UPRT: Sim or Aircraft?
The flight training community is divided on how to best deliver Upset Prevention and Recovery Training. Rob Mark talks with experts about the rationale behind their respective extended envelope training approaches.
Years ago, between flying jobs, I moonlighted teaching computer keyboarding skills to office professionals, a notion that might sound a bit outdated today, but back then companies demanded their office staff possess an understanding of the intricacies of systems such as WordPerfect. Since running even an early generation word processor made the life of a pilot/writer 10 times easier than using a typewriter, I took to WordPerfect quickly. But as a software teacher, I still had much to learn.
During one teacher training session, the tutor swatted my hand whenever I attempted to teach a student by striking the best key combinations for them. Teach theory first, then let the students try and fail on their own, my boss advised. You won’t always be around to help them. I was reminded that truly effective real-world learning must include theory combined with hands-on practice.
More Than Mere Recognition
In March 2019, the long-awaited upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) spawned in 2011 by Public Law 111-216, aka the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act, passed an important deadline. By that date, all US Part 121 airlines were required to have submitted their UPRT syllabus to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval. Those training outlines were required to align with both the new International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines and the new US FAR 121.423 regulation for extended envelope training. This updated training was expected to take most pilots well outside of their normal aircraft operating envelope comfort zones by showing them how their aircraft perform in high angles of attack at high altitudes and in steep pitch and roll attitudes close to ground. The training also includes recovery techniques for aircraft that unexpectedly wander into danger. By March 2020, airlines must have delivered UPRT to all pilots. (That new FAA rule did not mandate the same UPRT for business aviation, charter or fractional pilots. However, ICAO’s multi-crew pilot license (MPL) guidance, used extensively outside the US, does incorporate UPRT training.)
To secure continuous improvement across the airline environment in the US, the UPRT extended envelope training required under FAR 121.423 includes more than pilots simply being able to recognize unusual angles of attack. The rule expects pilots to become proficient at manually controlling the aircraft in a variety of slow-flight regimes, including loss of reliable airspeed, hand flying instrument arrivals and departures, recovery from bounced landings, especially in gusty wind conditions, and of course instructor-guided hands-on experience recovering from full stall and stick shaker pusher activation.
The recent spate of accidents, including the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes, the loss of a Sukhoi Superjet 100 in Moscow and the Boeing 737 overrun at Navy Jacksonville, are stark reminders that large transport aircraft can still slip through the fingers of their pilots, one reason loss of control inflight (LOC-I) remains the leading cause of fatalities worldwide. While no loss of life has occurred in the US, these accidents have reminded the industry there is still additional pilot education needed on a global scale.
The industry is somewhat split, however, on the best way to deliver the required extended envelope training. Everyone seems to buy into the need for intensive academics on the aerodynamics surrounding operations outside the normal flight envelope. The philosophical divide seems to come after the classroom sessions end. Some companies believe a Level D simulator modified to demonstrate UPRT subjects as accurately as current data allow is more than sufficient, while others believe combining simulator training with actual in-air training on a variety of aircraft is the natural follow-on to the sim. The why behind each philosophy is not as cut and dried as it might at first appear, so CAT dove into the guts of UPRT, talking with people who created some of the solutions like FlightSafety International and Aviation Performance Systems (APS). Delta Air Lines offered their perspective on the UPRT they’re now providing the airline’s 14,400 pilots.
Meeting the 121.423 Deadlines
Brian Sims is lead subject matter expert (SME) on UPRT at Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines. “I work with all of our fleet’s SMEs to make sure we have a standardized UPRT program across the airline.” Prior to the 121.423 mandate he said, “Our industry focus was primarily on upset prevention. As a result, recovery strategies were presented but were somewhat vague.” The airline partnered with Aviation Performance Solutions (APS) in 2015 to ensure recovery training remained an essential component of Delta’s UPRT effort.
APS was a relatively new entry to the world of teaching UPRT when the company was founded in 2005 at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Arizona. It focused on advancing modern upset training for pilots of all skill and experience levels at both the airlines and in business aviation. Company president Paul ‘BJ’ Ransbury stood at the vanguard of UPRT in 2009 by joining the Royal Aeronautical Society’s five-year global harmonization through the International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (ICATEE), a team chaired by Dr. Sunjoo Advani, founder and president of Netherlands-based International Development of Technology. The task force exhaustively explored “Flight Simulation – Towards the Edge of the Envelope.” APS helped the ICATEE members shape UPRT recommendations for ICAO, the FAA and national aviation authorities around the world that became the 2019 global industry mandates in hundreds of countries. APS trains pilots using classroom aerodynamics, simulator sessions and on-aircraft flights aboard aircraft such as the highly aerobatic Extra 300 and the SIAI-Marchetti S211 swept-wing jet trainer.
Sims said UPRT training for Delta’s SMEs occurred first in actual APS aircraft, where instructors use “APS All-Attitude Upset Recovery Strategy (AAURS) to escape upsets throughout 360 degrees of pitch and roll.” The AAURS prioritizes management of angle of attack, lift vector orientation, energy management, and stabilization of the flight path. For regular Delta line pilots, UPRT takes place only in the airline’s Level D simulators following the academics. Delta pilots are being taught by regular line instructors who have all been through the entire APS curriculum, including on-aircraft training. APS’ vice president of business development Randy Brooks said, “AAURS includes all elements which must be considered in any airplane upset. The power of this strategic approach is flexible enough to be practically applied in all potential upset scenarios, and it is transferable to all fixed-wing aircraft. This approach is also in line with all existing US and international guidance on upset recovery.”
CAT asked Brooks about the change to the standard APS curriculum for Delta pilots that normally includes actual on-airplane training as the final component. He admitted, “We didn’t at first realize we were playing catch here [in the industry], nor the deficiencies many pilots had when flying outside the normal envelope. It’s not economically feasible to put them all in the airplane. There are other things like union rules that might prevent some airline pilots, if they weren’t volunteering, from flying in an aerobatic airplane.”
Brooks of course believes all airline pilots would benefit from the on-aircraft training, reminding readers that aerobatics, an item with which many ex-military and current airline pilots are familiar, is not necessarily a panacea for LOC-I. “Most people do not appreciate the differences between aerobatics and UPRT. Aerobatic training is great for manual aircraft handling skills, but it doesn’t really do much for pilots if those skills are not easily transferrable. The aerodynamics of a stall in a 767 are the same as what we’re teaching. We’re not teaching extra specific skills; we’re teaching an airplane-specific skill, information that is transferrable. Regardless of how we have trained in the simulator, an actual airplane upset is going to be different from our training.”
Delta’s Sims explained, “It’s a whole new [training] ball game when a pilot experiences a full stall at 43,000 feet, has almost zero excess thrust available and must very carefully manipulate the flight controls to reduce the angle of attack. This often requires an attitude well below the horizon and losing thousands of feet in order to regain sufficient airspeed to recover. All the while, the aircraft is experiencing heavy stall buffeting. Then as airspeed increases, the challenge is to carefully stabilize the aircraft without inducing excessive G-loads or a high-speed stall due to over-controlling.”
In his book, Extreme Fear, the Science of Your Mind in Danger, author Jeff Wise indirectly makes the case for repeated UPRT, reminding readers that while experiencing fear, “Even mild stress can affect our performance. Tasks that are very simple when undertaken in a state of calm become intensely challenging or even impossible when the adrenaline is pumping.”
The Sim-Sufficient View
At FlightSafety International, Dann Runik is responsible for 41 commercial learning centers. In 2014, he was on the front end of the company’s efforts to begin stemming the tide of LOC-I accidents when then-company president [the late] Bruce Whitman told him, “I want the best UPRT and I want it yesterday.” Runik was given a blank sheet of paper to solve the problem.
Most Level D simulators at the time were unable to accurately recreate flight outside the normal aircraft operating envelope simply because they’d never been programmed with all the test certification data. Runik reached out to OEM Gulfstream, who shared reams of flight test data from the original G550 to bring FlightSafety simulators up to the emerging requirements. FlightSafety began teaching UPRT in 2015 on the G550 using intensive classroom theory and a half-day inside the simulator. Runik said, “We begin our course by spending the first hour making the case our adult learners need to hear, exactly why the course is worth their time.” That includes a look at a 30-year NASA study of major transport LOC-I accidents. “It becomes clear early on that LOC-I is getting worse and is accelerating at a non-linear rate.”
Runik said, “The classroom theory includes low- and high-speed aerodynamics and what happens when the wing stops flying, the information we all probably learned way back in our careers but have long since forgotten. We also discuss aircraft performance in the air, how to produce the tightest turn radius without hitting the ground, a velocity versus g-force diagram, all the geek knowledge that is really important. That makes it easier for students to buy in to the efforts when we start talking about recovery techniques so they’ll realize we can’t change the physics. FlightSafety does not use actual on-aircraft training during UPRT.
“In the simulator we practice stalls and feeling what it’s like if an upset happens – like when flying through Mach 1,” Runik added. “We end with non-briefed flight scenarios, which is very different for us” because UPRT is of course filled with many never-before experienced flights. “The FAA wants to see startle responses on out-of-control training,” Runik said. “The only way to get that is to put pilots through scenarios they never thought about before and were not briefed on. For the most part, we see a number of ‘red screens’ [simulator crashes] because crews were caught by surprise again and again. They just keep practicing until their recovery is perfect.”
So why no actual on-aircraft training for FlightSafety students? “We gave that [on-airplane training] consideration,” Runik said, “but we looked at the totality of what on-airplane training gives pilots versus the risk and we were clear that was not something we wanted to be a part of. An Extra 300 or an aerobatic Bonanza’s recovery techniques may not always work. You could tear the tail off.” Runik also believes on-aircraft training is limited to high altitude because of the need to be able to get out of the airplane in an emergency. “In the simulator, we can stall the airplane in a circling maneuver and now students have that ground rush of hangars coming up at them, that pit of the stomach feeling. We want students to experience the human instinct desire to pull back and of course if they do that, you roll over on your back and die.”
He concludes, “The simulator allows us to show the exact training and recovery techniques that will work for the aircraft pilots fly, not an aerobatic airplane that has a very different feel. We think this gives the students everything they need to know without the risk of an airplane.”
About the Author
Rob Mark is a 7,000-hour pilot, longtime flight instructor, a former FAA air traffic controller and supervisor, and award-winning aviation journalist – twice receiving Airbus Aerospace Journalist of the Year honors and, last year, the National Business Aviation Association Gold Wing for Outstanding Journalism.
Originally published in Issue 3, 2019 of CAT Magazine.