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The Persistent Threat of Loss of Control In-flight

Why does the problem of Loss of Control In-flight (LOC-I) persist despite aviation safety advancements? In 2018, APS President Paul “BJ” Ransbury and VP Randy Brooks contributed to an article by Rob Mark in Flying Magazine on The Persistent Threat of Loss of Control that takes an in depth look at this issue that is still relevant today. Additionally, the article brings up some important points, addressed below, that are worth further discussion as we continue to evaluate our response to the LOC-I problem.

Read the full article here: The Persistent Threat of Loss of Control

Find out about APS programs to reduce the risk of LOC-I here: APS UPRT Programs

In looking at the status of the goal to mitigate the risk of LOC-I and reduce  LOC-I related accidents, we see a promising increase in awareness of both the problem and possible solutions. While acknowledging the positive steps being taken by various agencies and private entities in the industry, there are still some misconceptions regarding what exactly is the proper solution and how should it be implemented.

What exactly is Upset Training, and is awareness, prevention or recovery most important?

First, let’s address the question of what exactly is the best solution for LOC-I. Most pilots and leaders in the aviation industry are aware of Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) and it’s purpose: to fill a training gap that exists in standard  pilot licensing training by teaching pilots additional  skills regarding upset recovery. But let’s discuss those skills specifically.

Standard  pilot training has evolved over the years to a level that is remarkably effective. But while aviation accidents are rare, LOC-I accounts for nearly half of those accidents, and the results are nearly always fatal. Being prepared for the worst, even when an accident is unlikely, is essential when loss of life is the catastrophic consequence of failing to do all that we can.  Normal pilot licensing training does not require pilots to practice maneuvers outside the normal flight envelope, which is exactly where LOC-I accidents occur and exactly where pilot training deficiencies that lead to these accidents lie. UPRT mitigates this risk by using an integrated approach to teach pilots the real life skills they need to prevent LOC-I, first and foremost, but also to practice recovery from an unexpected upset beyond the normal envelope if events escalate to that stage.  

In order to best prevent LOC-I related accidents, should upset training focus on awareness, recognition, prevention, recovery…? The obvious answer is, upset training must necessarily and purposefully incorporate all of those strategies. The first goal is of course to teach pilots to be aware and recognize the signs of a developing situation and instinctively know what to do in order to avert an aircraft upset in the first place. In the Flying Magazine article, Rich Stowell is quoted saying, “If we’re relying solely on recovery to the exclusion of awareness and prevention, it’s not a very good strategy.” An excellent point, because as much as we teach recovery, some upset events are truly unrecoverable and must be prevented in the first place in order to avoid an accident.

However, many fatal accidents could certainly have been prevented had the pilot been trained with the skills necessary to recover the aircraft from the real life upset situation encountered. Additionally, practicing comprehensive recovery techniques is essential for pilots to become most effective in LOC-I prevention. Therefore, the most effective UPRT incorporates all aspects of awareness, recognition, prevention and recovery in order to arm pilots with the full spectrum of knowledge, skills, and techniques necessary to provide the best defense against LOC-I.

APS InstructorHow should UPRT be implemented?

The second question to answer regarding UPRT as the solution for the loss of control in-flight problem, is what are the standards, best practices and parameters for properly delivered and effective UPRT? Many providers offer upset training courses, and those courses vary vastly from the equipment used, to instructor pilot qualifications, to even the very name used to describe the training.

There are several factors that must be incorporated in order to ensure UPRT is the most effective training possible and provides pilots with the comprehensive training necessary to mitigate the LOC-I threat:

1. Integrated Training: As discussed in the Flying Magazine article, understanding the academics behind loss of control and the aerodynamics involved in the escalation and mitigation of an aircraft upset is crucial for pilots. Beyond this, pilots must be able to practice, in a real aircraft, the control inputs and techniques necessary to adeptly control an aircraft that has maneuvered outside the normally operating envelope. On-aircraft training not only helps pilots practice manual handling skills, it also helps them learn to deal with the human factors that come into play and can wreak havoc on a pilot’s ability to calmly put their knowledge and skills into practice to avoid or recover from an upset. When applicable, pilots can also practice these maneuvers in the simulator to ensure proper transfer of skills to the aircraft they fly. Training which integrates academics, on-aircraft training and simulation provides the most effective and comprehensive defense to the threat of LOC-I.

2. Repetition to Proficiency: During a surprising and stressful event like an aircraft entering an upset situation, pilots will feel their startle reflexes kick in. Their mind races, their muscles can freeze, and there just isn’t time to gather oneself and implement the correct inputs in a time-critical, life threatening situation. Proper UPRT allows sufficient  practices and recoveries to ingrain the necessary skills so that they are more likely to be second nature. This makes them readily available to pilots during stressful situations which require fast thinking and immediate action.

3. Compliance with all Industry Standards and Best Practices: Fortunately for training consumers, there are a few places where definitions, standards and best practices for Upset Prevention and Recovery Training have been set forth. Proper UPRT must comply completely with these standards and adhere to absolute excellence in training and safety. ICAO’s Aeroplane Manual on Upset Prevention and Recovery Training and the International Air Transportation Association Guidance  and Best Practices on Implementing UPRT are two sources pilots can look to for standards and definitions on UPRT.

4. Instructor Pilot Training and Standardization: UPRT is only as good as the pilot doing the training. Pilots who teach UPRT must have a solid background in all attitude flying, but UPRT is much different than just aerobatics or military flight maneuvers, so UPRT instructor pilots must receive standardized, compliant training specific to UPRT.


UPRT is a proven and viable solution to the persistent threat of loss of control. As this critical training is implemented across all sectors of aviation, we increase pilots’ ability to bring everyone home safely. And for those who still wonder about the need for training to mitigate a risk that is very unlikely but can be fatal, consider some of the other reasons UPRT benefits pilots and those with whom they fly.

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