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Training Tip: Losing it

All are among the most common ways pilots lose control of aircraft—a leading cause of general aviation accidents.

Eradicating loss-of-control misadventures has long been an NTSB safety priority, and if your flight instructor seems to be emphasizing the subject a little more lately, it could be that the CFI recently took an instructor’s refresher course that came down hard (as mine did) on the need to spotlight loss-of-control scenarios for the student population.

What do you visualize when you ponder the term “loss of control” as related to in-flight mishaps? Stalls? Spins? Wake-turbulence upsets? Thunderstorms?

Here’s how the FAA defines it, using the abbreviation “LOC-I” in Chapter 4 of the Airplane Flying Handbook:  “LOC-I is defined as a significant deviation of an aircraft from the intended flightpath and it often results from an airplane upset. Maneuvering is the most common phase of flight for general aviation LOC-I accidents to occur; however, LOC-I accidents occur in all phases of flight.” Pilots must develop a heightened awareness of situations that increase the risk of loss of control, it adds.

On June 28, 2019, a Maule M–6 flying in deteriorating weather and mountainous terrain in Alaska stalled as the apparently disoriented and “stressed” pilot attempted an “abrupt maneuver.” The ensuing crash killed three of the four individuals aboard, according to the NTSB’s accident report, aided by the surviving pilot-rated passenger’s recollections.

Landings are particularly susceptible to loss-of-control accidents, even more so “low inertia, high-drag” aircraft because of “their low cruise speed to stall speed margin and their tendency to experience significant airspeed decay with increased load factor (such as during a turn),” the NTSB noted when reporting on a July 1, 2019, fatal accident involving a soloing student sport pilot flying a kitplane toward his private airstrip in Orleans, Indiana. The probable accident cause was the pilot’s “exceedance of the airplane’s critical angle of attack while maneuvering toward the runway, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall and a loss of control.”

Loss of control in various flight phases was studied by the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, an effort in which AOPA participated that produced a set of safety enhancements addressing topics from training to technology.

The steering committee is also tackling a related hazard: controlled flight into terrain, having released its report on June 11.

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