“Negative” Stall Training (Bad Habits!)

In a stalled condition, the nose of every conventional aircraft falls toward mother earth. This is physics and happens every time. And the natural human reaction is to pull back away from the ground making the control situation worse.  Only high-quality flight training, both initial and recurrent, can overcome this deep human reaction of “panic and pull.” Education in the classroom yields understanding, but training on the controls in flight is necessary to build deep, reliable, and correct habits.

A good pilot is a healthy mix of mathematician, scientist and athlete, part mechanic and all curiosity.  They must know everything about their airplane;  control surfaces, power plant, the avionic systems, tire pressure.  Because, while the heart of an airplane is metal, fabric or composite;  the bloodstream fuel and oil, its brain is the person who flies it. Community Aviation

New pilots must be patiently taught the feel of slow flight and the correct reaction to an excessive angle of attack and full stalls. It is necessary to train deeply here and to slowly overcome the initial fear. It takes time and persistence to reach a level of comfort and control in high AOA flight. Our fatal accident statistics still demonstrate that we all need better initial education and more current repetition and review; Loss of Control Inflight (LOC-I) is the #1 pilot killer.

Unfortunately, especially in larger airframes, pilots were taught for years to “power out of the stalls.” Even if initial training was accurate, many years of “negative stall training” overwrites habits. Historically there was very little emphasis on reducing the angle of attack in larger, powerful aircraft. Instead, the emphasis was on preventing altitude loss. The FAA recently added Expanded Envelope Training to the 121 regulations for every airline pilot recurrency. And the new ATP ACS puts a clear emphasis on reducing the angle of attack for stall recovery. But this may be “too little and too late” for many veteran pilots who experienced and reinforced “negative stall training” for so many years.

During my recent recurrent training in Florida, I witnessed a very experienced (though somewhat rusty) pilot attempt to recover an intentional stall with power and no reduction in angle of attack. This was shocking but eye-opening for me. He panicked, fought the controls, and eventually put the large jet simulator into the (virtual) ground. This was identical to the mishandling that resulted in the landmark accident of Colgan 3407. Negative initial stall training is very persistent and hidden away in our deepest habits. One important purpose of recurrent flight training is to discover, correct, and retrain these very deep habits we all depend on as pilots. Accurate habits must be immediately available or our lives are at risk in an upset situation.

Proper stall recovery training requires time and patience. Complete and thorough stall recovery training is seldom included in our current accelerated flight training environment. It is also the professional responsibility of every CFI to not only train correctly but also to create safe and complete pilots beyond the minimum ACS requirements. Many important skills are not required in the ACS test and are consequently not taught. The FAA puts its trust in professional educators here. Eradicating deeply embedded “negative stall training” takes even longer. Panic and pulling, combined with incomplete understanding, are the root problems behind many pilot deaths.  Releasing and unloading in a panic situation is a trained and very unnatural response.

Various versions of the FAA ACS initially allowed stall recovery “at the first indication” of a stall. Consequently, many recent pilots (and even CFIs) have never experienced, or gotten comfortable with, full stalls. These pilots often panic when full stalls are requested for higher-level certificates. Old-school flight training often included ballistic “falling leaf” stall recoveries during flight training, teaching rudder usage and demonstrating control of the nose-low stalled condition. Every pilot can benefit from this “extended training!”

Every pilot (and especially CFIs) should invest the time to take Rich Stowell’s FREE Learn-To-Turn Course. Then put these ideas to use with a good instructor practicing SAFE’s Extended Envelope Training. This builds comfort and correct control during high AOA flight conditions. Until the unload instinct overwrites “panic and pull” you are not a safe pilot. Safety requires expanding your flight envelope and training out of your comfort zone. Build correct and reliable habits; fly safely out there (and often).

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Author: David St. George

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

6 thoughts on ““Negative” Stall Training (Bad Habits!)”

  1. Panic or fear kills.
    Fear of death physically causes tunnel vision. People lose the ability to see other possible dangers or solutions during extreme fear. It is why witnesses to violent crimes make terrible witnesses in court. They lose the ability to see anything but what their mind identified as the immediate threat to their life. There are several other physical effects on the body. Blood flow to body organs like the stomach is limited, and bladders / bowels are evacuated as your bodies physical response in preparation to flee.
    This is why flight training is so important. People have the natural fear falling to their death. People that don’t understand what is happening tend to have a life ending fear reaction. This perceived threat must be trained out. Not just knowing, but experiencing stalls and spins until they know, it isn’t a life ending threat as long as the reactions and preventions are known and clearly understood.
    It is like learning to walk without falling on your face. Falling on your face can kill you. But people understand the threat and trained to walk. If they do fall, they understand how to prevent death by not using the face to stop the body when it falls.

  2. While i agree with most of the article, the first sentence is a bi absolutist. What.about the mushing stall, ie where the aircraft descends nose high, but stalled, AF 447 being a classic case.

    I was lead on flight test /development of Q400 Stall.Warning and Protection systems ( amongst many other systems) and did.far more than the FARs require. Low speed cues based on AoA, configuration , engine RPM and torque ( ie blown lift) 2 shakers, 1 pusher, associated alerts, etc. But when the pilot handling pulled back against the pusher, he was doing more than we ever did at BFTC

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