A new week has arrived and I hope we all had some time to recharge the batteries and are ready to meet the challenge. Today is safety day and I have an interesting article from the Flight Safety Foundation that I would like to pass on. In this age of automation, and the challenge for a pilot to maintain proficiency, Aviators may have an option to solve the problem.
Enjoy and have a good week.
Upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) at the commercial and multicrew pilot licensing (MPL) levels — not to mention initial and recurrent training of airline pilots — has reemphasized hand-flying proficiency, recognition of potential upset situations and immediate recovery from stall indications, among other skills. A recent analysis of automation and flight path management vulnerabilities also reinforces these themes. One unsettled question, however, is whether the airline pilots who complete UPRT might gain an additional advantage from routinely hand-flying some type of general aviation aircraft on their own time.
A British airline captain favors this practice, drawing from her aeronautical engineering and safety background, involvement in implementing UPRT, and experience during more than 20 years as a glider instructor and an international competitor in racing sailplanes.1,2 Last December, Sarah Kelman, who flies the Airbus A320 for EasyJet, explained the perspective she and fellow airline-pilot members of the British Gliding Association <www.gliding.co.uk> have gained. The association was invited to brief the Royal Aeronautical Society’s 8th International Flight Crew Training Conference in London on what gliding offers compared with airline training in airplane-upset avoidance.
“The skills that I practice in my glider have a direct relevance to my day job in the Airbus A320 — both in day-to-day flying and also, particularly, in the non-normal situation,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s not practical that our airlines permit their pilots several weeks a year to go and fly gliders — although it is a lot of fun. However, the core skills maintained by sport pilots do have a direct and beneficial relevance to the modern jet airline environment.”
Glider training is an element of some MPL programs and military flight training, though not part of internationally accepted UPRT standards and recommended practices. The British Gliding Association does not propose using gliders in UPRT. “Any gliding training cannot be a panacea to avoid future commercial upset incidents, but those who pursue the sport are given a deep grounding in hand-flying skills, situational awareness and risk management — all of great use to a modern airline pilot — and the training should be taken seriously by commercial training organizations and operators,” Kelman told ASW after the conference.
The types of flights conducted in gliders may surprise airline pilots unfamiliar with this segment of flying. “The main feedback on the conference day was along the lines of ‘I had no idea you do those sorts of things in gliders!’” she said, citing as an example one friend’s recent 750-km (405-nm) flight in southeast England in a sailplane without an engine. The pilot flew, primarily in thermals, at altitudes between approximately 1,000 ft and 5,000 ft. Thermals are bubbles or columns of warm rising air.
Another friend, flying in mountain waves in Scotland and limiting his climbs to maximum altitudes of about 9,000 ft, recently flew 1,000 km (540 NM) as a double out-and-return flight. “I’ve personally been up to 32,000 ft in my glider in lee wave over Scotland,” she added.
To accomplish such flights — whether to achieve distance, speed, altitude, navigational or other objectives — glider pilots combine in-depth knowledge of the aerodynamics with practical application of skills. “It’s very much a high-alpha culture,3 so, as such, we have a huge emphasis on handling approaching the stall, the changing handling characteristics of the aircraft, and also on appropriate actions on the post-stall departure from controlled flight,” Kelman said. “If you want to achieve these flights, you need to fly by maneuvering in the ‘up bits’ [lift] and not in the ‘down bits’ [sink].”
Upset prevention, recognition and recovery issues are a critical part of training even before students are authorized to fly solo. “In gliding, there are no go-arounds from an unstable approach,” Kelman said. “We have to teach our trainees energy management. And, finally, our trainees have a massive appreciation of low-level meteorology, the up and downdrafts.”
The British Gliding Association’s leaders and safety specialists assume that glider pilots have a high degree of exposure to unusual attitudes that, in the United Kingdom, typically begins with the winch launch. During the launch, the glider accelerates from 0 to 60 kt in two to three seconds. “The glider is then climbing at around 40 degrees to the horizontal,” she said. “That’s combined with the glider seating position of around 45 degrees reclined, which means that the sensation is of a near-vertical climb. The horizon is out of sight of the pilot.
“The pilot-performance margins are quite small on a winch launch. You often have a 10-kt speed window between overspeeding the glider and a high-speed stall that occurs due to the loading on the wing. Our trainees are taught that they have to fly within 2-kt to 3-kt accuracy all the way up there, even though they can’t see the ground. We mention about putting the pitch attitude in the correct place even if there is a 1-degree diversion [deviation].”
Even at this early stage of glider training, Kelman finds parallels to UPRT. “That initial acceleration is very abrupt — not dissimilar to the sort of thing we’re seeing in extreme upsets in the airline industry,” she said. “We have to teach them to overcome the somatogravic effect.4 At the top of a normal winch launch, the glider pilot needs to lower the nose to regain the speed.”
Another parallel is the necessity of pilots overcoming any instinctive reluctance or hesitation to lower the nose to recover from a stall near the ground. “It’s something that we endeavor to train out of them before they are even permitted to go on their first solo in a glider,” she said. “If the cable breaks, the pilot needs to lower the nose — often to 30 degrees below the horizontal — to regain the speed. If that happens low down — below 200 ft — then they’re faced with the ground rush.”
The possibility of such a winch-cable break, which creates a circuit (i.e., landing-pattern) emergency situation, underscores the importance — also at the pre-solo training phase — of continual contingency planning to be ready for sudden, unexpected, rapidly changing and dynamic situations. “The pilots have to decide after a cable break whether they have the energy to land ahead or whether they have to go into some sort of low-level emergency circuit,” Kelman said. “Dealing rapidly with contingency is the essence. The glider pilots must aviate, aviate and aviate to fly by attitudes and with airspeed cues, and to overcome somatogravic effect. In case of lack of a real horizon, the attitude indicator is the only safe alternative.”
As in commercial airlines, glider pilots at times have failed to overcome the somatogravic effect. “People have come off the top of a failed winch launch, pushed the nose forward to recover the speed, and inappropriately interpreted the reduced g [standard gravitational acceleration] as a stall and continued to nose the glider down into an impact with the ground,” she added.