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The Right Way Back to Right Side Up

By Will Allen
Reprinted with permission from Will Allen

It’s a beautiful day, and you are flying your single-engine general aviation airplane. Life is good. On approach to your destination airport, the controller issues a traffic advisory for the jetliner landing ahead of you and the standard “caution, wake turbulence” advisory. Rummaging through your mental filing cabinet, you fish out the file on techniques for avoiding wake. You think you are following the right procedures, and then—whoa! In the blink of an eye, your attitude whips from upbeat to upside down.

Scary stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. Although any kind of aircraft upset close to the ground can be dangerous, a pilot whose logbook includes even a few hours of basic aerobatic instruction, including training on spin entries and recoveries, has a much better chance at completing a life-saving attitude adjustment. This is because pilots who have never seen brown on the up side and blue below are almost certain to react intuitively and try to pull up. Unfortunately, pulling up in such situations is a sure recipe for going down. A pilot who has had aerobatic training, on the other hand, will have the training and experience to properly right the airplane.

Opening the (Flight) Envelope

Your basic pilot training no doubt included steep turns, unusual attitudes, and stalls. These are among the building blocks of flight training, but they only scratch the surface of the attitudes an airplane can achieve in controlled flight with a pilot who knows how to maintain that control.

Aerobatic training can help you achieve the goal of control. This does not mean you have to learn to tumble an airplane or induce fighter-pilot level load factors (“Gs,” as aerobatic pilots say) on your body. On the contrary, most of what you already know about unusual attitudes and upset recoveries can give you a sense of the range of possible attitudes. Even if you aren’t interested in spending a lot of time flying upside down, you will have a lot more knowledge, skill, and confidence if you have experienced it and learned to recover from upsets and extreme unusual attitudes.

Doing the right thing in a timely way is extremely important if, as in our opening scenario, an unexpected wake turbulence encounter puts you in a bad attitude in close proximity to the ground. Learning to perform basic rolls and to recover from inverted flight will help you tremendously in such a situation.

The Spin on Spins

How about spins? Unless you are in an aircraft designed for spin entries and recoveries, and have been properly trained by a qualified instructor, you would probably agree that a spin qualifies as an abnormal or emergency situation.

You learned the recipe for spins in your initial pilot training. A full review of spin aerodynamics is beyond the scope of this article, but the basic ingredients for a spin are a stall and yaw that will then couple with roll and produce an autorotation around the spin axis. The aircraft follows a corkscrew path, and the pilot’s absolutely natural instinct—to attempt a roll correction with aileron—is absolutely wrong. That’s another reason you might want to consider basic aerobatic training that includes spin entries and recoveries.

Whether or not you take that route, it’s a good idea to review spin recovery procedures on a regular basis. I cannot stress enough the importance of consulting the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) for spin recovery information for your particular airplane. In general, though, it helps to remember the PARE approach. PARE is a fairly new acronym as a memory aid for the elements in NASA’s standard spin recovery integrated with the most effective techniques.

  • P = Power idle
  • A = Ailerons neutral
  • R = Rudder full opposite the spin
  • E = Elevator forward through neutral

When rotation stops, neutralize the rudder and recover to a level attitude.

Right Airplane, Right Instructor

As with most skills, reading the directions and understanding the concepts is necessary, but not sufficient for mastery. Whether with rolls, loops, spins, or inverted flight, you have to do them to really learn and build the reflexes to automatically make the right actions in unusual and unexpected attitudes. Be sure, though, that you fly with a qualified instructor, and that you experience the extremes of flight in an airframe designed to handle the higher load factors imposed by aerobatic maneuvers.

Even the most basic aerobatic training will contribute to better control and greater confidence as a pilot.

Will Allen is a professional air show performer and FAA-certificated flight instructor who offer aerobatic and spin training in a Super Decathlon through his company Flip Side Aerobatics (www.flipsideaerobatics.com) , located in Seattle, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz.

Written permission from the author is required to reprint this copyrighted article.