Avoiding Loss of Control

Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2019 issue

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), your Minnesota Office of Aeronautics, and numerous General Aviation organizations work constantly to help pilots fly safely. News, education, guidance, and procedural documents can be produced with the best of information. But in the end, it is up to the pilot to assure he/she is well trained, proficient, and truly ready for flight.

Recently the FAA released a document titled: FAA Says Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents; National Safety Campaign Intended to Educate the GA Community. The balance of this article is adapted directly from that FAA document. While many of the main points are contained in this adaptation, it is highly recommended that pilots obtain and read the entire FAA document.

What is a LOC Accident?

A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen because the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope which may quickly develop into a stall or spin. It can introduce a significant element of surprise for the pilot.

Contributing factors may include: poor judgment/aeronautical decision making; failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action; intentional regulatory non-compliance; low pilot time in aircraft make and model; lack of piloting ability; failure to maintain airspeed; failure to follow procedure; pilot inexperience; lack of proficiency; or the use of over-the-counter drugs that impact pilot performance.

Unexpected events – especially those occurring close to the ground – require rapid appropriate action. Humans, however, are subject to a “startled response” when faced with an unexpected emergency situation and may delay appropriate or initiate inappropriate action in response to an emergency.

Examples of situations which can catch a pilot by surprise:
•  Partial or full loss of engine power after takeoff.
•  Landing gear fails to retract after takeoff, or fails to extend when ready to land.
•  Bird strike.
•  Control problems or failures.

According to the FAA, approximately 450 people are killed each year in GA accidents. Loss of Control is the number one cause of these accidents. LOC happens in all phases of flight and can happen anywhere at any time. On average, there is one fatal accident involving LOC every four days, the agency says.

The FAA says that fatal general aviation accidents often result from inappropriate responses to unexpected events. Loss of aircraft control is a common factor in accidents that would have been survivable if control had been maintained throughout the emergency. In some cases, pilot skill and knowledge have not been developed to prepare for the emergency. In other cases, an initial inappropriate reaction begins a chain of events that leads to an accident.

Avoiding LOC

What can GA pilots do to best manage an unexpected event that could lead to LOC?

First of all, don’t let an unexpected event become an unexpected emergency! Training and preparation can help pilots manage a startled response while effectively coping with that unexpected event.

Tips for pilots:
•  Think about abnormal events ahead of time! Practice your plan! Brief your plan prior to takeoff, even when flying solo!
•  Have a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) join you to train and plan for emergencies.
•  Review emergency procedures for your aircraft on a regular basis – don’t wait until you need a Flight Review.
•  Sit in your aircraft or a properly equipped Aviation Training Device and practice abnormal and emergency procedures, touch the controls, and visualize your aircraft’s cockpit.
•  Review and practice “what if” scenarios.
•  Vocalize takeoff, approach, and landing expectations: aircraft configuration, airspeed, altitude and route emergency options.
•  Sign up for the FAA’s WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program and have your hours with the CFI count toward a WINGS-level award.

You are urged to read the complete document release. For additional information, go to: www.faa.gov

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