Preventing Loss of Control in Flight Part 4: Recovery techniques

Even in ideal conditions, preventing loss of control in flight relies on the pilot's ability to make good decisions.


This week, we introduce the final chapter in our four-part series on loss of control inflight, or LOC-I, as a response to the FAA's #FlySafe campaign. You can also revisit Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to learn more about stalls, spatial disorientation, and aeronautical decision making, respectively.

Thus far, we have mostly discussed preparation against and recognition of the events that lead to LOC-I. To cap our four-part series, we’ll review basic recovery techniques for stalls and spins.

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Stall recovery

As covered in Part 1, stalls are a direct result of high angle of attack disrupting airflow over the wings. Though different types of stalls may require some nuance, the basic stall recovery technique focuses on one primary goal: reducing angle of attack.

  1. Disconnect autopilot, if applicable. If left on, the autopilot may make subtle, potentially counterproductive changes to the flight controls.
  2. Pitch the nose down. This may seem counter-intuitive, but remember your primary goal: reducing AOA. Push forward on the flight controls until stall warnings cease, and trim nose-down (in moderation) if the elevator proves insufficient.
  3. Once the stall warnings and indications are gone, roll wings level.
  4. Advance the throttle smoothly. Keep a watchful eye on what the aircraft is doing and use the rudder and elevator as necessary to control pitch and yaw. Keep level as you apply power. It is vital that you do not attempt to apply power before reducing AOA, as it may not stop stall progression and leads to a more difficult recovery.
  5. Retract speedbrakes and spoilers as necessary.
  6. Increase altitude gradually, ensuring you promptly put distance between the aircraft and the ground. Take care not to enter a secondary stall by climbing too early or too quickly.

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Spin recovery

As with stalls, spin recovery may vary based on airframe; general steps can best be recalled as PARE:

P: Power to idle. While adding power is an integral part of stall recovery, in a spin, adding power will increase spin rate and speed, making recovery more difficult without addressing the stall itself.

A: Ailerons in neutral: Ailerons can also have a negative effect on recovery attempts. Positioned in the direction of the spin accelerates the spin, while positioning against the spin may further delay recovery.

R: Rudder opposite the spin: Apply full rudder swiftly and deliberately opposite the spin direction.

E: Elevator forward: Immediately after applying rudder, apply positive, full forward elevator, even if the aircraft hasn't fully exited the spin. Maintain full forward elevator and rudder until the spin ceases. Neutralize rudder once airspeed begins to increase, then apply back elevator pressure, returning to level flight.

Practicing practically

Above all else, actual, practical training is key. Depending on your aircraft and your capabilities, this could mean flying with an aerobatic instructor to practice stall and spin recovery in a safe environment; or it could simply mean more time improving basic stick and rudder skills. Experience handling such scenarios in controlled environments can help avoid a harmful "startle" response when facing a real LOC-I. Take time to focus on your ability to recover from LOC-I alongside careful preparation to help ensure you never need to use that training to begin with, but are mentally equipped to handle it if you do.

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