You’re flying single pilot in your Embraer Phenom 300 jet, ready for the approach at your destination. Then weather intervenes, air traffic control switches to a different approach, and you don’t have time to set up the new approach properly. It’s obvious the approach is going badly, so you decide to go around, not noticing decreasing airspeed and a steepening bank. You’re behind the airplane, along for the ride and close to a stall.
That’s the scenario to be used Nov. 16 during the one-day 2015 Single Pilot Safety Standdown on loss of control at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The standdown comes one day prior to the National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA) convention in Las Vegas. The safety event pertains to all pilots operating single pilot no matter if it is a piston-engine airplane, a turboprop, or a jet. It’s recognized as a problem worldwide and results from inadequate preflight preparation and failure to know the exact aircraft configurations and power settings needed during each phase of flight, said Tom Turner, executive director of the American Bonanza Society’s Air Safety Foundation. Turner will be speaking at the standdown.
A scenario using a Phenom simulator was created for the seminar.
“Every GA pilot gets training in loss-of-control events, such as aerodynamic stalls,” said National Transportation Safety Board Member Earl Weener, who will speak at the NBAA standdown. “Yet about 40 percent of GA fatal accidents involve loss of control. We want to know what can be done to better address this stubbornly recurrent safety challenge.” His remarks were made prior to a similar loss-of-control seminar that the NTSB conducted in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14.
“Pilots do know how to maintain control of the aircraft. However, the accident record suggests that in certain scenarios they may get overloaded,” said Turner. “Part of the program is to present ways to prepare for that as well by knowing how to recover if you do lose control of the airplane.”
So what’s the answer? “I’m a big proponent of flying airplanes by the numbers in an instrument environment,” Turner said. “If you know ahead of time the pitch attitudes, the power settings, and the configurations it takes to manage an approach all the way through and including a missed approach—even the holding pattern at the end of the missed—you will be able to reduce your workload significantly.
“A big point is preparing for the flight even before you get into the aircraft on the ground. If you don’t do at least some initial studying before you fly—especially a high-performance airplane in a busy terminal environment in instrument meteorological conditions—it just may be the situation doesn’t give you the time you need to get yourself briefed once you’re actually in the aircraft.”
Advance familiarity with the approaches you are likely to fly is a huge factor in reducing workload, Turner said. Standards demonstrated at the time an instrument rating or type certificate was earned are the minimum level of proficiency. Sometimes pilots fail to maintain even that minimum level, he said. “That’s where you have to scale back significantly the situations you permit yourself to get into,” he explained.
Garmin engineer Noel Duerksen, another speaker at the NBAA safety standdown, plans to discuss a variety of systems Garmin offers to counter exactly the problems faced by the fictitious pilot in the event’s scenario. These include Garmin’s ESP (electronic stability protection) system, an autopilot under-speed protection system, and angle of attack displays and their integration. The ESP system adds a little bit of forward nose-down pressure on the control yoke when a pilot hand-flying an airplane gets too close to a high angle of attack (and thus a stall) whether by pitch or bank.
“The real solution to low airspeed isn’t to lower the nose and head for the ground. The real solution to low airspeed is to increase the airspeed and get more thrust on the airplane,” Duerksen said.
Under-speed protection in the Garmin system can be built into the autopilot. First comes an aural warning, “Airspeed!” to give the pilot plenty of warning that power is needed. This could happen on an accelerated descent requiring a dive followed by a level-off (commonly called a dive-and-drive approach). If the pilot fails to react, the autopilot takes over, levels the wings, and lowers the nose to keep the speed two knots above the stall-warning speed until the pilot adds thrust. Then the autopilot aggressively climbs back to altitude.
Most business jets do not have all the Garmin features Duerksen talked about. When asked which airplanes had the greatest number of systems the company offers, Garmin spokeswoman Jessica Koss said that honor goes to the latest certified models of the Cirrus SR22 and Piper PA-46 Malibu and Meridian.
As the fictitious Phenom dangles on the brink of a stall during the NBAA standdown, speaker Paul “BJ” Ransbury, president of Aviation Performance Solutions in Mesa, Arizona, will pick up the scenario.
“The properly prepared pilot should really never be in the recovery phase in the first place,” Ransbury said, “but should they get there, I will talk about the strategies and techniques to resolve it.” Ransbury’s company provides upset prevention and recovery training.
“It’s a chain of events, right from the part where he is feeling rushed on the approach, managing his time, managing the automation, getting a runway change and various things happening,” Ransbury said. “At some point a pilot needs to make a decision; how much of this can I really handle based on the airplane I’m in, my experience, the conditions. A lot of awareness and prevention of loss of control is good pilot decision making and airmanship. Unfortunately when you would get into the recovery phase it doesn’t really matter what happened prior to that. You have to deal with the situation as it is.”
The key is understanding your limitations and applying that understanding early in the decision-making process so that you can avoid having to use extraordinary skills to recovery from a dangerous situation, he said.
In the past two years, stall recovery training has switched from an emphasis on minimum loss of altitude, a standard used when testing for pilot certificates, to controlling the angle of attack. If you don’t reduce the angle of attack, you may stay in a stalled condition. If you’re a fan of advisory circulars, that emphasis on reducing angle of attack is covered in two FAA documents, advisory circulars 120-UPRT and 120-109A.
The standdown costs $40, and registration is available on NBAA’s website.