Help Me—I’m Stalling…

Proficiency Check…So said the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Maybe that’s slightly garbled, but it’s something that too many GA pilots mumble when headed earthward. An FAA-Industry group, the GA Joint Steering Committee, which I’m privileged to co-chair, has been looking at the number one cause of fatal accidents for several years. Not surprisingly, it’s loss of control—and stalls play a big part.

A long time CFI and friend had some interesting thoughts—different—and I’d like your opinions.

(With minor editorial changes…)

Here is the scenario: You’re in the back seat of a Cessna 172, with a newly certificated private pilot at the controls. After liftoff, the pitch is too high. Sure enough, pretty soon the stall warning horn starts screaming. As the passenger, I know what the pilot should do—push the nose down at least until the stall warning stops. (We could conjure up a similar scenario on the base-to-final turn.)

“So how do we teach stalls? The FAA has a lot to say about primacy, recency, and frequency in learning. What is learned best is learned first, repeatedly, and recently. So here is our pilot in training. His instructor says, ‘We’re going to practice stalls.’ You know what comes next. The airplane is put in a stall conducive condition and when the first indication of a stall commences (the horn), the pilot is instructed to pull back on the yoke and keep pulling back, through the buffet (stick shaker), until control is lost. Is that what you want your pilot to do in the real world?

“This happens repeatedly in preparation for a check ride. Almost never (maybe never) in PPL (private pilot license) training is the pilot instructed to respond to a stall horn by pushing unless the instruction is to practice imminent stalls.

“Seems like PPL training in this manner conditions a pilot to:  a) ignore a warning of imminent danger; and 2) respond to the warning by doing exactly the opposite of what one would want in the real world of flying. 

“When stall accidents occur, pilots all shake their heads and say, ‘Everyone knows that you pitch down to break a stall. This just doesn’t make sense.’ It does make sense, actually. Condition pilots to respond to an imminent stall by pulling back on the yoke, and never the opposite. What really do you expect them to do under duress?”

When asked how we should train pilots to recognize stalls and the whole discussion of AOA (angle of attack) my friend replied there should be an introduction to full stalls but not much more than that. In his mind it’s not about recovery—it’s about prevention. This sounds vaguely familiar to the whole spin/no-spin discussion that can be started in any airport coffee shop or purveyor of stronger beverages.

I’ve got my own views but would like to hear yours. Be kind to one another in discussion because we all want the same thing—fewer accidents. The question is how to best get there. Don’t just vote—how about some comments— we need some good thinking here!

Let the games begin…


  1. While I am no pilot (though I have read a lot about aviation), I recognise that there are basically two uses for things thought based on the available time when one is to use what one have learned: Drilled in procedures and procedures requiring some thought (sometimes much thought).

    The situations where stall, as well as a few other problems occur (like over banking in bigger aircraft) is often in the critical phases of flight (i.e. take off, approach or final). In these situations there is not much time to think and things should primarily be drilled in, either in a simulator or in the air, not primarily taught in class. As I see it to drill in procedures (even as easy as lowering the nose at the sound of the stall horn or even better at the pre stall buffeting) there is only one way: Train early and train often.

    I can clearly see that your friends thoughts have a lo of relevance. My general impression is that stall and sometimes spin recovery is the thing closest to advanced flying that many pilots get in touch with and something that probably many CFI:s look forward to teaching. However that can and probably often do mean that focus while flying primarily is on late recovery instead of early prevention, while prevention is primarily taught in class.

    In commercial aviation at the other hand there is sometimes some criticism about the lack of recovery training and focus on early prevention. My feeling is that the latter might be a more sound (though probably more “dull”) way of doing things.

  2. Just to avoid any misunderstandings: Yes, of course believe recovery training should be there as well, but focus should be on drilling in early prevention.

  3. Richard Wustrack

    January 16, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Amen to repeated practice of imminent stall recovery and NOT full stall recovery. I never thought of stall recovery in this way but from a conditioned learning perspective Bruce has hit the nail on the head ! BRAVO !!

  4. I certainly agree with focusing on stall prevention . When I instructed I found that the students who were able to establish a good scan of their instruments were also prepared to handle the inevitable simulated emergency. Teach students to establish a good scan, situation awareness (staying ahead of the airplane) and that it’s a must that he or she knows the airplane (flight characteristics, parameters, etc) inside and out. Airspeed, attitude, altitude, and alignment should be under constant scan–don’t let the student get fixated also teach them to look out the windows, not only for traffic and suitable emergency landing areas, but so they enjoy the beauty of flying.

  5. When I was learning to fly in 1972 my instructor didn’t like the way I was doing stalls in a 150. In his annoyance, he took the airplane and put me through four spins to show me what can happen. The problem was, he never showed me how to recover. To this day, stalls scare the poop out of me. Until instructors and examiners force me to I never do them. But, until a pilot experiences a full break he will never learn what to do if, and when, one occurs. When an instructor tells me to stall I timidly raise to nose and start to get nervous. He says “Pull back, pull back.” When the nose feels like it is pointed straight up the stall occurs, I release pressure and the airplane starts to fly again. Pilots cannot know that until they do it, and do it enough to be comfortable. When taking off from a short runway with trees at the end and the pilot gets too high of an angle, he had better know what to do if he stalls.

  6. Bruce, thank you for joining the fight! GFR has been pushing for GA Upset Recognition and and Recovery since 1979. We have built the industry leading FURTC Flight Upset Recovery Training Center in the World. Based in Sturgeonbay, WI our course was developed for Airline Operations and is now available to all Pilots. We use the Redbird FMX 1000!
    Our three phase program included Ground Training, Full Motion Simulator and “Real Flight”.
    I have been pushing the FAA to accept any training someone attends. Our industry should not have limitations on Certified Training.

  7. Harley Kleemann

    January 17, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I agree completely with Bruce’s point of view. The stall warning horn exists for just that purpose, a warning device to let the pilot know a stall is imminent. Seems rather counterproductive to have a warning device that gets ignored. When I learned to fly way back in the 70’s, my instructor, who had been a WWII Naval aviator, taped the stall warning port shut on the Cessna 150’s wing, and taught me to recognize the imminent stall conditions by the buffeting and shaking. Then, we’d land, he removed the tape so the warning horn was functional, and we’d go practice stalls again. Hearing that horn blaring before the buffeting got pronounced really drove home the point that, if I kept pulling back, we were going to stall.

  8. Bruce,
    Very nice article!!! I agree, it’s about prevention. As a flight instructor I have flown with a fair number of pilots, some with a fair amount of experience. When I ask to see a stall I usually see us climb to 3000 or so AGL, power back a bit, a timid pull on the yoke, the horn and the yoke is slammed forward with full power usually with a significant loss of altitude. I remind them that in many real world situations you don’t have alot of altitude to give up, thus the need to fly out of the stall with the least amount of altitude loss. Better yet prevention!!! Also important is the role rudders play when the airplane starts to roll. I see alot of aileron input to try to level the airplane but not much happening with the rudders.

  9. Since Colgen, this is how I teach stall for the first ten power-on, power-off. Recover at the first indication of a stall. That is the horn! I did a check out with a ppl who wanted to “hang on the prop.” In a 172? If you ignore the warnings, the gear up warning blaring sounds correct on short final. There is YouTube evidence to prove it.

  10. One additional comment. With fuel prices up I think we are seeing less GA flying, thus less proficiency. I agree with an above comment that training in an FAA approved flight simulator like the RedBird, which I have some time in, is an excellent way to maintain the basic skills at a fraction of the cost of flying the airplane. We should all be promoting staying proficient!!

  11. Carmine Dilorenzo

    January 17, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Finally, someone addressed this subject. From the very first time my instructor told me to practice a stall, it has been the hardest thing to practice (after a landing). I’ve always thought that this (the stall practice) would be an impossible situation that any pilot would put themselves into. I mean, come on, who would pull the yoke to their chest, reduce power, and expect the plane to keep flying. And with the newer more powerful engines, the newer planes would rather go into a loop before they stall anyway. The main thing to learn, is to feel the plane and keep the speed indicator in your sights. If you let it get below 60 knots (unless you’re landing) you know that you have to lower the nose and pick up some speed. When going for checkouts and BFR’s, instructors keep asking for a stall practice. I’ve tried to explain to them that this seem counterintuitive and not very useful to simulate an actual stall, but they keep saying that “this is a requirement of the FAA and the school, etc… The way the stall is practiced today has a purpose, and perhaps it was initially conceived to practice a stall while learning IFR, but for VFR, I think that another way of teaching should be implemented. You can pull power back all the way, at a safe altitude, slow the plane down and point the nose up slightly until you feel the loss of smooth control or when the plane stops flying smooth (straight and level) by itself without any pilot input. Once you start to feel this, immediately check the speed indicator. If it’s below 60 knots, you better lower the nose and let the plane fly. Enjoy the ride.

  12. During early flight training (back in 1967) I vaguely remember being taught that, regardless of indicated airspeed, when an aircraft exceeds the angle of attack providing sufficient lift for flight… the aircraft will cease flying until the appropriate angle of attack returns…and unless very close to the runway that isn’t a good thing.

    We had an old WWII Link Trainer at our school. (It’s likely that only us grey haired ol’ coots have ever had the displeasure of “flying” one.) Thing is it operated on air vacuum and there was a vent on the bellows that could be opened and pilot control would be lost. So, to demonstrate high-speed stalls and high G stalls, my initial training for them was in that contraption. I also seem to remember the top being closed at some point making the “pilot” IFR. Every time I’d get in a tight bank at a marginal airspeed…well above indicated stall speed…the instructor would pull up that dang flap and it would stay pulled back until he could see positive/corrective movement of the controls. (I’m still not sure how he knew, but he did.) If positive corrective action was not taken quickly, he would grab the tail of that mock-up airplane and start spinning it until he would announce that I was dead…simulated of course. That was about the time I also learned about vertigo. With the top closed I got so twisted around I felt like I was upside down in the cockpit.

    After such emphasis was placed on these things, I had no doubt that I could litterally go out and kill myself quite easily, if I didn’t get a clear understanding of angle of attack and how it applied to each of the aircraft I’d be flying.

    Once in an airplane, I was soon taught why it was not a good idea, in the event of an engine failure on takeoff, to try and turn back to the airport unless there was sufficient altitude to do that. Time and time again, after attempting to make a steep 220 degree turn that dang Cherokee would lose well over a 1,000 feet before it started flying again. Thankfully we always had about 5,000 feet to play with.

    Then there were the high G steep turns. Wow, it’s amazing how fast that lower wing can let go and even more surprising what the plane does. Depending on the airplane and its inertia, lots more than pattern altitude is usually necessary to recover even if very positive actions are taken immediately.

    As I recall, I was initiated to these things during my first 10 hours of flight time, before my first solo. They were also reviewed at various stages of the PPL and commercial pilot training in several different aircraft. The bigger, faster and heavier they are the quicker things happen and the longer it takes to recover from them. Laminar-flow wings can also present a new challenge for anyone transitioning from a trainer.

    Today, I get the impression that there is so much emphasis placed on how safe flying is that serious actual training about how unforgiving an airplane can be in unskilled hands has been glossed over or lost altogether.

  13. I am an aerobatic competitor. I think we need imminent stall training, full stall training and spin training. As a student pilot I was unreasonably afraid of stalls, until the repeated practice of them desensitized me to that fear. This was an important part of my learning process as I could better learn imminent stall recovery without having the ‘stall terrors’ overwhelm me.

  14. Frankly, I was glad to see the PTS revised to require “fully developed” stall recoveries, again. Pilots who learn only pre-stall recognition and prevention couldn’t learn what to do in the event of a real stall. But I think the training should be in both areas, recognition and prevention, and full stall recovery, because to suggest that the student fully trained only in recognition and prevention will never get into a full stall is a classic head-in-the-sand approach.

    It’s unfortunate that we tend to train to the PTS requirements, assuming that that’s all it takes to be a pilot. Yet there’s so much more to flying than being able to pass the PTS-oriented checkride, no matter what certificate or rating is involved. When I passed my PPL checkride 41 years ago next month, the DE used this sentence, the first time I heard it: “Now you have a license to learn.” In 4+ decades of flying, I’ve learned so much more than I ever expected, so I have no hesitancy in repeating that sentence over and over to newly certificated pilots.

    When I was instructing, I went beyond the FAA’s requirements at the time. I hope today’s instructors will do that, too. In the area of stalls, I hope they will teach how to recognize them and prevent them, with or without a working stall warner, as well as the current PTS requirements of recovery from a full stall. I hope they will also teach what happens when the recovery is botched, and how to recover from the botched stall recovery. And I really hope that the FAA will figure out a way to weed out those instructors who either can’t or won’t do that, even if it’s not in the PTS.

  15. Here’s my perspective as a fairly new private pilot: I understand the reasoning behind stall recovery training, but had some hard questions for my CFI about why we were ignoring the stall warning horn the first few times practicing the stall.

    Here’s my take on the subject of pilots trained to “ignore” the stall warning horn in order to fly the aircraft into a complete stall.

    I wonder if new pilots get used to hearing the stall warning in training, but when in straight level flight (as done in stall training) we ignore the horn knowing full well that we will have plenty of altitude to recover from. In the real world, the stall horns sound off when we’re low and slow without the altitude to recover, but we’ve been taught to ignore it so what happens next???? OOPS

    Maybe CFI’s will consider reinforcing the concept/practice of reacting to the stall horn immediately after completing full stall training so that the student pilots will have the benefit of both stall recovery and develop the proper early reaction to an impeding stall.

  16. I was quite priviledged to be taught flying by WWII era pilots. They gave me full flight training in all stalls and spins before solo. In one situation several years after attainment of my pilots license, I was on short final in smooth air at least 5 knots above stall speed and the aircraft stalled. I instinctively pushed the stick forward and recovered (I was later informed of wind-shear in the area). My training from these oldsters, (they were in their early to late 50s by then) had saved me from harm. Full stick and rudder training is the only answer; not partial training.

  17. I have been thinking about this for a while. As an examiner, I am required to see full stalls but I ask the applicant to tell me when they are at the point where they should recover if we were 200 feet above the ground. I am disturbed by the number of instructors who are still teaching people to nose the plane over into a dive to recover. That simply will not work close to the ground. Now I am seeing people that just barely break the stall and keep it slow. I definitely agree with teaching them the way they need to recover in the event of a stall close to the ground. Lower the nose to prevent the stall, then full power, retract the flaps and get some altitude.
    I am seeing way too many pilots who are using cues other than the airspeed to let them know they are getting slow. Pay attention to these cues, of course, but too often, they hear a subtle change in wind noise, check the airspeed and then lower the nose. If they never let the speed get low, they wouldn’t be hearing the early warning signal.
    On check rides, instead of asking what their stall speed is, I am now asking what their stall speed is in 45 degree bank. They have to figure it out because they simply don’t know. Then we talk about that base to final turn. Now they understand why I want them to keep the airspeed up until they are on a stabilized approach.

    I think the real issue is with the pilots who train in these gentle and forgiving airplanes that give them all these cues and then transition to the high performance wings. These airplanes may not give them the early warning and will certainly not give them as many cues. They have been “trained” to check their airspeed when they hear certain sounds. Every airplane is different and when they change planes, they are a little too late to react.

    How can we “fix” this? One, on a check ride, if they get the plane slower than their final approach speed anywhere prior to final in the pattern, that should be a failure on the checkride.
    We can educate our passengers and have them “monitor” the airspeed. If a pilot has told the passengers to say something if the airspeed gets below 70 before we are lined up with the runway, very few of us will ever let them see that happen.
    I do like to hear the stall horn just before the wheels touch on a landing. A perfect landing is when the stall horn drowns out the squeak of the tires.

  18. A certificated pilot steeply pitched up after takeoff who responds to a stall horn by pulling on the yoke needs more instruction at the edges of the flight envelope, not less. The solution is not to provide them with different rote conditioning, it is to improve their basic skills. For example, I can take a good guess that they’ve also spent little time at minimum controllable airspeed, possibly never doing climbs, descents, and turns at MCA– all with the stall horn blaring, at least intermittently. They (probably like their instructor) are so nervous about airwork that the only time they do it is when they are forced to during their flight reviews. And they are afraid with good reason– when the stall horn goes off, they follow a rote reaction that may or may not be appropriate.

  19. Three points i’d like to make:

    First, the reason to intentionally stall an airplane in training is to learn how to detect the onset of a stall, and recover from it. the intent is not to get “good at stalls,” but to get good at noticing the onset of a stall and the recovery. It is the instructor’s job to insure that he/she “sets the tone” of the practice, by reminding the student that he/she is learning/practicing the “detection of a stall, and proper recovery,” and not to “get good at stalls.”

    Second, it is very difficult to actually practice an “accidental stall,” but there is one way which I have seen. I flew the old Link trainers in school, just like another commented mentioned. It was a great tool for this. For the youngsters that don’t know, the Link trainer is a little airplane shaped thing on a pedestal that looks like a kiddie ride at a store. But it had an IFR cockpit, and an instructor’s seat on the outside. I saw several instructors get a student to fly a very nice slow flight with climbing turns and descents to keep the student busy. While this as happening, the instructor would secretly and very slowly adjust the weight and balance to very light and nose heavy condition. As the student calmly flew along, trimming for this condition and using just the right back pressure for the task, the instructor would then quickly turn the two knobs the other way, to max weight and max tail heavy. The nose would pitch up a bit more, stall warning horn would go into a higher pitched noise, the nose drop drop forward until the poor little Link trainer would hit its forward stop on the pedestal. The altimeter would start unwinding. Every time I saw this, the student would keep the yoke pulled back and wonder why the Link trainer felt “broken.” At that point the instructor would calmly say, “What are the indications of a stall???” This is the only way I have ever seen an instructor actually create an inadvertent stall safely, and it was something those students and I will never forget.

    Finally, I fly a 1930s airplane with no stall warning indicator. I think that taping the horn closed for a particular lesson on stall warning, as one person mentioned, would be a good way to learn the indications of a stall. But I doubt that most schools would tolerate it. I also think that the stall warning horn often serves to scare people into landing very fast and flat without reducing power. There is no reason for all the C-172s at my airport should take 4000 feet of runway to land. It is a shame. I do think that getting used to blaring horns in the cockpit during normal flight is not a good thing. How many gear up landing scenarios are accompanied by rescuers seeing a pilot staring over the new Q-tip props oblivious to the sound of that gear horn still blaring… A horn won’t wake up a person who is used to tuning out the distraction during his training…. Using the gear up horn as an example, the training should not be for the student to memorize the conditions when the horn comes on, such as “when there is more than X degrees of flaps down and less than X inches of manifold pressure. No, the student should be taught that the horn means, the gear is still up!!” period. Same thing with the stall horn. It means you are flying somewhat close to the stall angle of attack. Thats all. Nothing to be afraid of, just to be aware of and adjust if need be. It is sad that we have instructors that are so uncomfortable in this flight regime.

  20. In addition to stall recovery, I think a valuable addition is to practice continued flight at minimum controllable airspeed. By maintaining flight in the envelope just above a stall, you learn to feel the oncoming stall and recover without going into a full stall. You learn to feel how the controls get mushy, and avoid stalls induced by over-controlling. This lets you know how to recover without loss of altitude in situations where you don’t have any to lose.

  21. Instructors teach pilots to associate the stall horn with keeping back pressure, and the only time the average pilot will hear it after the checkride is when they are in the flare.

    Instructors should train students to glance at the ASI when the horn makes the slightest sound, and unless they KNOW that they need to keep back pressure to complete the current maneuver, to get the nose down and the power up, NO MATTER THE ALTITUDE.

    In a stall (or spin), there is no control of the plane, and dropping the nose throws away less altitude than a stall or spin would. If you’re low enough that you’re going to hit the ground, it’s better to do so under control that might let you avoid obstacles. Contact with the ground under control is a LANDING. It might be a BAD landing, but it’s a landing.

    One other thing that an instructor should consider is, after the first few stalls, not allowing a student to stall the plane. Instead, the instructor should do it, then hand off to the student at the break. This way, the student is programmed to RECOVER from a stall, not to FORCE one.

  22. There is certainly merit to “practicing” insipient stall recovery, after all if a stall is not commanded you want an expedient recovery with minimal loss of altitude. It’s true that you fight like you train and when it comes to emergency procedures you don’t want training scars like you get by repetitively practicing stall recovery by increasing angle of attack to command a stall before recovery. However, there is a great deal of benefit in experiencing full stalls, including accelerated stalls and actually taking corrective action to recover the airplane. Hands-on beats classroom theory when it comes to confidence building. The same goes for spin training – actually experiencing and recovering from a spin builds confidence, learning spin recovery theory does not.

  23. First of all the biggest problem in this area is finding a competent, experienced and highly skilled instructor who can teach and demonstrate scnearios leading to stalls to the point of building student confidence to recognize impending stall conditions. My recommendation would be to get in touch with John Dye at Salem Airpark (38D) who runs Bad Attitude Aviator Training. There are no free passes here, a student will have to put forth the effort to make him/her an aviator not just a plane driver. Instead of fearing stall conditions, the student will recognize them as they are approaching and they will learn to make things happen and not let them happen. The student can then go on to upset and recovery and learn probably for the first time how the controls actually work in an airplane. I can assure you that you will not find a better instructor and his training can save your life one day. Bruce Landsberg why don’t you give him a call to set up some training with John, I bet you will be amazed.

  24. Bruce Landsberg

    January 17, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Great comments — so far though I haven’t seen much discussion on design or retrofit. Not leading the witness here – but if anyone has a thought on that , let’s hear it.

  25. It’s all aircraft control. A pilot pulling the elevator control is the only way a stable aircraft can stall. Flight with hands off trimming cannot be stalled. Maneuvering without elevator input can be accomplished with coordinated power for altitude control.
    At any indication of stall, immediate forward elevator control toward zero “g” with added power will cause immediate recovery with minimum altitude loss.
    A complimentary .pdf copy of my e-book “How to Fly Airplanes” is available by contacting [email protected]

  26. The big thing I see missing here is a discussion of different types of stalls. In primary training, I was shown (and had to demonstrate) only simple wings-level, constant altitude, 1G load, inclinometer ball centered stalls with power on or off. There are many more combinations, and some of them are quite exciting.

    I suspect that part of the problem with those accidents isn’t just that it’s a stall, it’s that it’s not a simple training stall, and the break is quite different than the pilot expected.

  27. I have to say that I’m glad that I had some spin recovery training early in my flight training regimen. At the time I was in my early 30’s and was still pretty bold I guess because while I was out building solo time and practicing maneuvers I thought that I should probably be practicing Stalls as well. I did not like doing stalls, but I thought that I should do them to get better at it. Well, in the course of practicing solo stalls I inadvertently kept doing it too aggressively and forcing the stall which kept starting me into a spin. I would immediately level the ailerons and hold opposite rudder along with dropping the nose and the spin never developed, but if I had not had some spin entry training prior to this I would have been a very short time pilot. I told my instructor what was happening and we went up and I showed him what was happening and he helped me correct it. He also commented that he did not try any solo stall practice when he was a student and he was surprised that I did. It wasn’t that I wanted too, I just thought it was the right thing to do! Now a little more than 20 years later I sometimes shudder to think of how ignorant I was at the time! Because of this, I think at least some imminent spin recovery should be taught and practiced as well as full stall recovery before anyone ever solo’s. You just never know what some student will try!

  28. For me it’s not an either or discussion, but rather a where in the syllabus question. Both prevention and recovery must be learned by the student. However, prevention should be stressed until say the unusual attitude phase of instruction. That seems to me the perfect time immerse the student in the joys of stall/spin recovery, accelerated & departure stalls etc. until the student is comfortable enough w/those flight conditions to have no fear of solo practice of same. During the mid 70’s when I took my flight training stall/spin recovery wasn’t even a part of the private pilot training syllabus. I had to request that my instructor teach me entry and recovery. I made that request because statistically that was the number 1 killer of low time pilots like myself. Clearly I needed to learn both prevention (the min alt loss game) & recovery.

  29. Wonderful discussion on stalls! I agree witrh Stephen on the “joys” of stall/spin recovery! With my instructors a few yrs ago, stalls and spins were fun to play with and to seriously learn about while I was training. From the start, i thought about WHY we were learning these “maneuvers,” HOW I got my wonderful machine into the situation, and HOW TO RECOVER from them, especially as to how this all APPLIED to real life flying to come. I think all four of the above concepts are critical. I think all four of these concepts should be taught, not just run through to satisfy a PTS requirement!

    Now back to Bruce’s original question, wonder what all would think about this idea related to teaching stalls and spins: an instructor initially teaches a student per routine how and why a stall is produced, entered and recovered, BUT then once learned early on, a student then completes the many hrs of practice with only the INSTRUCTOR producing the practice stall or spin, and the student only practices and engrains the RECOVERY steps. The recovery steps (push, not pull the yolk!) then are what gets engrained by the student. This could also be part of the practice of slow flight, where an instructor occasionally unexpectedly lifts the nose to produce the stall, not the student who then mainly practices and engrains over and over the recovery steps instead. After all in GA, a pilot never expects to get into the attitude to produce a stall, but as we all know, it can happen out of the blue!

  30. The suggestion here is that the way we train pilots, in doing full stalls followed by recovery, is misguided and leads to more full stalls at altitudes too low to recover.

    I don’t agree. Stalls in and of themselves should almost never cause a loss-of-control accident in light GA aircraft, most of which are easy to both stall and recover with minimal altitude loss, even at the low altitudes in the pattern. That is, if the pilot reacts quickly and correctly.

    Routine practice of stalls can yield losses of altitude in recovery in less than 100 feet, power on or power off, for most light GA aircraft. Even if you’re just coming over the fence too slow at 50 feet AGL, a rapid and correct response to a power off stall can at least eliminate a fatal outcome even if you bend some sheet metal.

    Most fatal stall accidents n maneuvering flight are not just stalls, but stall-spin accidents due to uncoordinated flight. The key benefit of routine practice of full stalls is that it necessarily teaches the pilot to develop good rudder skills in maintaining coordinated flight throughout the approach to stall, in order to keep the wing from dropping excessively and entering a spin during a stall, which almost certainly will kill you from any altitude in the pattern.

    Stall avoidance should also, and obviously, be taught and practiced routinely also. But full stall recovery should also be practiced routinely too. I don’t know how a pilot can possibly consider himself/herself qualified to fly as PIC without routine practice of the maneuvers that are most likely to result in a bad outcome.

  31. Most of the fatal accidents are low/slow, turn to final spins into the ground.

    Shortly after completing my PPC, I took some Unusual Attitudes Training at Gauntlet Warbirds @KARR. I learned more about stalls/spins in that 1.5 hours than I did in all my primary training. After that I became convinced I should have had that stall/spin training during my primary. It taught me how to use the rudder to control a fully developed stall and not freak out. It allowed me to actually EXPERIENCE the airplane’s full envelope so I wasn’t always worried if I was close to a stall – I knew where it was, where I was, and what it would do if I got there. Most importantly, I now have the presence of mind to react appropriately.

    Now back to my opening sentence. We don’t teach cross controlled stalls/spins which are (IMO) what are killing these folks low and slow in the patterns.

    They should be taught/experienced (at altitude) so these people know what the consequences are if the get too slow in a turn and/or cross control the plane.

    The problem is our flight instructors are woefully under-prepared/trained for aerobatic flight.

    1. Increase CFI requirements to include some type of unusual attitude training certification. (certify they are competent enough to teach BASIC aerobatics/unusual attitudes)

    2. Include a requirement to include stall/spin training in a base to final turn scenario.

    I think if pilots actually experience how easily it can happen they will stop being cavalier about their pattern work and will actually take sterile cockpit procedures seriously

  32. As I understand it, “conditioning” would be described as repeated practice intended to elicit a predictable response without any higher-level thinking needed.

    Situation, response, like a martial artist blocking an attack.

    At the moment of imminent stall, with seconds before the break, how much can the pilot be thinking?

    The argument for a conditioned behavior is that under stress, a person will respond with the programmed, conditioned behavior.

    What we do in pilot training, if it is repeated often enough, becomes a form of conditioning.

    At the moment of truth, what will a person do? The most predictable answer is “respond in accordance with their strongest conditioning”.

    If that is true, and you desire a pilot to respond to imminent stall by reducing the angle of attack, in training you would:

    a) condition the pilot to respond to imminent stall by DECREASING the angle of attack (i.e. reduce back pressure)


    b) condition the pilot to respond to imminent stall by INCREASING the angle of attack.

    It is all about the number of repetitions and when they happen. Primacy, recency, frequency, right?

    I believe that pilots should be conditioned to respond to a threat in the most appropriate manner. I vote for “a”. What we actually do is “b”. Horn, pull. Buffet, pull. Over and over.

    If the conditioning is as I describe, wouldn’t you expect a persistently high stall-spin accident rate?

    Would it make sense to have a 50-50 or more ratio of DECREASING the angle of attack during training? I think that would better than always pulling back at imminent stall.

  33. I do agree with certain points but do not subscribe to stall recovery errors being because of a possible erroneous conditioning of pulling up. What I think often happens is … Upon training we are high enough, know what is about to come and have no surprises upon what’s happening next – we are under total control of the aircraft, our emotions, responses AND VERY IMPORTANTLY our reaction times are much faster than if and when things unexpectedly happen in real life when we are for instance low (base to final). I think we are missing that not all pilots have quick thinking and reaction times. I’ve seen seasoned pilots hop into their stick shift cars and then shift out of proper timing, either too early or too late and this lack of “touch” often makes me wonder how a “mechanical pilot” (one who responds just by training, not by training and “feeling”) performs upon comparison to someone who universally “gets it”. I think a great opportunity to improve our training is by adding measurables into the practice – I believe what isn’t quantified has little to offer in terms of continued improvement. I think we need to always know and have the instructor next to us monitor how much time was consumed and how much vertical we lost upon the event. One thing is to calmly pull the aircraft into the stall and recover what we did on purpose while at 4k ft, another is to unexpectedly be surprised and have it happen when at 1k above ground. If we consider how much time we may loose to finally realize we stalled, then our reaction time to lowering the nose JUST A LITTLE, just enough to change that critical angle, then we will find out that most of these accidents happened while the pilot was on his/her way of doing what is correct just didn’t have the time (altitude) to get it done cause they responded way too slow as their reaction times consumed precious time they didn’t have. Like playing guitar, we can train as much as we want, but of we just don’t have that magical touch, our sounds will be mechanical rather than harmonious. Sorry to say, but I do think there are lots of people out there that are way too mechanical and can do a good job within the context and envelope of normality but really don’t have on them the G’d’s given previous ability to be excellent. The lack of instinct and touch, talent, “feeling” is the forgotten element on the discussions… I confess my instructor who is a 40 yr veteran never told me how much altitude we lost. And to me, that’s a loss of an opportunity for improvement (while on the back seat, I saw my then 13 yr old recover under minimal loss of altitude – 100 ft – but that was ME following it on 1 flight. I don’t join him all the time and always wonder of he’s improving or not as there is no measurable feedback. I think we are missing lots and lots of opportunities cause we have a tendency to believe everybody will do OK and we often project what our responses are onto others)
    Thx for your time reading my opinion … Amdry

  34. I agree with those who suggest slow flying, neutral ailerons and lifting the (potentially stallable) inner wing with rudder. I break the theoretical rule of using rudder only to balance. I lead with rudder, always. Gently. Secondary effect gives me some roll and a balanced turn. Then I treat the bank as an incipient spin, and bring the wing up with opposite rudder – “Look Ma, no hands!”; also practice ‘power out’ in various phases of the 90 degree lazy-8; and always turn onto final with a diving turn. Having all those conditioned reflexes has kept me alive when (for example) on final in a narrow mountain valley, a wind gust rolled us 80 degrees and nose high.
    We need to know the feel of our planes as well as we know our underpants, able to fling it any which way (but well within its stress limits) at any speed and any level of engine performance. And get instruction in the mountains, and in aerobatics up to the limit permitted in your handbook. A few hours gyro training (I’m not joking) will broaden your horizons a bit, too.

  35. Michael Spiegler

    January 19, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I have been flying for more than 30 years and practice stalls when I take dual instruction, which I do with some regularity. Besides the safety factor, I don’t practice stalls solo because I do not remember how to initiate the stalls. That ignorance is purposeful. I’ve always thought it absurd that one of the skills required of pilots is creating various types of stalls–so I “refuse” to learn that skill. With is article, I realized that the skill of creating stalls is not only absurd, but also counterproductive. Which leads me to propose one simple step that would help keep pilots from pulling back as a reaction to a stall.

    In primary training (and recurrent training) do not have the pilot initiate the stall–have the CFI (or another pilot in the right seat if practicing without a CFI) do what it takes to create the stall. That way, the pilot’s pulling back is never associated with stall recovery.

  36. I own and fly an aerobatic taildragger. I am also an active CFI.

    All of this talk is blowing my mind. If you can not fly a complete circuit in the pattern WITHOUT your ASI (takeoff AND landing) in the craft you usually fly, I beg you to go grab a competent instructor and try out a flight without an airspeed indicator.

    Some may find this absurd, I do not. If you fly a GA aircraft and can’t ‘feel’ your speed envelope, or visualize your AOA at any phase of flying, you are missing out.

    Not only will this increase your confidence, it will enable you to spend more time with your eyes outside looking for things that can kill you. To my knowledge an airspeed indicator has yet to kill a human being…


  37. I think the light came on when the pilot I was training pulled the mixture back during engine out practice.

    Previously, we had a discussion about exactly that. He had not flown twins for many years – not since he’d gotten his multiengine rating a generation before.

    I was teaching him about his Baron, and explained that Beech procedures called for the mixture control to remain full rich during engine shutdown, while some others called for the mixture to be pulled to cutoff.

    He said, “I have no idea what I was taught, it was so long ago. I am happy to do it your way”. With that settled, we went on to other things, but in the throes of his first simulated engine-out, he deftly controlled the airplane and proceeded to shut down – first retarding the throttle control, then feathering the prop. And then, without missing a beat, pulling the mixture to cutoff.

    At that moment, I put the FlightSafety Baron sim in “freeze” mode and said “Look what you just did”. He looked at the mixture control, and then at me with surprise and said “I could not have told you I was going to do that”.

    I thought about this for a long time. It appeared that somehow, this pilot’s training had conditioned a particular behavior, and that conditioning had lain dormant for over 20 years, until the situation re-presented itself, at which point the conditioning took over – without any conscious action on his part.

    Wow. The power of primacy had been shown to me in a profound way. This led me to asking myself – what are other things that we teach pilots that may well lie dormant until a “moment of truth”?

    This pilot had a latent conditioned behavior, and I wonder if his later training was enough to mitigate it. Rod Machado, in the February edition of AOPA Pilot, notes that “It’s our reflexive mind that responds based on habit formation (training) and biological programming (instinct) generally in that order”.

    I think Mr. Machado has it right. I don’t mind teaching full stalls, spins, aerobatics, whatever. What bothers me is repeated practice of the wrong behavior, i.e. Pulling back when the stall horn sounds. Many pilots are not inclined to the joys of practicing flight on the edge of control loss. Maybe they should be, but that is theoretical. Teaching a pilot to pull when the stall horn sounds over and over is like setting a bear trap and letting the grass grow around it.

  38. Technology is not the answer. Pilots need to understand 1): Prevention, 2): Awareness, and 3): Proper Recovery. Fly, Find & Fix!
    Would technology have saved U.S. Airways #1549 from ditching in the Hudson River? Capt. Sullenberger & F/O Skiles prevented the airliner from stalling with pitch and airspeed management after loss of power.

  39. Interesting take on training.
    I was conditioned by two things:
    1) Wolfgang Langweische: “Get the stick forward” about 100 times in his book
    2) CFIG: Glider instructor who begins by demonstrating a steep turn, then a stall in a steep turn, then says “It is now stalled. Your plane. Fix it.”

    I have stalled three times, outside of training.
    The first time was in a glider in a level attitude, when a rolling gust caused me to exceed critical AOA, and the bottom fell out.

    The second was a solo flight in a 172 where I encountered unexpected turbulence and overly reduced speed (and lost about 400 feet in 30 seconds)

    The third time was in checkride prep, when I tried to reach my usual MCA of 40mph in the 172… Rolling winds from a nearby cloud caused me to stall. I quickly recovered from a left-right-left mushiness and went through the whole routine. I then turned to my CFI and said “I think TODAY the MCA is 50. Let’s try that.” It worked.

    I find that the stick comes forward as if on its own, almost before I realize that we stalled.
    It hearkens back to my first Instructor, who drilled stalks over and over again – “I want it to become a Pavlovian response!” (You want me to “drool” when the plane stalls??) “Conditioned response!!” He growled. “I want you to live through it!”

    I think he succeeded.

  40. I learnt about stall stick position, flying at the top of the lift drag curve, and intentionally moving the stick back a little to stall, then forward a little to unstall, and repeat over and over. This taught me to recognise how the plane feels in the stall stick position and where the stick is located (varies from plane to plane). It taught me to realise how simple it is to unstall the wing(s) . I also practice picking the wing up with rudder. I was taught to do this with some power on and also at idle. Unfortunately this training was not part of the ppl syllabus, I had to do an aerobatics endorsement to learn about stall stick position etc.

    I believe this type of training should be included in the ppl rather than the straight pull right back stall recover type method. After all flying the plane at the top of the lift drag curve or just in front is not reserved solely for aerobatics.

  41. Training in stalls and spins requires that you stall and spin an aircraft. If it isn’t stalled or spinning you can’t teach recovery. This training is a different issue from that of what to do to prevent an imminent stall or a spin. Keep both types of training emphasising of course, that prevention is always better than cure.

  42. My CFI always says to make sure I get a good buffet, especially in the power on stall, before recovering. We treat the stall horn as an “almost there” tool when learning stall recovery. Power on stalls are one of my favorite maneuvers to practice! I’m training in a Warrior, so no spins. That plane will also recover itself in a “porpoise” with idle power and full back elevator.

    We were practicing Xwind landings on a gusty and bumpy day last fall. Climbing out from a touch and go, the plane dropped a bit over an area that always produces some kind of swirling movement. My hand was on the throttle, and the motion of the plane pulled it back to idle at about 300 ft AGL. The stall horn came on almost immediately. Of course I went back to full power right away, and had to lower the nose a bit to re-establish Vy. I made the comment that I’ll just keep my hand near the throttle lever, and not on it in the future. And the CFI was pleased that I made the correct recovery with no input from him.

  43. One of the hats I used to wear was that of a professional trainer and curriculum developer. With that hat on I look at the usual method a CFI conducts “stall training” and conclude that everything about it is wrong. First of all, the title should be stall prevention and recovery training to identify the purpose. As a student pilot I’m not really interested in learning how to create a stall except in the abstract. What should happen is that a situation should be presented (the approach of a stall or a full stall) and the student responds. Having the student mentally and physically fly into a stall in order to practice recovery is actually introducing and reinforcing the wrong behavior.

    When someone takes the basic motorcycle riders course they are not taught how to protect themselves when they lay the bike down in a misguided attempt to keep from crashing into something; they are taught how to keep the bike upright and brake, which is more effective in preventing a crash.

  44. With 19 years as a CFI, 14 as a 61/141 Chief Instructor, and 10 of those as a DPE, I would ask what scenarios, and what interpretations of “correlation” come out of such varied answers? I agree that training should include both imminent and full stalls, with an express purpose stated for why each instance is being executed that way, and how it applies to reality.

    If someone is “conditioned” to pull back at the horn, have they really correlated stall training? I doubt it, but we can’t always tell until an unusual and unforeseen combination of moments forces the pilot into an original solution. In other words, we want correlation to happen during training, but the “license to learn” aspect is inescapable for a relatively fixed amount of training ( or level of achievement, anyway). Even then, the things which succeed in a C-172 or PA-28 are not guaranteed to work in, say, a Mooney or a Cirrus.

    The times I have seen a pilot get too close to the edge (without knowing it) involve an unfamiliar airport, new distractions, and usually higher payload and/or density altitude than we see in typical training. I also see lots of attempted forward slips where lowering the nose is an after-thought.

    All CFI’s are guilty of teaching sight picture on takeoff and landing, because it helps. However, it opens the door to an “ah, crap” when that former student takes off at higher altitude, with a higher terrain “horizon” at some distance out the front. Those of us who stay in the teaching business have to constantly look for new ways that a separate, unique human might interpret what we say. And, it’s only human to take past absence of problems as confirmation of current safety.

    Do all students get stall training above 5000 MSL at max-gross weight, or simulated with less power? Do all students get trained to simulate an incipient spin by seeing a 1-G wingover from nose-high? Do all students even get to see an accelerated stall? It’s tough to think of everything, and I know there will always be another, different combo I could learn and pass on.

    I think the analogy of crashing anything (above) might explain why we don’t actually spin primary students, but stalls are not supposed to be an alien regime. Even for those few examples where it’s truly inadvisable to do a full-stall, there needs to be strong correlation between Slow Flight in a given configuration, and keeping that idea through a stall recovery from that configuration. Every stall practice needs a real-life dose of “feel”, power settings, configuration, and sense of timing.

    Not having a comfortable “feel” of how your individual aircraft stalls is on par with not naturally using the rudder, or confusing any other basic control.

  45. Coming late to the party, I have the good fortune to be able to read all the thoughtful, and thought provoking, comments here. So rather than rehash the issues, I’d like to raise a parallel one: standardization. That comes to mind because when stalls are mentioned I always remember a certain rental check ride.

    Away from home, I offered to rent a 172 and take friends on a sightseeing flight. I hadn’t flown a 172 in years, so I suggested coordination exercises, slow flight, and stalls as a good way to start. The instructor, who didn’t seem to have a better plan, agreed—turns and slow flight would be good.

    Then, when I said I was going to do a stall series, the response was, “No way, we don’t need to do that, lets go do some landings.”

    An isolated incident, perhaps, but that wasn’t the only time I’ve flown with someone who seemed more willing to ride in an airplane than fly it.

    While test standards and flight reviews are designed to establish norms, I wonder if we need to take the standardization issue more seriously?

  46. Bruce, the AOA System is a great system to indicate Angle of Attack and fly by.
    Some limitations (mounting, attitude) but generally a great visual/audio warning device that will help aviators recognize attitudes that could develop into a stall/spin situation.
    Upset Training, However is the answer. Been there, done that, as an aerobatic Instructor, Commercial Pilot Instructor, people need to want to learn! Best students! Insurance Companies even monetarily promote training or risk reduction!

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