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Overcoming Your Fear of Stalls

News > Overcoming Your Fear of Stalls

New student pilots often become apprehensive at the mention of the word “stall.” Without knowing what to expect, a stall can be misinterpreted as an aircraft falling out of the sky with no hope of recovery. Experienced aviators understand that this is not the case and are comfortable practicing stalls. Once you understand the aerodynamics associated with being in a stalled condition, you will have nothing to fear when practicing stalls.

Tip #1 Understand the Aerodynamics of Stalls

An airplane is able to fly when there is sufficient airflow over the wings and a positive angle of attack. This generates a pressure differential between the upper and lower surfaces of the wing to create lift. As the angle of attack increases, more lift is generated, but only up to a certain point. This point, called the critical angle of attack, is specific to every aircraft and does not change, regardless of the aircraft’s weight or speed. At the critical angle of attack, air on the upper surface of the wing stops flowing smoothly and begins to create eddies. The amount of lift generated decreases to such a point that it is unable to counter the opposing weight of the airplane, causing the airplane to sink. This is a stalled condition.

Tip #2 Stay Coordinated

Many students fear practicing stalls because it can result in seemingly unpredictable wing drops, making the maneuver feel uncontrolled and dangerous. There is a simple explanation for this. Wing drops occur when the airplane’s wings do not have the same angle of attack, typically due to uncoordinated flight. One wing reaches the critical angle of attack first and stalls before the other, causing the airplane to roll toward that wing.

Maintaining coordinated flight throughout the maneuver is critical. As you apply back pressure on the elevator control to increase the angle of attack, simultaneously use rudder pressure to keep the airplane coordinated and the nose straight. Be sure to keep the ailerons neutral because aileron deflection changes the angle of attack in each wing.

As long as you stay coordinated and keep the ailerons neutral, both wings will stall at the same time without any drop. Wings are designed to stall progressively from the wing root out toward the wingtip. When approaching a stall, you still have some aileron control and can roll the wings level before the stall develops across the entire wing. When recovering from a stall, always reduce the angle of attack first, roll the wing level with the ailerons, and coordinate with the rudder.

TIP #3 Plan Diligently

Like everything else in aviation, diligent pre-flight planning reduces the chance of an accident and prepares pilots for unfavorable situations such as a stall. One way to prepare while still on the ground is to ensure that weight and balance calculations are done correctly. Make sure that the center of gravity (CG) is within the operating limitations. If the airplane is loaded past the aft CG limit, recovering from a stall can be difficult, if not impossible due to an inability to pitch the nose down to reduce the angle of attack and break the stall. Always ensure that you are within weight and balance limits, no matter what. Extinguish your fear with astute planning.

TIP #4 Recognize Cues

Fearing the unknown is human nature. The only way to overcome fear is to face it. As you begin practicing stalls with your instructor, stay alert to your senses. Recognize when control input is reduced. Listen for the stall warning horn. Feel the forces of the plane acting on your body. Look at the attitude of the aircraft relative to the horizon and the environment. Recognize the annunciation and alerts on your instruments. These are your cues. Get familiar with them every time you practice. If you inadvertently encounter the conditions likely to cause a stall, recognizing these cues allows you to correct the flight condition before the stall occurs. This is especially useful during phases of flight where tolerances are limited, such as during takeoffs and landings. According to the FAA, 75% of all learning comes from sight. However, do not neglect the other 25%. Your other senses help you recognize cues and react quickly to recover the airplane.

TIP #5 Stay Ahead of the Plane

Always stay ahead. Always prepare for something to go wrong. Flight instructors are keenly aware of this. When an anxious student begins to overcontrol the airplane, an astute instructor will not only teach the student the correct maneuvers, but also simultaneously monitor the airplane and scan for the best place to land. In doing so, (s)he is ready to make calculated decisions in case of an emergency.

As a student, prepare by recognizing situations in which a stall could occur. For example, as you take off, maintain proper airspeed and the recommended power setting for climb. Be aware that a power-on stall could occur if your airspeed is low and your pitch angle is too high and be intentional about avoiding conditions likely to cause stalls. In other words, stay ahead of the airplane.

TIP #6 Fly Smoothly

Finally, be smooth when maneuvering the airplane and intentionally practicing stalls. Avoiding abrupt control inputs will not only keep you and your passengers comfortable, it will help you prevent stalls in the first place. Watch this demonstration of a power-off stall and recovery in a Cessna 172 by the Gleim Chief Instructor, Paul Duty. Notice the plume of smoke in the distance which is used as a reference point to help keep the airplane coordinated. While a stall can occur at any airspeed or attitude, excessive pitch is not necessary as long as the critical angle of attack is exceeded. As you can see, practicing stalls should not be a roller coaster of a ride.

When you exercise these six tips, you will be less fearful of stalling an airplane and bring the fun back into flying. More information on stalls and spins can be found in FAA Advisory Circular 61-67C. Additionally, grab a copy of the Gleim Flight Maneuvers book relevant to your certificate level to learn how to effectively execute the different stalls and the common errors pilots experience while performing these maneuvers.

Written by: Ryan Jeff, AGI, Aviation Research Assistant, Karl Winters, CFI, CFII, AGI, IGI, Aviation Editor, and Paul Duty, CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, Chief Instructor

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