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Training and Safety Tip: Preventing loss-of-control accidents

Maneuvering flight accounts for a large percentage of general aviation accidents—often categorized as loss-of-control accidents—and the traffic pattern is a common place for these to occur.

A large percentage of general aviation accidents result from loss of control. Luckily, loss of control is something that can be avoided. Photo by Mike Fizer.

But loss of control is a challenge that is easily avoided with just a little forethought, practice, and dedication to established procedures.

For example, during a crosswind landing, loss of control at touchdown can cause an airplane to exit the runway and collide with runway or taxiway signs. This can often be avoided by establishing the final leg of the approach far enough out from the runway to set a crab angle, or forward slip, that effectively counters the crosswind. If the crosswind is excessive, you can calmly go around at altitude, then establish the approach to a runway more aligned with the wind, or transition to a nearby airport with better runway options.

A more dangerous and often serious loss-of-control accident involves the aircraft stalling and spinning during the base to final turn. While the fatality rate for this type of accident is fairly high, the issue itself is very preventable.

In a nutshell, if we don’t stall the aircraft, the aircraft can’t spin. And if we don’t exceed the critical angle of attack, the airplane won’t stall.

It’s important to remember that low airspeed isn’t really what causes a stall. An excessively slow airspeed requires the aircraft to fly at a higher angle of attack to maintain lift. Slow down enough, and the critical angle of attack will be exceeded. But a stall can happen at higher speeds, too. For example, when pitching or banking too abruptly for the airflow to stick to the upper surface of the wing, a stall occurs.

Avoiding the stall/spin accident is largely about controlling the angle of attack, maintaining coordinated flight, and establishing a stable approach.

If you fly the traffic pattern using specific configurations, applied at specific points in the pattern, while remaining coordinated and keeping your airspeed up to 1.4 times VSO (power off stall speed) or better, you are virtually guaranteed to avoid the stall/spin accident.

Ask your CFI to work with you on these concepts. You’ll be a better, safer, happier pilot as a result.

Jamie Beckett

AOPA You Can Fly ambassador, Eastern United States
Jamie Beckett is the AOPA You Can Fly ambassador for the Eastern United States. A dedicated aviation advocate, he can be reached at [email protected]
Topics: Training and Safety, Aeronautical Decision Making, Situational Awareness
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