The Dangerous Stalls (We Never Teach)!

As educators, we often teach only what we ourselves were taught – conveying the same good (and bad) information or techniques in the same way we learned them. It takes courage to call out and change errors and omissions from our mentors (they are our heroes after all). It also takes creativity and effort to forge new pathways and techniques. But this is what is required to make progress in safety; learning, and changing the “time-honored formulas” based on new data. Consider new trends like “startle” which has transformed our understanding of Loss of Control. Or teaching landings by training slow flight low over the runway instead of just touch and goes. Similarly, focusing more on take-off and departure stalls can be more effective for safety since this area of flight is much more toxic than the time-honored base-to-final turn. Once we understand the static inertia of flight training techniques, it is easier to understand why accident rates stay fairly level. As educators, we often miss training in dangerous areas of flight that regularly challenge pilots – and regularly cause accidents.

Between 2008 and 2014, about 47 percent of fatal fixed-wing GA accidents in the United States involved pilots losing control of their aircraft in flight, resulting in 1,210 fatalities.

Killer stalls occur repeatedly in accident dockets but we fail to train them. The flight scenarios that create stalls in real life often occur because of sudden power changes; either a loss of power on take-off or the sudden application of power during a go-around. But we inevitably train only the constant power stalls that lack the sudden yaw forces that confuse pilots and power spin entries. Why don’t we train these situations where accidents happen? Probably because they are pretty advanced and can be pretty scary for learners. It takes a very careful and compassionate CFI to work through even the “plain vanilla” stalls to the point that a pilot can comfortably recover, developing useful habits. Taking stalls even further requires both a committed trainer and a willing learner. So it is essential to first “sell” the necessity of these maneuvers with their safety advantage; it is also essential to have the “buy in” from your learner. These should not be inflicted on a pilot, this should be a mutually agreed upon “safety mission” and that is why they are in the SAFE CFI-PRO™ curriculum. We have a duty as professional educators to take our “learners” into these common “dark corners” where bad things can happen. And they are especially effective “added value” on a flight review.

Imagine an aircraft on take-off in a steady, trimmed, Vy climb encountering a sudden loss of all power (if you have not tried either of these stalls, please take an experienced CFI along). Recovery from this surprise requires an immediate and aggressive push to reduce the angle of attack. And this is uncomfortable for many pilots due to the proximity to the ground. For untrained pilots, sudden power failures on take-off almost always end badly (even on dual flights). This should be over-trained at altitude until unloading the AOA becomes an instinctive reaction.

Now imagine a very different configuration, just over the runway in the landing configuration, transitioning into the flare and raising the nose. Just before the flare at a high angle of attack, the sudden power application (simulating a go-around) is often mishandled and results in a LOC. There is no extra altitude to spare and reactions here again must be over-trained to be precise and immediate. Both these variable power stalls should be practiced at altitude (with an experienced, compassionate CFI) until they are instinctive. Fly safe out there (and often)!

See you at Sun ‘N Fun A-85/6. For SAFE members, enjoy a free breakfast gathering on Thursday at 8am; at the Sunset Cafe.

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

8 thoughts on “The Dangerous Stalls (We Never Teach)!”

  1. Excellent blog. As a CFII and DPE, I appreciate these resources that SAFE is providing. Not only do a lot of CFIs fail to teach “Real Life” stalls, I find a lot of newly minted CFIs don’t know how to do them and (even worse) are very apprehensive when they are demonstrated in our CFI Onboarding. We have to explore the edges of the envelope – safely at altitude. Kudos to SAFE for providing these resources. All my fellow CFIs (especially newbies) Read and Heed!

  2. I think we need to quit teaching pilots to ignore the stall warning! Why do we continue to teach pilots to stall the airplane? Hearing, seeing or feeling the stall warning should be an immediate, trained PUSH response. What portion of a flight should include a stall? If a pilot is not comfortable flying a Vy or Vx climb, they need training from a pilot that is.

    1. Funny you say that. We just had a CFI meeting this past Fri and one of the young instructors said that nI looked at her is disbelief.

      1. Mark: I sit on the ASTM Flight Committee and head the stall characteristics and warning section. The fatalities are caused by inadvertent stalls at low altitude (97% of fatal stalls begin at pattern altitude and below), and pilots continue to hold the stick/yoke full aft until the impacting the ground. Stall warning is being totally ignored.

  3. I agree. I do go-arounds in the flare, emphasizing not only full power but pitch up for the climb. I also encounter this on missed approaches where they power up and clean up but don’t pitch up. I’ll demonstrate nose high trim stalls emphasizing the need for instant pitch down, not using the trim wheel to do this (“muscling it”) and trim when feasible. Slow flight down the runway I need to incorporate more.

    Always enjoy your articles David, learning new as well as review old techniques.

    1. You students are lucky to have you as an instructor🙏!I’m sure you are aware how many “botched go-arounds” result in fatals from the sudden major (surprise) requiring a major configuration change so contrary to expectations🤮Those lessons are life-saving.

  4. I find the comment suggesting (as I read it) that we should emphasize (?) stall recovery at the stall horn. The implication of that comment suggests that we shouldn’t actually perform stalls in training? Maybe I’m mis-reading that, but here are a couple issues with that approach:
    1. Simplest concern: I fly a number of airplanes that are not equipped with a stall horn. Super Cubs didn’t have one till very late in production. Many other CAR 3 planes similar.
    2. But perhaps more to the point of this article, the type of stall events David describes here are rapid onset, and typically “busy” variable to violent. Often, in these scenarios, the stall horn activates pretty much simultaneously with the break. The point here is more that, IF the pilot APPROACHES one of these situations during “normal flight” they must be hard wired to expect a bad outcome, and be prepared to react.
    3. Finally, I believe it’s essential for pilots to see for themselves how abrupt some of these things are. How do you teach a secondary stall if you always recover at the horn? Consequences are the teacher, and hopefully imprints in the mind of the pilot “be prepared”, so you don’t go there.

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