With the Extra 330LX pointing 90 degrees nose up, Prevailance Aerospace Chief Pilot Dean Castillo reduces the throttle to idle. After a few seconds of relative silence as the aircraft reaches zero airspeed, Castillo has no control over the aircraft, even though he has neutralized the controls. A rush of wind indicates a tail slide before the Extra flips backward, coming to an almost-level, upright attitude before pitching down until the leading edge of the wing finds the relative wind. Castillo waits for the airspeed to reach 100 knots before initiating a smooth recovery to prevent a secondary stall.
The zero airspeed departure from controlled flight simulates a vertical maneuver gone wrong; it’s just one of the maneuvers in Prevailance Aerospace Safety Academy’s syllabus that is used to teach pilots how to recover from loss of control and extreme unusual attitudes. Loss of control is the No. 1 cause of fatalities in aviation, and the National Transportation Safety Board has named the problem to its Most Wanted list to promote safety education and flight training on that subject.
Owned and operated by former Naval aviators, Prevailance Aerospace takes aim at the loss-of-control problem by teaching its unique six-step recovery technique to general aviation pilots through corporate upset recovery training, unusual attitude training, flight instructor spin training, and aerobatic/adventure flights.
“The best reason to get upside down is just to prepare you for any given contingency,” said Vanessa Christie, Prevailance vice president of strategic development. “You don’t want to be in that situation and not have ever prepared for it.” The techniques learned in the Extra 330LX “are fully transferable from the Extra to whatever airplane you are flying.”
To dive more deeply into recovery techniques that can prevent loss of control from turning into an accident, AOPA Air Safety Institute Chief Flight Instructor Kristine Hartzell recently completed the company’s corporate upset and recovery training program, which included slow flight, steep turns, stalls and stall recoveries, G awareness training, basic aerobatics, zero airspeed departures, unusual attitude recovery, upright and flat spins, and spirals. Hartzell flew with Castillo, an F-14 Tomcat and F-18 Super Hornet Naval aviator who retired after 20 years of service and has about 5,000 hours in 50 different types of aircraft (including training under aerobatic legend Sean D. Tucker.)
Pilots who suddenly find themselves in an unusual attitude face shock and startle factors that make it more difficult to recover from a situation that has a potential to quickly become an emergency.
“In an unusual attitude, there’s a span of time you go from pilot to passenger,” Castillo said during a briefing before one of Hartzell’s training flights at Chesapeake Regional Airport in Chesapeake, Virginia, where the company is based. “Our goal is to get you back to pilot in command as safely and expeditiously as possible.”
The six-step technique that Prevailance Aerospace created is designed to work for pilots regardless of whether they are flying a corporate jet or an experimental aircraft they just spent the past 10 years building, Castillo said. Pilots learn these steps:
After that? “Hallelujah!” Castillo exclaimed with a smile.
Pilots in the three-day corporate upset recovery training program are encouraged to memorize the six steps and repeat them verbally so that they can talk through recoveries in the air, but that’s easier said than done, according to Hartzell.
“Repeating the six-step recovery in the air is very different than doing it on the ground,” Hartzell said after her training. “When you are in the air inverted or staring straight down at the ground for the first time, your brain sends out hormones that keeps you from accessing your memory as you would normally. Once you’ve experienced these unusual attitudes a few times, your mind can get past that initial shock to your system. This is one of those areas where a simulator may help you train steps but you will certainly not feel the disorienting Gs or experience the true startle factor that you get in a real airplane.”
Aircraft control malfunctions; environmental factors like wake turbulence, clear air turbulence, or mountain wave; and pilot inattention or disorientation can lead to unusual attitudes, so Castillo builds scenarios from those causes and talks through them in the air before suddenly putting the aircraft in an unusual attitude for the student to recover. As the training progresses, students become more comfortable with the unusual attitudes and start to systematically work through the recovery process.
“Day one I could repeat the upset recovery steps on the ground and in the air I could half-instinctually complete enough of the steps to recover. I did my ‘recovery’ quickly but likely missed steps on the way,” Hartzell said. “I definitely couldn’t say and do the steps for recovery at the same time and it wasn’t until I watched the video later that I could even tell you exactly what steps I actually took in my ‘recovery.’
“Day two was a little better in that my steps for recovery were more conscious but I still couldn’t say and do the steps at the same time. It wasn’t until day three that I could really chew gum and walk at the same time. Day three I could finally say and do the recovery—consciously, methodically, and expeditiously.”
That’s the level of learning Castillo wants students to reach, so that no matter what unusual attitude they face, they will be able to overcome the startle factor and use the tools skills they acquired “to make the airplane do what you want it to do.”
Upset recovery training has received heightened attention in the corporate flying world lately, but the techniques learned are beneficial for pilots of all levels, regardless of the type of aircraft they fly.
The type of upset recovery training that Prevailance Aerospace offers in the Extra 330LX is “extremely valuable for all pilots but especially so for flight instructors,” Hartzell said, explaining that instructors will find themselves providing training in different types of aircraft that handle spins differently.
“All CFIs are required to do spin training, but spins in a docile training aircraft like a Cessna 172 are much different than spins in a high-performance aircraft,” Hartzell said. “This training in the Extra gave me the opportunity to see a developed spin in an aircraft where you have to consciously go through the steps of recovery to actually recover.”
Hartzell said that the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s Flight Instructor Refresher Course includes a lesson about how to teach loss of control avoidance, but that additional tips, techniques, and video segments from Prevailance Aerospace’s upset recovery training will be added in July.