Is traditional proficiency enough?

In aviation parlance, proficiency means being good at what was required to get your licenses and ratings, good at what was in the ACS or PTS, or good at what you learned when you checked out in some particular airplane. But is that always enough? Are there things to learn that currently aren’t taught, anywhere?

The normal progression of licenses is private (the outcome of the maneuver is never seriously in doubt); instrument; commercial (flying smoothly, plus a few more maneuvers); and ATP (every flight shows off how good you are). There’s more to learn than just this progression, as everybody knows who has learned to fly tailwheels, floats or gliders.

Regardless of certificate level, however, elements of being a good pilot normally include skill at operating the airplane; book knowledge; situational awareness of everything going on around the airplane and what it means; and experience. All of these are, good, no doubt about it, but what additional elements can be incorporated to make an even better pilot? In effect, what would constitute an Honors Course in flying?

Some opine that aerobatics is the next step, and aerobatics does teach new things. But a competition aerobatic pilot friend stated that you can be a poor stick and rudder pilot and still fly aerobatics.

It turns out that there are lots of things to learn in that huge, largely unexplored intermediate area between the small middle of the flight envelope that is currently taught and where we all fly almost all the time, regardless of certificate level, and the outer edges of the envelope where spins, aerobatics and upset training reside. After all, loss of control accidents don’t happen in the middle of the envelope, and you don’t get to the outer edges of the envelope without going through that intermediate areas.

Teaching flight in that intermediate area are the Expanded Envelope Exercises® (E3). These non-traditional exercises are designed to be flyable in most all standard category airplanes. Examples include full aileron deflection, stalls with recovery in turns, very challenging slow Dutch rolls, and deliberate runway overshoots and recoveries—all with appropriate risks presented and mitigated. Thus, E3 provides a protective buffer against Loss Of Control.

The original idea behind E3 is that when loss of control occurs, it’s because the pilot has so much going on in his head that some sensory inputs and some tasks get degraded or dropped entirely—Aviation Psychology 101. The E3 solution is to increase the pilot’s ability to handle those situations, but the new idea is how to do it—by expanding the pilot’s overall cognitive ability, his ability to handle more inputs without degrading or dropping tasks, to expand the pilot’s comfort zone into more of that intermediate flight envelope. That expanded envelope has many dimensions: pitch and roll attitudes and rates, control deflections, non-traditional stall recoveries, and lots more.

For example, E3 has several exercises that use full aileron deflection at traffic pattern speeds. Done with an E3-qualified instructor at altitude, these teach what the airplane can do if you absolutely need to. That’s a big part of expanding the pilot’s comfort zone. Stall recoveries are explored where the entire stall and recovery are done in a banked turn, just like gliders do, so that stall recovery becomes more familiar and non-threatening. Such stalls turn out to be not a big deal, as does the next step—stall the airplane while turning in one direction, recover in the other direction without leveling out in the middle. If there’s ever an emergency, like an engine out and the need to maneuver right before a forced landing, all the better to have seen these exercises at least once so that any required emergency maneuvers are within your comfort zone.

Developing E3 yielded one unexpected revelation: the low speed spiral. Again, this should only be demonstrated by an E3-qualified CFI. I’ve taught basic aerobatics, and when a subject pilot inadvertently put us into my first low speed spiral, it grabbed my full attention. The real-world scenario is this: a pilot screws up the base-to-final turn and banks the airplane sharply. With most of his attention on runway alignment (degraded cognitive ability), the pilot doesn’t pay enough attention to pitch and pushes the nose way down. This generates a truly unusual attitude that the pilot may need a few seconds to recognize and to recover from. In demonstrations of this, even with a prompt recovery, 500-800 feet of altitude is lost. One NTSB docket had an eyewitness account of this very situation.

After encountering that first low speed spiral, I started practicing low speed spirals so that I could safely demonstrate them at altitude. I also started looking at NTSB reports, bypassing the probable causes but paying close attention to the narratives and looking at the raw data in the dockets. I also studied a dozen online videos of light airplane accidents, looking at each video over and over. Low speed spirals started turning up all over the place, but were almost always summarized in the NTSB reports as stall/spins. This has all kinds of implications for flight reviews and flight training.

Glider steep turn
Glider pilots are more comfortable in steep banks and stall recoveries during a turn. Why not airplane pilots?

And this is not to bash the accident investigators. If low speed spirals are an unknown phenomenon but stall/spins are, the mis-classification is understandable.

Low speed spirals are the kind of phenomenon that E3 can address. If a pilot has seen a low speed spiral before and knows what the airplane can be made to do, the pilot is more likely to avoid the low speed spiral and more likely to respond correctly and more promptly should one develop. Those are all rewards of greater cognitive ability.

Similarly, E3 can help a pilot avoid stall/spin by helping the pilot not be overwhelmed by unexpected situations, and by helping the pilot head off trouble well before the stall warning goes off.

E3 was developed as part of submissions to the EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize, which seeks to reduce loss of control accidents. E3 currently includes more than 100 exercises, although a ten exercise, one-hour flight curriculum provides enormous benefit and is the current format. Utah Valley University is researching E3 benefits, and indeed, Prof. Michael Hollister there coined the name Expanded Envelope Exercises.

This is not to claim that all of E3 is 100% new. Certainly the tabulation of exercises is new, but a few exercises are pre-existing, if possibly obscure. Every now and again, I fly with somebody whose first instructor had shown them one or maybe two of the exercises. For those reasons, and also liability, the exercises themselves are not copyrighted—there’s plenty of room for the greater aviation community to adapt, add to, modify and refine E3.

E3 is a reasonably solid first pass at an Honors Level curriculum, teaching pilots to expand their comfort zones and increase their cognitive availability in stressful situations, regardless of certificate level. E3 has benefited private pilots, but E3 has also challenged ex-military test pilots with world class credentials. It works.

The biggest next step for E3 will be the establishment of a consortium to develop, refine, and promote a public E3, to help get E3 beyond the limits of my experience and beyond my ways of doing things. E3 needs to be fine-tuned for different aircraft. Manufacturers and training organizations welcome! And I’m happy to fly E3 with CFIs here in Savannah, free, or at your location, only for expenses.

And why expend all this effort on E3 development? To help keep our friends, created in the image of God, alive.

25 Comments

  • Stalls in a turn were part of my flight syllabus as a private student and in the Jeppesen Flight Training Manual. Is that one of things that’s gone away in the new syllabus that everybody hates? I don’t understand how you can get through a private course without seeing full aileron deflection at pattern speed–oops maybe that’s because I learned in the desert and had to cope with a lot of turbulence during training. And I don’t understand what’s so different about a slow speed, low altitude spiral than the maneuvering that is sometimes done to reach an emergency landing field. Can you clarify?

  • Good comments, David. The word “spiral” has a variety of meanings, sometimes meaning a continuous descending turn under full control as you used the word. What I’ve found in accident reports, videos and flight test is, as mentioned, that a botched steep turn can lead to an extreme unusual attitude that surprises the pilot. In one NTSB docket, an observer described this exact sequence of events, leading to a fatal accident. This is a different kind of spiral — increasing speed, bank angle and G load — and is a loss of control event, not a planned maneuver. That’s the difference.

  • How does one find out more about E3 maneuvers and training. I am very interested in a lesson with you. I am working on my CFI now in GEORGETOWN SC.

  • Ed,

    I fly a CL-604 into HXD often. Maybe we could go flying some weekend once aviation opens up again. I’m interested in learning more about E3.

    Howard P Smith
    SmithJet.com
    518-331-0259

    • Ok, I’m sold. I love this stuff. Anything that expands my flight knowledge is good. But how do I learn more about it? I’m in Alaska but of course travel before Covid anyway. Nothing on E3 shows up in a Google search.

  • I’ve long been a “show-you” CFI – falling leaf stalls, Dutch rolls in slow flight, turning stalls, an envelope exploration, but I’m definitely not very formal with it. Where might I find out more about the formal syllabus/flight profiles etc?

  • Ed,
    Great article. I’ve just made an offer on a 7kcab and will, in the future start teaching these maneuvers. Need more info on what 10 maneuvers you’re talking about. I want my students to experience them.
    Thanks

  • Have you considered, in the E3 envelope, including LOC maneuvers which are performed at different extremes of the approved weight/CG envelope? I have been harping on this because my observation is that some LOC pilots don’t experience max weight, aft CG stall characteristics until the engine quits on takeoff.

    • Good question, Stephen. That training is valuable, of course, but is not included in E3 because I think it is more appropriately part of a detailed airplane check-out. E3 tries not to be airplane specific but rather transferable from airplane to airplane. Also, E3 tries to be fun, and I don’t think a lot of pilots would consider a full power, aft c.g. stall to be “fun.”

  • Expanded Envelope Exercises / E3-qualified CFI? These training maneuvers have been in the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook for decades and do not require any special qualifications other than basic training and proficiency following the explanations in the FAA Handbook. I don’t think you have the basic base-to-final scenario correct. You say the pilot banks steeply, loses awareness of pitch, and pushes the nose way down. The excessive pitch down action in this scenario can occur, but probably not because of intentional pilot action. First a steep bank during base-to-final most likely occurs because of the pilot overshooting the runway centerline (poor ground reference skills). At that moment, it is very likely the pilot is trying to achieve the maximum turning performance, pulling the control wheel/stick back, and then stalls the airplane (acceleration stall, one of the maneuvers already covered in the FAA manual). THEN, you see the excessive pitch down because of the stall. If you think pilots intentionally pitch down excessively and you are going to teach the opposite (applying back pressure?), then I think you will increase the likelihood of a base-to-final stall spin.

    • Warren,

      What Ed was referring to were instructors who have flown or are otherwise familiar with the exercises and know what to potentially expect when flying with those who are not familiar with them. Of course, there is no official “E3-qualified instructor” process and as you mentioned, much of what we are talking about here is nothing new really, all found the AFH. The point of E3 is to go beyond the current ACS requirements. Such requirements are, in my opinion, far too benign. On the other end of the envelope, E3 does not extend into what the FAA would consider “aerobatic flight” with pitch deviations beyond 30 degrees or bank angles beyond 60 degrees.

      With regard to the to ‘base to final’ scenario, I am finding that most pilots are getting themselves into trouble mismanaging their airspeed and rudder while in a bank . . . the “overshoot” is a common example. At some point in this scenario pilots’ will “pull” to get back toward their centerline. This will, of course, aggravate the stall/spin condition as wing loading increases. This situation, combined with also being low and slow means the pilot probably ends up on the evening news.

      Additional training, like E3, is intended to provide pilots with a broader depth and breadth of experiences and sensations never experienced in typical training. It now means a pilot can be more confident, even comfortable, in a flight attitude never flown before the certificate. For example, a pilot never once being asked to recover from a stall while in a banked condition during private pilot training is a disservice to that pilot. E3, or a similar program, that fills in the blanks between the certificate and aerobatic flying is worthy of an investigation.

      • Michael,

        Thank you. Going well beyond the basic straight entry stalls is critical and I do appreciate the initiative to correct that. I assume you are covering all AFH recommendations: straight and turning entry stalls power on and off, and the demonstrated (with CFI) stalls: accelerated stalls, cross-control stalls, trim stalls, and secondary stalls.

        I don’t think this has hit on the initial problem with base-to-final which is simply that the pilot doesn’t start the turn where it should be started, and overshoots. Coordinated rudder is obviously preferred but even if not perfect isn’t going to hurt anything if there’s a safe margin on airspeed. What are these pilots doing wrong to mismanage airspeed in the bank? Is there a common thread?

  • How about how to lose altitude and land from high altitude at full power with throttle disconnect/cable failure? Is there a procedure for that problem? It occurred in IFR conditions – later I was unable to find instructions anywhere for that specific problem.

    • Robert, throttle failure is a great exercise to talk about and perhaps to practice. E3 would, of course, help a pilot better handle the stresses of situations like that, and that’s its forte. E3 would lose appeal and become unwieldy if it tried to include too much.

  • When I finally decided to pull the trigger on becoming an Aviator back in 1984, low altitude stalls, climbing turning departure stalls, decending turning landing stalls, accelerated stalls, full on control deflection and full on cross control deflection exercises were normal part of the curriculum. Also, spins were at the option of the instructor.
    I know that much of instruction is now based on prevention of surcharge circumstances rearing their head but knowing how to execute and recover from the above-mentioned I believe should still be a part of basic flight training.
    Also, jammed full deflection ailerons, rudder and trim were also taught. I had to know how to manuever to landing in the aforementioned as well as continue flight if necessary. This training has saved my life when test flying experimentals and factory builts during initial flight testing and after major repairs were made.

  • I never heard of E3, but I was required to do full stalls to include accelerated stalls (banked stall). I guess those are no longer required maneuvers.

  • Nice article, Ed.

    I believe two important maneuvers can be learned from this training.

    1) How to properly recover from a nose low, steep bank turn/spiral with minimum further altitude loss. Steep bank does not necessarily equal high G-load.

    2) Use of full aileron input near stall speed presents a good chance of LOC in a stall/spin/spiral condition. Even in certificated airplanes, stall warning does NOT assure stall protect with full aileron input.

  • Hi Ed. Miss you, miss RHV and especially miss my Cardinal.
    I don’t fly as much as I would like, but I am determined to do something about that once the C-19 pandemic is less of a threat.

  • I would argue that unless we are teaching our primary students everything in paragraph 6 we are not doing our jobs as instructors.

    My students (except that were to heavy and exceeded W&B limitations) all spun before they soloed.

    We would not have as many accidents if we actually spent time teaching primary students to FLY.

  • How can we reduce the repeating accidents?

    Yes/No Why?
    Anytime a student pilot or any pilot flies any aircraft make-model-series for the FIRST TIME … they are required by their insurance company to review the accident, incident and mechanical history of that aircraft, make, model and series.

    All pilots including private, commercial, airline pilots… ( and DOD pilots )

    The same goes for mechanics, line crews i.e., anyone who touches an aircraft.

    Your thoughts?

    thanks,

    Neil Cosentino, USAF, Retired
    Tampa 813-784-4669

    P.S. I ask my students – who after they pass their FAA checkride and get their temporary pilot’s certificate … ” If you have an an aircraft accident or incident [ and we hope you don’t ] but if you do, all I asked was it to be an ORIGINAL one! “

    • Hi Neil –
      Apparently we’ve been flying for a similar number of decades, but none of my insurance companies have ever required the kind of statistical accident review you describe. Of course, a good aircraft checkout will mention the unique qualities of that airplane, and that discussion will cover much of your point.
      I love your quote about being ORIGINAL in the kind of accident.

  • Ed, where can we find more information regarding the E3 training or is this in its early stages?

    I think this is some fantastic training and your efforts will help take it from being taught by a few older experienced instructors (who were doing this out of habit or experience) to mainstream so more pilots are safer pilots.

  • Ed,
    Curious/eager to hear more, but not finding anything or your contact info online. I’d like to go flying together.

    Rob Niewoehner
    Prof of Aeronautics
    CAPT, USN (ret), PhD
    US Naval Academy

  • Ed,

    Very interesting read and certainly resonates with me. As others have said, I’m interested in scheduling some time with you and would appreciate you reaching out at your leisure since no contact info has been posted. I’m not far away from your location.

    Regards,
    Karl K.

  • Retired ATP/CFII due to disability – The way I see it after reading latest accident reports every day – your ideas should be incorporated into the most basic flight training like it used to be in the times before scenario based training became all the rage. Like, I mean ten hours in a champ or a cub exploring the limits of flying a basic wing before you ever even decide you want to pursue flying as anything beyond a
    fascination.

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