimal Loss of Altitude”).
  • Realistic scenarios that could be encountered in operational conditions including stalls encountered with the autopilot engaged.
  • Pilot training which emphasizes treating an “approach-to-stall” the same as a “full stall,” and execute the stall recovery at the first indication of a stall.
  • Incorporation of stick pusher training into flight training scenarios, if installed on the aircraft.

You can find the complete Advisory Circular here.

11 Comments

  • The FAA needs to bring spin training back next, they still do it here in Canada for good reason, need to know how to get out of it. If we can do it safely no reason you can’t.

    • Three points:
      1 – Outside of training and aerobatics activities, almost all spin-related crashes are of the low-altitude “unintended stall and spin” variety. Base-to-final-turn smoking holes and over-the-top departure smoking holes. All of the spin-recovery training in the world is useless in such scenarios. The mere expectation that a pilot with his/her head so far up his/her ass that s/he unintentionally stalls the vehicle, and that all of a sudden s/he will transform into Steve Canyon in a heartbeat and execute a miraculous recovery – because of prior spin training – is laughable.
      2 – If the vehicle is not stalled, it can’t spin.
      3 – Stall PREVENTION is the key to avoiding stall/spin events.

      • Stall prevention is imperative, and yes if you’re at 500 AGL your chances of recovery go way down, but why leave pilots only half equipped for these situations. I just don’t see a reason why not to teach spin training in the US as so many other countries do including Canada.

        You could take your reasoning to an extreme and say don’t train even slow flight b/c it may lead to a stall etc. I feel it’s better to train pilots for all situations so they are fully equipped to recognize the full sequence of events leading up to stalls, spins etc. and know immediately how to prevent or recover from them, having experienced the full sequence of events first-hand.

        It would be interesting to see a study on if there is a difference in stall / spin incident numbers between nations that do spin training and those that don’t.

        • David:

          We already tried this – with impressively fatal results. The FAA eliminated spin training from the PPASEL requirements precicely because far more people were being killed practicing spins than were being killed by inadvertant ones. After the rules change, the incidence of spin crashes went down.

          We also no longer conduct Part 23 twin training the way we used to – with similarly fatal results.

          Taildragger training is a tried-and-true method of increasing pilots’ yaw-control skills. Yet we don’t require it of pilots who will spend their entire careers driving nose-draggers all over the planet. It probably would be both safer and more useful than mandatory spin training. It might even reduce the incidence of spin crashes. It also surely would increase the quantity of groundloop incidents/accidents.

          We’re looking for a vaccine that won’t kill a lot of patients. First rule of medicine: do no harm.

          Pure annecdote: of all of the pilots I’ve known who’ve managed to kill themselves (and sometimes others) in an aircraft, the majority of them had undergone spin training at some point in their careers. Dit it kill tghem? No. But I believe that it added to their unjustified levels of confidence, which certainly was a factor in the last flights of most of them.

          • I think it would be interesting to look at a full comparison between Canadian and US Cirriculum for the PPL and see if there is any increased risk in Spin Training as well as if there’s any benefit seen from it in stats.

          • Hello,

            glider training is the ultimate stick and rudder training, safe, enjoyable and gives you all what you need to know why aircraft’s have a rudder including clean slow flight habits.

            enjoy the holidays

            Andreas

        • My instructor circa 1975, a young non-military type, had a nifty little exercise where we went up to about 3000, slowed to get the stall horn going and added full power. The object of the game was to climb away with no altitude loss, basically a nice short/soft field takeoff simulation. Once I figured that out, he threw in steep turns, left and right, which resulted in spinning out the top or bottom surprisingly often. He effectively taught me how fast even a docile aircraft like a 172 even with a well forward cg and way below gross could get really ugly. Best recovery I ever did was 300 ft. and I knew exactly what was coming. When I’m flying at max. gross in the dark I’m still not sure I’d get it right quick enough and it is always on my mind. I’ve done my best to never find out. And if my feet ever went stupid on the rudder pedals during training I got a chart to the back of the head, especially during take off and landing.
          I know instructing is a tough business, but I think we need more guys like that in the business. Bottom line, if you don’t learn respect for things that fly, they’re likely to kill you. Not dead yet. Thanks, Andy.

  • I’m still just a student pilot but remember very well slow flight and stall training. Still do it although I just hate it. Crummy, crummy flying but it needs to be understood. I get that so I do it.

    Reading a bit of the AC mentioned it occurs to me, “how can airline pilots, or any experienced pilots for that matter, need this to be taught”?

    By “this” I mean reducing AOA when a stall is coming, or “incipient” as the vernacular goes. How can it be that experienced pilots don’t know that? AOA, given whatever airspeed exists at the time, is of course the whole thing regarding stall avoidance and maintaining aerodynamic lift.

    No? Have I been taught by stupid people?

    What’s up with this being a training issue for licensed, experienced pilots.? I don’t get it.

    To me, it’s fundamental. So why does the FAA have to issue a directive that fundamental things be taught……..again? I know all about the Colgan crash and all that but other issues, as everyone knows, were involved there, or whatever.

    But, stall training (that is push the stick over and open the throttle) being necessary for licensed pilots, especially those carrying passengers, is hard to believe.

    I must be missing something. It sure has happened before. Enlighten me.

  • I was spin and training and have been forever glad my instructor taught me how to recover from an upset attitude. It can happen from straight and level in clear air.
    My first year as a ppl I was departing from Felts out of Spokane in our 172 with my brother, when we encountered either clear air turbulance or a sinking vortex from a heavy that had passed above and to the north (on final for GEG).
    We were in an spin in a heart beat at 5500 just past Mica Peak. It took a second ot two for my brian to catch up to the muscle memory and recover just as my instructor had taught. We lost well in excess of 1700 feet. i am convinced that his forsight prevented a probable accident.
    The aviation community and the FAA does the rest of us a disservice by not providing all of the tools available to manage all aspects of flight safely!

  • Kinda chuckly, that FAA advises to reduce angle of attack in case of a stall. “Stick And Rudder” emphasized years ago that reducing angle of attack is the single easiest and most reliable way to get out of trouble in a plane – unless you’re about ready to plow into the ground or an obstacle. I think, that Orville and Wilbur may have said something similar?

    Next, they’ll be telling us to eat lots of vegetables and get rest, fresh air, and exercise like it’s something they originated.

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