There’s been much consternation over the Colgan Airways Q-400(Dash8) accident in Buffalo last year that was basically the result of a stall. There are many circumstances leading up to that and we’ll have more to say in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot. Most CFIs who’ve taught for any extended period get to understand the aerodynamics but a question is whether all of that knowledge gets passed along in a usable format. It is a mantra for students to regurgitate that an aircraft can stall at any airspeed but when angle of attack and distraction are high, that’s when things get really interesting.Too many are confused and unfortunately school is out by then. Gravity wins.
AOA or “Alpha” as the engineers call it, is one of the most important concepts for any pilot to really get. Too many of them don’t. Perhaps the language used is also problematic. We say that the airspeed is slow instead of saying that the Alpha is high. In many cases the airspeed IS slow but might the language be creating a subconscious connection that it is airspeed and not angle that’s critical?
In the Colgan accident one of the revelations was a high level of distraction (there are many other revelations as well). Had the captain had a better concept of Alpha and a better appreciation for distraction, 50 people would be alive today. The real world of training and the real world are two different things. In training we strive to recreate reality but it is often contrived and the student catches us setting things up. Some CFIs also may not explain things thoroughly.
Here’s a shameless plug to ASF’s award winning online course on Essential Aerodynamics. There’s video of a really accelerated stall, a terrible density altitude accident and you’ll even get to do some surfing as we simplify Alpha to clarify it beyond any doubt. Even if you don’t need the review, perhaps there’s a new pilot or CFI who could benefit. It also qualifies for the FAA Wings program and the AOPA Accident Forgiveness and Deductible Waiver Enhancement program.
Let us know what you think.