When in doubt; Centralize, Analyze!
How many times have we seen aircraft in distress where the pilots were unable to regain control? It seems that it is happening more often nowadays most probably due to the constant use of automation and the lack of hands-on flying from the crew. Rusty hands as they say!
During my training in the military, we were taught to recover from unusual attitudes every day and night. We would practice in VMC and IMC. In daytime and nighttime. It was part of the training syllabus in all military type of aircraft including helicopters.
Today, upset recovery aka unusual attitude recovery has finally been recognized as an important facet of training. About time if you ask me! However, my personal point of view is simple. If you find yourself in a flying situation outside the norm, remember these two words. It might just save your life and your passengers.
Centralize the controls. Remove all control inputs. This will stop the aircraft from getting into a worse situation. If still unsure, take your hands off the controls.
Analyze your flight instruments (all of them). Compare with the other set (pilot/co-pilot) and any visual cues to determine the proper and positive recovery to get back to normal flight.
Once you identify where you are in space (spatial orientation), then you apply the correct recovery inputs. The quicker you can analyze, the less aggressive the recovery will be.
The unusual attitude can be one of the following: nose high and low speed (bank or without); or nose low and high speed (accelerating) (with bank?).
For nose high with speed decreasing, you must simultaneously apply full power, roll wings level (if in a bank) and push the nose back towards level flight. In extreme cases when the aircraft has reached an upset where you are beyond 90 degrees AOB (angle of bank), it is sometimes better to maintain positive ‘G’ and roll the aircraft to the nearest horizon. Once the nose of the aircraft is close to being level then you can roll back wings level. Only in extreme flight attitude do you attempt the latter.
For nose low and speed increasing (with bank?), you must simultaneously bring back the power to idle (speed brakes out, if required), roll wings level and pull out of the dive without being too aggressive, unless you are below 10000’.
Once recovered (aviate), check your navigation position (navigate) and make a quick call to advise ATC your new altitude and heading (communicate). I would then ask myself why and how I got the aircraft in this situation. Finally, I would do a quick cockpit check to make sure all is in the “green”.
I would highly recommend those who never practiced or experienced this kind of maneuvering to try it in your next simulator practice, or even invest in an actual air lesson in upset recovery with a certified aerobatic instructor. It might save your life one day.
Stay safe and happy landings!
Capt. Michel Treskin