Posted on

Transport Canada modifies Flight Tests to assess stabilized approaches

cessna 172 on departure

The General Aviation Safety Campaign (GASC) was established in June 2017 and since has endeavoured to identify the most common contributory factors in aviation accidents. The GASC created working groups to look to key areas and phases of flight that were particularly hazardous. The GASC divided into nine working groups addressing various areas of interest.

The result of these working groups identified that major contributors of fatal aviation accidents are caused by in-flight loss of control. The more interesting thing is these accidents usually occur during a few critical phases of flight: you guessed it – when you’re at a lower altitude and don’t have enough time to recover.

Some of the specifics of their findings can be found on Transport’s website here

Most loss of control (LOC) accidents ocour during the arrival phase of flight, the base to final turn and on final. Over 20 years of similar research in the U.S. has aligned with these findings. Stalling the aircraft near the ground is very dangerous. One particular area of interest was the topic of stabilized approaches. Transport Canada listened, and has now incorporated the testing of stabilized approaches for the RPL, PPL, CPL and multi-engine flight tests.

transport canada
Transport Canada logo. Image from

The new flight test guidelines will be incorporated into the Flight Test Guides on March 1, 2019. They’ll be available on the Transport Canada website then for download. IFR tests already have this criteria in place, but it will be new for all other flight tests. 

The testing involves ensuring the pilot understands what constitutes a stabilized approach. We’ve always been instructed on what makes a stabilized approach during training, the only difference now is it will be a formally and officially tested skill. So what does it mean to have a stabilized approach? Our instructors have always maintained that a good approach results in a good landing. It’s all part of safety and to make our passengers more comfortable.

One thing that comes to mind is to state at a specific point in the approach is checking in on a specific point in the approach, say 200 AGL, whether your approach is :stable.”  Have you reached your target airspeed and are you flying the attitude? Have you chosen your final flap setting, if applicable? Do you have your wind inputs in, if you face a crosswind? Is the runway clear? If you’re not stabilized according to the criteria set out in the guide, you’ll be expected to initiate an overshoot.

Things we’ve always done, but now will be officially tested on. 

Look for your next handy flight test guide from Transport Canada here





Posted on

Simplify Flying: it’s attitude plus power equals performance

I’ve had the pleasure of flying with a retired airline pilot who really made me think about flying in an entirely different way. His view demystifies flying into it’s basic, component parts to understand a complex task and achieve a certain goal. Attitude plus power equals performance.

He maintains that after over 20 years of airline flying, he found there are two very important concepts in flying airplanes. Once these concepts are understood, will help you understand aviation and flying at it’s core. The most important concepts in aviation are ones we have all heard before, and it’s impossible not to overstate their importance. They are:

  1. Aviate, Navigate Communicate; and
  2. Attitude plus Power equals Performance.

Think about what flight training is trying to achieve. Yes, you are trying to pass your flight test, at a minimum, but you can certainly do better than that. You can be a great pilot. Why practice stalls and spins? To avoid entry, to recognize if one should occour, and how to recover. 

Let’s relate it to a few examples. 

Once our wheels are off the ground, we are in a ‘risky environment’ where it’s important to keep vigilant.  When we are airborne, our one and only task is no minimize the risk, using all of our knowledge and resources. So break it down into what you have to achieve once you’re wheels up.

Remember clearing turns? We do them so we can be safe and check for conflicting traffic, and not just because they are a flight test item. Risk mitigation is also why we have standardized procedures for uncontrolled aerodromes.

On takeoff, after rotation, the airplane is just passing through a very slow speed at a low altitude. On the 172 we rotate at 55 knots, so after we rotate it’s close enough to stall speed to warrant extreme attention, particularly given our proximity to the ground. When you rotate, will you pull the nose up excessively? No, of course not, you can easily enter a stall that way, a departure stall, and you won’t have the leisure of altitude to recover.

So when we depart, we use the combination of attitude and power to produce the desired performance that we want: a climb. When we recover from a stall is it necessary to push the nose down excessively? Not really, and if you think about what stall practice is meant to achieve, we really should avoid pushing the nose down too much.  If it works on a take-off, it should work on stall recovery. If we push the nose down too much, we’ll loose altitude, and if we stall close to the ground that can be dangerous.

The purpose of stall practice

Stalls are a great case in point. Stall recovery has no practical application in everyday flight like short field, soft field landings, navigation, circuits and so on. We only learn them so we can avoid them, learn to recognize when we are in one, and know how to get out of them. Licensed pilots who don’t fly professionally will find stall recovery skills atrophy after awhile, because unless flight training, stalls are something we want to avoid. 

What produces a stall? A high nose attitude where the angle of attack of our airplane can no longer sustain flight. Your attitude is nose high, the airplane will automatically drop the nose because it wants to fly.  A nose down attitude will break the stall, and the application of power will allow you to return to a normal flight attitude. Attitude plus power equals performance. Aviate: break the stall, return to normal flight, navigate: establish where you are; communicate: this includes communicate with your airplane. Why did it stall?  

How about the forced approach?

The forced approach is a good example. With an engine failure, we’ve got to: (1) aviate: establish the best glide speed, establish a controlled approach and landing; (2) navigate by deciding which is the best field to land our airplane at; and (3) communicate, make a mayday call on 121.5 and give our passengers, if any, a full off-airport emergency safety landing briefing.  For the forced approach, we use best glide speed, a combination of attitude and power (in this case, lack of power), that produces a level of performance: the descending glide.

cessna 172 lake view
cessna 172 lake view

A heap of metal

Remember the airplane is just a “thing.”

The airplane is not alive. Many things on the flight test and flying itself can cause confusion, and above all, anxiety, which can take the fun out of flying. When learning to calm anxieties, it’s helpful to think about the airplane having no feelings or malicious intent. It’s just a heap of metal that you control and has no goal or agenda of it’s own. It’s simply a tool, a tool that you, the pilot, control.  You are flying the airplane and the airplane is not flying you.

A blend of two important factors, attitude and power, will produce the environment that we can control. Like a car, the airplane is a predictable thing. When given certain parameters it will always do the same thing. Nose up? Airspeed will decrease. Nose down? Airspeed will increase. No power? It will enter a descent. Full power? It will climb. Winds will push the airplane in known directions, crosswinds will have a known effect on approach paths, and so on. 

It’s all well within our control.

Posted on

The Base to Final Turn

One of the most important and critical turns in the circuit pattern, and in your flight, is when you are ‘low and slow.’  The base to final turn is a critical manoeuvre that when done uncoordinated, can lead to an increased risk of an unrecoverable stall-spin accident. Because we are so low in that phase of flight, recovering from a stall-spin from that altitude is not possible.

When we overshoot this turn is where the problem can become critical. In an attempt to get the airplane back on the proper approach path to make the runway, many pilots add lots of aileron and find this doesn’t get them back on track enough. So, they add rudder in the same direction and though this turns the nose to where the pilot wants to go it also puts them in an uncoordinated flight profile.  Watch what happens here:

Overshooting often the cause

After overshooting the base to final turn, forcing the plane into a normal approach can become tragic.  The airplane can stall without having enough altitude to recover: once the stall spin develops, there is not much that can be done to bring it back.  A lot of the time why this happens is because the pilot turns base, not anticipating a tailwind, and before they know it, the tailwind has blown the plane through base.  So in order to get back on track the pilot will attempt to force the plane back on track using lots of aileron and rudder.

Other times the turn will be too timid, some people only turn 10-15 degrees in the pattern, which often does not get enough to get the plane where it needs to go.  Then people will push to past 30 degrees, but if this is coordinated, there is no need to bank the plane that far.

The problem comes when we use some aileron to get back on track but that doesn’t work, so we use more rudder to tighten the turn. This results in us being uncoordinated.  This increases the bank angle and rate of descent.   Many will use opposite aileron to soften the bank angle and pull back on the yoke to check the rate of descent.

This will increase the angle of attack on the inside wing – a stall and spin on the inside wing can come quickly.

How to avoid

If you notice that you are being blown closer to the runway on the downwind, anticipate that this wind will blow you through your base turn. So, turn early, watch your angle of bank and keep coordinated. If you cannot regain your track in a coordinated fashion, simply overshoot.  There is no shame in a go-around.

Posted on

Illustrative example of wing stall using yarn

This video shows what happens to the air flow over a wing as it stalls.  Yarn, placed all over this airplane wing is pushed backward by laminar airflow during regular flight.  When approaching stall speeds,  the laminar layer moves forward more and more until it is all the way at the leading edge of the wing and drops off, causing the wing to stall. The yarn shows the turbulent air moving forward very clearly.

Note where the turbulence starts as the wing starts to stall, and how it reorganizes as the wing recovers from the stall.

This video was made by Harv’s Air in Stenbach, Manitoba, where the pilot taped four rows of 4.5 inch long pieces of yarn over the entire wing of a Diamond DA40. The flight was over Southern Manitoba.

This video does a good job of illustrating what happens to the airflow as it goes over the wing during stall. Read more about stalls and angle of attack here.

Posted on

How to master the power-on stall

The departure stall

Throughout my training, I have done a lot of stalls, and eventually got the point where I was quite comfortable with them. Power off, power on, including the more advanced high power stalls.  I was rather surprised when doing my full review of everything before my flight test, when my instructor asked me to demonstrate high power stalls I became rather nervous and was unable to perform one without throwing in the aileron on recovery.

I had let my training lapse and it had been quite awhile since I’ve done these more advanced stalls.  A few power-off stalls allowed me to feel comfortable with them again but I continued to struggle with stalls using higher power settings, which cause sometimes a very pronounced wing drop due to asymmetric thrust, slipstream and other factors.

Why do we learn power-on stalls?

The power-on stall is basically a departure stall. We practice this stall to simulate a stall on departure, when we have a nose high attitude and high power settings (full power for take off).  How could we stall on departure? If we fly into IMC on climb-out, hence loose the horizon and become disoriented, possibly succumb to an illusion that we are level and not nose-high enough (not reference or trust our instruments which tell us that we are in fact in a climb) and we pull back too much.

The airspeed bleeds off, and without knowing it we are nose high. As the aircraft reaches stall speed one of the wing drops off and when uncorrected, can enter a spin. At low altitudes, we have  no time to recover. Before long we can be nose down in a spin with no altitude to spare.

Cessna 172 about to stall. Image from
Cessna 172 about to stall. Image from

Stall/spin accidents

There are a number of these stall-spin accidents every year, and most of them occour at low altitudes.  According to an AOPA study, from 1993 to 2001 stall-spin accidents accounted for 10% of all accidents and 13% of all fatal accidents for fixed wing aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds.   An earlier study by the FAA Small Aircraft Directorate analyzed a sample of 1700 stall-spin accidents as far back as 1973 and found that 93% of them began at or below pattern altitude, which was 800 feet back in the 1970’s.

So the reason we learn a high power stall is to avoid a dreaded departure stall and to recover quickly, with minimal loss of altitude, and in coordinated flight (avoid a wing drop).

More rudder coordination is required

The reason why a power-on stall can be more challenging and more scary, is because it will require more use of rudder than a power-off stall.  We must remember not to use aileron, ONLY rudder, because not is only aileron ineffective in a stall – the wing is stalled – it can also exacerbate or aggravate the  wing drop in a stall, making it even more banked.

Anticipate a wing drop

Generally with a power-on stall, we will get a wing drop. Because of asymmetric thrust and slipstream, we generally see the left wing drop. Recall the left turning tendency of the aircraft at high power settings, for example while on the takeoff roll. On the takeoff roll with full power we always apply plenty of right rudder to keep the aircraft on centreline.

However we will not always get a left wing drop, it can, in fact be the right wing that drops, requiring the use of left rudder instead of right to correct.   There are many reasons for this: one wing could have more fuel than the other and be heavier, it can also vary with the prevailing winds. So it is important not to anticipate one wing dropping but to watch which one does and react appropriately.

So one wing drops, so there is a tendency for us to use aileron to correct.  This is very natural. In a stall, we have to fight the urge to use aileron and instead, “step on the rising wing.” (thanks to my instructor Steve for the tip – it works!)  This means to use rudder instead of aileron, in the same direction if the rising wing:

Left wing drops (right wing rises): instinct will tell you to use right aileron – use right rudder instead

Right wing drops (left wing rises): instinct will tell you to use left aileron – use left rudder instead.

Check out this video as a power on stall develops into a spin. Looks like the student puts it into a spin (on purpose, note how he uses aileron) and the person in the right seat, likely the instructor, recovers.

How can I become more comfortable with these types of stalls?

In a word, practice will make them easier, as you do them over and over again and you are able to control them, you will regain confidence. Another great tip is to visualize the manoeuvre and talk yourself through it, when you are not flying. I used visualization and imagined one of the wings dropping, and what I would do. Eventually lost my fear as I learned I could control the airplane with rudder.  It is important to use rudder opposite to the turn to correct the wing dip as fast as possible, and to leave the aileron in neutral position.

Like anything with flying, repetition will help you learn and feel more comfortable over time. Practice means everything!



Posted on 1 Comment

Top ten reasons why you should never learn how to fly

Flying? Boring! Why would I ever want to do it? Aside from being expensive and time consuming,  it’s also pointless. Why would I want to shoot around the sky in a metal tube?  It just seems like a poor use of time. Seriously, only those with poor judgement would consider getting a pilots’ license.  There are just so many reasons why you should never do it, but here are the top ten that I could think of.

1.  The view sucks.  Why would I want to see the world from 3000 AGL?  I have such a hard time picking out my house from the plane, it’s so much easier if I’m driving around in my car.  The world just looks so big from the air and it’s really not that interesting.  I’m just not interested in seeing the bigger picture.

These guys are always bossing us pilots around. You'd think they own the airspace or something.
These guys are always bossing us pilots around. You’d think they own the airspace or something.

2.  Airports are boring.  Nothing interesting happens at airports. Seriously, flight schools talk about teaching you soft field landings and precautionary/forced landings, but never actually let you do them, always forcing you to return to the airport. How about some danger? I’ve seen Top Gun – I’m ready!

3.  Air Traffic Controllers are bossy.  They constantly tell you what to do and they talk so fast that you can barely understand them most of the time.  And they always tell you to switch frequencies and get upset if you don’t call them.

4.  Too many calculations. You really have to learn how to flight plan to learn how tedious and pointless it is.  Just point the airplane in the direction you want to go – how much harder does it have to be, people? Fuel, schmuel. I’ll just keep an eye on the fuel gauge like I do when I drive. What could possibly go wrong?

5.  No in-flight entertainment.  Unless you count your instructor, there is no real source of entertainment when you’re flying.  No movies, TV, music or anything. No hot coffee. The service stinks.  Why would I want to sit in an old uncomfortable 30 year old Cessna when I can comfortably stretch my legs out on the couch like a human being.  When I stretch my legs out in the Cessna I just end up hitting the rudder pedals, which causes yaw and I have to do more work to correct it.  Can’t relax in the thing for a second.

6.  Flight instructors are annoying.  They are always telling you what to do and bossing you around. It’s worse than ATC because you can’t really get away from them.  Once you leave the control zone you are free of the claws of terminal control but you can’t get rid of your instructor once you let them in the plane with you.  They really don’t know that much … How much can there possibly be to know??

7. Too much safety emphasis.   Do you know how long it takes to prepare to actually go on a flight that lasts less than an hour? About two hours. Checklists, meetings, briefings, log books, journey log books, sheesh. So much paperwork and so many safety checks. I mean, did you know when you’re at the hold short line that you have to check your engine is operating? It started, so why do you need to check it again? Obviously it’s working and the plane is ready to go.  If it wasn’t it wouldn’t start. Obviously.

8.  Trainer planes are old.   Trainer planes are so old, I think they must have been built when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  They are loud and uncomfortable.

9.  It’s too hard.  The instrument panel in your car has only a few sources of information: speed, fuel quantity, engine temperatures and some have a tachometer.  The most basic airplane panel has six highly confusing instruments which are really hard to understand, ever mind all the other engine instruments, radios, direction finding equipment, navigation tools, approach systems, and the little floaty thing on the dash.  There are so many maneuvers, attitudes and movements too learn, it’s just seems like way to much work.

10.  It’s scary.  The whole concept of flying just seems like a bad idea.  There are just too many planes of movement.  It’s not that rewarding, and not really fun to be in control of the thing.   Constant briefings, meetings, exams, preparations, paperwork and safety checks.  Soaring through the air?  Make a career out of it? Seriously why bother. I’d rather just sit on the couch eating chips.

We hope you had a good laugh reading this.

Sarcasm aside, ever try to talk yourself out of getting a license?  So many reasons. The fact is that flying is hard, committing wonderful and very rewarding.  Like many things in life, if it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth doing.   Challenge yourself and don’t give up.  Search your soul and if you discover flying is right for you, you will have the time of your life and you will not regret it!