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Training Tip: Quit stallingTraining Tip: Quit stalling

A student pilot preflighting the trainer for a dual practice session discovers the aircraft’s stall-warning system is not working. It’s your flight school, and the student’s instructor is asking you whether the flight should depart. What is your answer?

The stall warning horn isn't operational on your airplane, but is that the only way for your aircraft to signal a need for aerodynamic assistance? Photo by Mike Fizer.

Another scenario: It’s a solo flight, and it’s not until the student pilot reaches the practice area and begins flying maneuvers that the system flaw emerges. If the student called you up on the radio asking for advice, what would you counsel the student pilot to do?

If pondering either scenario makes you feel defenseless against a possible aerodynamic stall, it’s time to review your understanding of stall awareness, emphasizing the idea that an automated stall-warning system is just one way your aircraft signals that its angle of attack (AOA) is approaching the critical, or stall, angle.

From a practical-test-prep point of view, the aircraft’s stall warning system isn’t the primary alert source a private pilot applicant should depend on. According to the “maneuvering during slow flight” practical test task, the applicant is expected to demonstrate ability to “establish and maintain an airspeed at which any further increase in angle of attack, increase in load factor, or reduction in power, would result in a stall warning (e.g., airplane buffet, stall horn, etc.).”

Comprehensive practice should teach you to recognize your aircraft’s not-so-subtle aerodynamic reactions, relegating automated stall-warning systems to the supporting role implied in the task.

Remember, automated systems are not foolproof. Different systems may even be mistaken for each other, as a Mooney M20 single-engine airplane pilot mused after an accident that occurred while practicing landings and takeoffs in gusty conditions (and while the pilot had become partly distracted by narrating the finer points of crosswind technique to a passenger).

“I was intent on making a nice stabilized approach, but on short final with the power back I thought I heard the stall warning, which I attributed to wind gust and slightly slow approach speed (Could it have been the Gear Warning?). I touched down on centerline about 1200 feet down the 10500 foot long runway. Nice approach, but NO LANDING GEAR!” the pilot recounted in filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

From lackluster control responses to buffeting and “mushing,” an aircraft has many ways to cry out for aerodynamic assistance. The onboard mechanical or electronic system is not the first—or even the best—one to sound the alarm.

How would you handle the two stall-warning-system scenarios given above? Share your thoughts at AOPAHangar.com.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Loss of Control, Technique, Flight Training
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