This is an article written by Acrojet for Contrails Magazine, reproduced here for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!
Why Get Upset?
Unusual attitude training. Upset training. UPRT. What’s the big deal? It’s a fair question. But the better question is: why should you care? The answer is easy: because there’s a good chance it will make the difference between life and death in an aircraft you are flying or flying in at some point in your life. You could be rolled by wake turbulence at low altitude, rocked by a thunderstorm or dealing with an aircraft malfunction. In any of these scenarios, you have the rest of your life (about seven seconds) to effectively respond-a tall order if you’re not prepared.
Let’s start at the beginning. By the standard industry definition, an aircraft is upset anytime it unintentionally exceeds 30 degrees of pitch up, 10 degrees of pitch down, or 45 degrees of bank, or if the aircraft is within these limits but too slow for flight conditions. In these situations, the aircraft is severely upset and requires swift, responsive maneuvering to prevent complete loss of control, altitude loss and further disorientation. Upset training provides pilots with the tools to respond and effectively recover from exactly this type of scenario with a minimal loss of altitude and a quick return to a recognizable, safe attitude. Because this type of upset is generally so unexpected and severe, recognizing it and responding appropriately must be almost automatic, thus requiring specific training.
The reason there is a focus on upset training is that Loss of Control Inflight, or LOC-I, has been responsible for the greatest number of fatalities and hull losses in commercial aviation for at least the past two decades. In a 2015 study of fatal aircraft accidents in the worldwide commercial jet fleet, Boeing found that LOC-I was responsible for nearly 44% of the total losses, twice as many as any other factor. Incidents during landings and Controlled Flight Into Terrain, or CFIT, were each half of the LOC-I total. Automation and cockpit instrument advances have been very effective at reducing the occurrence of both of these catastrophic events. As a result of EGPWS, for example, the risk of a CFIT incident is now 50 times less in Western Europe and North America than in 1991. Cockpit innovations like Heads Up Displays (HUD) are another safety improvement. HUDs display the majority of the information available from the flight computer in the pilot’s forward field of vision, eliminating the need for constantly looking outside (Heads Up) and inside (Heads Down) during critical phases of flight. The use of HUDs can eliminate up to 60% of distractions during takeoff and landing. The industry has had a harder time finding a solution for incidents leading to LOC-I.
The Colgan Air accident near Buffalo, NY and the Air France Flt 447 accident over the Atlantic Ocean, both in 2009, have been cited as examples of inadequate pilot response to severely upset aircraft. Although equipment failure and pilot fatigue played a part, in both cases the aircraft was mechanically sound and recoverable give the appropriate unusual attitude recognition and recovery techniques.
In response to these incidents and the larger body of data, the FAA and NTSB have repeatedly called for additional training in pilot recognition and recovery from unusual attitudes. A contributing factor to these statistics relates to training and experience. In a 2009 study evaluating upset recovery training devices, the FAA noted that “most air transport pilots flying today have never experienced the extreme pitch and bank angles and high G forces associated with severe airplane upsets. Indeed, most have never been upside down in an airplane, even once”. Understand that this is not an indictment of the skill level of today’s professional pilots; rather, it’s the result of the shifting demographic of commercial pilots nationwide. Up until the late 1970’s, 70% of US airline pilots came from a military flying background where recognizing and recovering from unusual attitudes in an aircraft is part of every training flight. Today, those statistics have flipped. 70% of US airlines pilots have no military flying experience, and unless they fly an aerobatic aircraft on the side, have little to no hands-on upset recovery training.
In 2015, a joint venture between industry and the FAA created a standard document, AC 120-111, that outlines recommended recurrent training for pilots to effectively prevent, recognize and respond to upsets. It deals mostly with simulator training, but there is discussion as to whether upset training in the simulator is enough, or if in-aircraft upset training is the better solution.
In their 2009 study comparing simulator to in-aircraft upset training, an FAA study concluded that there was a far smaller altitude loss during upset recovery training by pilots who trained in an all-attitude maneuvering airplane than for those who trained for upset recovery in a simulator. Anecdotal evidence from pilots training in commercial airline simulators suggests that simulator operators typically even “turn down” the responsiveness of the flight controls during upset maneuvers in an effort to avoid damaging the expensive machinery, which further degrades the training experience.
So where are we now? The FAA issued a policy that takes effect in 2019 requiring all Part 121 pilots to complete increased ground and flight training, which includes upset prevention and recovery, during virtually all regularly scheduled training. As of now, the flight training must be completed in a Level C or higher simulator.
Some aviation leaders are taking it a step further. As part of their “Emergency Situation Training Program”, Eclipse Aerospace requires an in-aircraft Upset Recovery Course to be completed prior to issuing an Eclipse Jet type rating. Their website states that “Emergency Situation Training augments traditional aircraft type training in ways that can better prepare pilots for unexpected situations and substantially influence the probability of safe outcomes.” Jim Platz, a new Eclipse Jet owner, is a believer: “Upset training is an opportunity to gain confidence and skills that could someday save your life. If the opportunity is available to you, by all means take advantage of it. I am so glad that this was a requirement for my type rating, otherwise I might never have experienced it.”
To be perfectly honest, professional pilots have an aversion to being told that they might be deficient in a skill fundamental to safely doing their jobs. That’s completely understandable. But you really don’t want your first time being upside down in an aircraft to be near the ground (or anywhere!) with a back end full of passengers. There are plenty of upset training providers out there and the process can be enjoyable! Most of the people providing this kind of training have an infectious love of aviation and airplanes and can’t wait to share it with you. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your safety, and the safety of your passengers. Get upset!