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The "Say & Do" Technique

Clarke "Otter" McNeace

Author: Clarke “Otter” McNeace
Director Flight Training
APS Emergency Maneuver Training

Part 141 Assistant Chief Flight Instructor
11,000+ Flight Hours
Boeing 737 Airline Captain
US Navy F/A-18 Hornet Fighter Pilot
36 Combat Missions – Desert Storm / Southern Watch
300 Carrier-Arrested Landings
Fighter Weapons Instructor

Developing pilot skills to recover from an in-flight upset or loss of control flight condition is of little value if you can’t recall those skills when needed. The Say & Do Technique discussed briefly in this article deals directly with the technology of forcing a consciously competent response in a high-pressure upset scenario. Unfortunately, the counter-intuitive nature of the stall/spin and over-bank flight conditions can be intimidating and even incapacitating which makes this a challenging process the first few times you try. The more experience you have in this environment under the tutelage of expert flight instructors while applying effective recovery techniques and technologies, the less threatening these scenarios become. Immediately as we gain experience in this environment, our ability to understand and recognize developing risk factors related to angle of attack, bank, pitch and yaw excursions greatly improves our effectiveness in avoiding a threatening flight condition before it can develop into something deadly. Video below.
Assuming we’ve developed effective recovery skills, how do we recall them? In an optimum training environment, the mental process necessary to recall these newly developed skills should have been part and parcel with the skill-based training process. Enter the Say & Do Technique …

The Mental Process Linked to Physical Action

Excerpt from the APS Emergency Maneuver Training Manual …

During your training at APS, you will be required to memorize and recite the recovery procedure appropriate to the flight condition you are faced with (there are only two procedures). You will be expected to say a recovery step (i.e. “Push”) and then consciously make the appropriate control input for that step. Before further control inputs are made, you will say the next step in the recovery (i.e. “Power”) and then consciously make the appropriate control input. You should not give us a running narrative of what you are doing on the recovery (i.e. “I am now relaxing the backpressure…” or “Okay, here I go…hmmm…I’m pushing the throttle forward”). Giving us a running narrative only serves to slow you down during the recovery. Nor should you remain silent while performing the recovery procedure. This is an emergency situation and how you train to deal with it is exactly how you will attempt to handle the situation in reality. Being mechanical and sequential with the recovery process is so very important.
Please do not accept the attitude that you cannot talk and fly at the same time. If you fly airplanes and talk to ATC, then you already have the necessary cognitive abilities needed to successfully accomplish this aspect of training.
The speed of your recovery is NOT the primary concern while learning these procedures. ACCURACY of each step and the SEQUENTIAL application of the recovery steps are the top priorities. Blending of control inputs or allowing your control inputs to get ahead of your mouth will be discouraged. Once you can successfully “Say & Do” each of the recovery steps, then and only then will the speed or efficiency of the recovery be emphasized. The accuracy of the recovery will always take precedence over the speed of the recovery.


Recovering from stalls, upsets, unusual attitudes and spins requires the pilot to make control inputs that are contrary to the normal reflexes. A few common reflexive actions observed during stall and spin training include the following:

  • Freezing on the controls
  • Holding the breath
  • Involuntary swearing and sweating
  • Continuing to hold the elevator control aft because of a dramatic, nose-down flight attitude
  • Inadvertently applying opposite aileron as a wing dips at the stall break, or as the airplane starts to roll into an incipient spin
  • Wildly shoving the elevator control forward
  • Leaning the body away from the spin direction
  • Pressing both legs against the rudder pedals, making it difficult to fully apply the opposite rudder
  • Once applied, allowing recovery inputs to drift to other positions before the airplane stops rotating

Interestingly, several of these reflex actions are responsible for causing inadvertent stall and spin departures in the first place. These are not just the reactions of low-time pilots during their first encounters with stalls and spins, but also of experienced pilots – even highly trained test pilots – who have become confused or excited during exposure to stall/spin scenarios.
Simply put; stall and spin recovery actions are counterintuitive. Hence, they must be learned well enough to supplant reflexive actions. In the early stages of stall/spin training, the mind must consciously direct the body to make the appropriate inputs. Only repeated and structured practice, paying close attention to the physical details, can reduce the amount of mental effort needed to make the body react with the appropriate inputs in a crisis. This is no different from any other mechanical skill requiring a complex and precise set of body movements. In an airplane, though, the difference literally could be life or death.
Think of these procedures as red boldface emergency checklist procedures. If you had an engine fire, you would do the immediate action items first and in order. You would not start at step #10 then go to step #2 and so forth. That would potentially aggravate the situation or, at the least, not put out the fire completely. A checklist, by design, is to be done in sequence. This is the only way the pilot can ensure that a task is accomplished.
Not only is saying the step beneficial for directing proper control inputs but it is sound Crew Resource Management (CRM) procedure. Your fellow crewmember can be kept “in the loop” of what you are trying to accomplish during the recovery.
This may seem strict or “very picky” to some. Not so, it is simply uncompromising and has demonstrated to yield the most effective results and to maximize skill retention. Not only is your life potentially at risk but also the lives of your passengers. We have many years and thousands of hours of instructing pilots with vast amounts of NASA/NTSB reports to back our teaching methods. It is simply a matter of attitude. If you come with a positive attitude and open mind, you will gain the maximum benefit from this course and have fun doing it. Remember, a true professional aviator knows aviation is about life-long learning.

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