In a conversation recently with an aerobatic instructor, she made the comment that aerobatics and comprehensive Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) are basically the same thing. I offered to explain the differences, which I will outline here.
What Is the Difference?
The reason that many pilots share the belief that the distinction between aerobatics and UPRT is just using different words to describe the same thing, is that both forms of training share several common characteristics. To begin with, both aerobatics and UPRT involve three-dimensional, aerobatic maneuvering. Then what is the difference, you ask? The difference is the objective of that maneuvering.
For aerobatics, the objective of the maneuvering is the mastery of the aerobatic maneuvers themselves. This will develop manual handling skills and precision handling well beyond the skills acquired through licensing training alone. Confidence and spatial orientation are vastly improved through aerobatic training.
In the case of UPRT, only selected aerobatic maneuvers are flown, and they are introduced in the context of how those maneuvering skills can be used to safely and effectively recover an aircraft from an in-flight upset event. In addition to practical handling skills, comprehensive UPRT introduces focused academics to help pilots understand aerodynamic considerations and forces that can lead to an upset, as well as help to achieve a safe resolution.
By regulation, aerobatics cannot be performed in less than specified visual meteorological conditions (VMC). There is no telling in what conditions a recovery from an aircraft upset might be required, however. Pilots who intentionally or unintentionally find themselves in an upset in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) must be able to recover just as effectively as they could in VMC. This can only be done by practicing these skills by reference to instruments and with the reality provided by the actual aircraft environment.
Finally, it would be nice to then be able to apply the lessons learned in an aerobatic capable aircraft in an environment more similar to the cockpit environment of a non-aerobatic certified aircraft. This can be done through the judicious use of a flight simulation training device (FSTD) with a representative flight control configuration, control forces, and visual field.
At APS, we have the ability to practice all-attitude/all-envelope recoveries in an actual airplane using an attitude indicator along with view limiting devices. We have the ability to show the transfer of training possible by employing newly acquired recovery skills and techniques in a transport category, full-motion, Level D full-flight simulator.
Both aerobatics and UPRT involve beneficial training that can improve the capabilities of any pilot, but UPRT is focused specifically on the skills needed to return non-aerobatic capable aircraft to the safety of the central flight envelope, or better yet, keeping an undesired aircraft state from resulting into an upset in the first place.