Required Intensity in Airplane Upset Training
APS Industry Leadership Articles

Required Intensity for Effective Airplane Upset Training


In recent years, the increased awareness of Loss of Control In-flight (LOC-I) as the predominant cause of fatalities in all segments of aviation has led to an increased interest in Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT). As numerous groups have devoted research and analysis into the disproportionate rate of LOC-I fatalities, the search for answers has become increasingly focussed on essential pilot training elements which could address a seemingly systemic problem in the ability of pilots to avoid or recover from unexpected airplane upsets. Both the problem and the potential solution have increasingly narrowed in on the human physiological and psychological response to the stresses present in an unanticipated upset event.

Startle and Surprise

Startle FactorImproved understanding of how the mind works in such situations indicates that the surprise and startle of an airplane upset can affect cognition, slowing a pilot’s thoughts and responses when time is critical. In such situations, pilot performance will not necessarily rise to the occasion, but will be based on established habit patterns. In such situations certain impulsive behaviors developed from experience in the normal flight envelope, and appropriate in that realm, can increase risk, potentially even becoming life threatening in an airplane upset.

In high threat situations, such as an airplane upset, the mind will naturally look for an immediate course of action from the basis of past experience. If the pilot has no experience outside of the normal flight envelope, options and ideas will necessarily be based on that domain alone. Pilots must have additional training to inform the mind how to correctly respond in an environment in which the transfer of existing skills is inappropriate to the situation encountered.

Living the Experience

The limits of mental response in an emergency are not only constrained by essential knowledge and skills, but also by the accessibility to that information in an emergency. Even if we learn upset prevention and recovery techniques in a flight simulator, they may not be useful in flight if other physiological and psychological conditions which are present inhibit the ability to execute them in the real world. Buffeting, vibration, increased rates of pitch or roll motion, increased or decreased g levels, and the perception of risk and threat of consequences all play into the mind’s ability to effectively perform as needed in an upset event.

get-them-nowPerforming recovery exercises in an aircraft provides the benefit of the pilot actually feeling the sustained g-forces and other stimuli which are not accurately replicated by a flight simulator. The experience of realism is bolstered by the fact that the aircrew actually perceive managed risk, a feeling not present in the simulator where there is little threat of consequence. ICAO, IATA, EASA and others realize this, which is why they all agree that this is what is needed to fully address the important human factors associated with airplane upsets in an effective manner.

Required Intensity for Effective Airplane Upset Training

What is often neglected in considering on-aircraft training in UPRT, is how much training will it take? How many flights? How many days? Considering the counterintuitive nature of some of the information and skills in comparison to flight within the normal envelope, we have to understand that the process of ingraining new skills which must be reliable in the face of an escalating upset threat takes a certain amount of time. The repetitive practice of new skills is now well understood to help create consistent response, even when danger and stress levels are high, but this process of imprinting, of creating new mental models that assist pattern recognition is not immediate. The experience of training thousands of professional pilots has conclusively identified that the necessary process of UPRT indoctrination and practice cannot be reliably accomplished in less than 3-4 flights over a two to three day period.

Exposure is Not Enough

intensity-aps-cockpitMerely experiencing new stimuli, views, or sensory inputs in a single flight may erase some novelty, but it does not develop proficiency. Effective UPRT must create skills which are reliable and dependable in the face of an escalating upset. This requires multiple flights and repeated practice of the new skills until proficient. Make sure that when you are selecting a course of UPRT instruction that there is sufficient flight time devoted to allow for the repetition required to truly build robust recovery skills, and which provides the intensity of training to create UPRT skills that you can rely on when needed.

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