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Aviation Words: Loss of Control (LOC)

By Ian Brown, Editor-Bits and Pieces, EAA 657159

July 2015 - The FAA recently launched a Fly Safe campaign. One assumes they thought a “Fly Safely” campaign was a bit clumsy to say, even if it would have been grammatically correct! That aside, it’s generally accepted that the vast majority of loss of control accidents are avoidable. Falling out of the sky in a stall or spin indicates flying too close to the edge of the performance envelope and too close to the edge of the vertical “envelope” to do anything about recovery.

So here are a few thoughts. Why not make a mental list of each of those areas where we are likely to be close to the edge and another of how to avoid LOC during those times. These are some that your editor came up with:

Turning base to final: If ever there is a time to have a sterile (i.e., silent) cockpit, it’s now. The aircraft should have been set up already with engine rpm, flaps positioned, gear down (if any), so that you can concentrate on airspeed and directional inputs. The tighter the turn, the more likelihood for a stall, because you have less lift. Knowing your numbers is vital, and if you want to know at what airspeed your aircraft stalls in a tight bank, you’re better to find out at 3,000-plus feet AGL than when turning base-to-final.

Climbing out: Anyone who flies regularly probably has a fixed routine for climb angle and airspeed, but take a few weeks off and see what a difference you notice in your precision. Instead of that $100 hamburger, why not spend the time in the circuit polishing up your by the numbers stuff? Unless you have an obstacle to clear, you are better off climbing at a higher airspeed anyway. Your climb rate will improve and your engine will be happier, too, with increased airflow. The main thing is that you’ll be further from a power-on stall. As the weather warms up, we also need to be on our guard for reduced lift on hot sunny days.

Low and slow while sightseeing: We’ve all taken people to see where they, or we, live. Dialing the engine back saves fuel and allows more time to find what we’re looking for, but once we’re in the slow flight part of the envelope, we’d better keep an eye on airspeed and altitude and minimize the chit-chat. What do you do to ensure safety of your passenger, yourself, and your aircraft? How much margin over stall do we leave while sightseeing? Remember looking for that house that you just passed could involve a tight turn. The wife of one of my schoolteachers lost both legs during a glider demo flight when the pilot went into a tight turn over her house. The stalled aircraft nosed in to her roof. The pilot died in the accident.

Showing off: This one is easy—don’t! Having said that, at least three air show accidents come to mind where the apparently very-experienced pilot stalled out at show centre, killing everyone on board. All involved steep banking and slow flight at low altitude. Presumably the pilots were driven by the desire to impress. One is tempted to say we should try to avoid making that big impression.

Angle of attack indicators are an option for homebuilt aircraft, possibly at much lower cost than certificated aircraft. (See J. Davis’ article this month.) Lift reserve indication/angle of attack is something open at relatively low cost for anyone building an aircraft. It’s perhaps easier to monitor than airspeed limitations that can vary with configuration.

Anyway, it’s time to go off and practice what has been preached. Oh, shoot, low clouds and rain. Well, there’s always tomorrow.


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