Several small steps in simulator and flight-training methods could soon lead to giant leaps in airline safety.

Working under the auspices of the Royal Aeronautical Society, a group of more than 80 specialists worldwide have developed improvements to airline pilot flight training, in an effort to prevent loss of control (LOC) accidents in the future.

The group was created in June 2009 at a flight simulation conference during which LOC incidents loomed large. The Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash in Buffalo, N.Y., had occurred in February that year, as did the Turkish Air Boeing 737-800 crash in Amsterdam. In both cases, improper pilot inputs had led to stalls. Then, on the first day of the conference, Air France 447, an Airbus A330, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, an accident later attributed to loss of control.

“There was a huge interest in the growth of LOC problems,” says Sunjoo Advani, an aerospace engineer who was tapped to run the nascent International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (Icatee) group. “There was a growing concern already at the time of pilots losing their abilities in manual flight control.”

Results of more than three years of work by the group, including a training matrix and an upset prevention and recovery manual, will be forwarded to the International Civil Aviation Organization this month for review, says Advani. Once approved, the manual will be available to all member states potentially by mid-2013.

The group identified a variety of training shortcomings, including the limited envelope that pilots are exposed to in training, simulator reality at the edges of the envelope, g-force awareness, and difficulty in creating a “startle and surprise” environment in a simulator. “Very simple improvements to how we use existing simulators can achieve 75% of our goal,” says Advani.

Per licensing requirements, it is mandatory that pilots learn cues for an aircraft in its normal envelope, with pitch less than ± 30 deg. and ± 60 deg. of bank. “As it turns out, one of the biggest problems is startle and surprise during unexpected and unforeseen events,” says Advani. “LOC exposes [the pilots] in such a way that they have to go from a low state of arousal to a quick and effective response; and those responses can be counterintuitive.” Included are psycho-physical responses such as pulling on the yoke after being startled, even though a stickshaker or stickpusher is attempting to reduce angle-of-attack to avoid a stall.

“We found that a string of events leads to an upset,” Advani says. Included are systems failures, cockpit resources management issues and “not paying attention to signs of a developing threat.” He says simulator training can be improved by teaching pilots to recognize changes in aircraft handling and control as an upset condition is approached in increments, and practicing recoveries along the way.

“For high-altitude stall training, you should not be putting the pilot in the simulator and saying 'recover',” says Advani. “Pilots need to recognize the signs, the buffet, the stall warning, the stickpusher, and learn not to fight those systems. These are basics that we have not adequately or consistently trained for.”

To address the other 25% of its goal, Icatee would like to see extended flight envelopes for full-flight simulators, which today match the actual aircraft in handling qualities to near-stall conditions but not beyond. “There are huge gaps between current simulations and reality [in the stall], says Advani. He notes that a stall in a large transport aircraft simulator today “feels very benign,” marked by “a little buffet” and a stickshaker, followed by “mushy” control characteristics and a “steep glide down to the ground” in a deeper stall.

In the reality, he says the stall experience in an actual transport, as relayed from a Boeing 777 test pilot, is a “physically painful” and “violent” experience in terms of buffet, and much less stable in terms of roll and yaw-damping after the stall compared to the simulator.

“We want to identify which elements of reality are important for a pilot to know to never go there . . . but not making them masters of the proper stall,” says Advani. With that goal in mind, he says, a “representative” model of a transport category aircraft for the simulator will likely be adequate to teach pilots to reduce angle of attack and wing loading, even in a startle condition.

Peter Grant, a human control expert in the vehicle simulation group at the University of Toronto, also believes that a generic model “is plausible” for positive transfer of training between the generic simulator and specific aircraft in terms of upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT), but that more studies are needed. “We have empirical evidence and we believe generic models can solve part of the problem, but we don't have proof,” he says.

Grant's group has developed a new adaptive motion drive algorithm for the university's Boeing 747-100 simulator using NASA wind tunnel data for a generic two-engine large transport. The algorithm maps the limited motion of a full-flight simulator to the large motions that would occur in reality during stall, wind shear and “large attitude deviation” events.

Figuring out how to startle and surprise pilots in a simulated environment without sustained g-levels could prove to be more difficult.

“The problem always remains—how do you create g awareness,” says Advani. “We can't create negative-g or high-acceleration environments in the real transport category aircraft.” Instead, Icatee proposes that newly hired commercial airline pilots be exposed to inflight upset maneuvers with an instructor who will teach them recovery techniques. “They're not learning aerobatics; they're learning upset recoveries,” he says.

Advani says instructors during inflight training can create scenarios, such as the aircraft turning from base leg to final when encountering wake turbulence, and have the pilot recover. “There are two fundamental benefits—it teaches them how to apply the upset recovery skills and how to manage the startle factor,” says Advani, adding that an aerobatic aircraft may not be required.

“We will advise people on which maneuvers they need to do in what aircraft,” he says. “If you combine that with the simulator experience and provide basic learning through academic materials, you can deal with most severe upset situations.”

That combination of training is already on the menu at CAE in partnership with Mesa, Ariz.-based Aviation Performance Solutions (APS). APS currently has a fleet of six two-seat Extra 300 aerobatic aircraft that it uses for UPRT training largely for corporate and private customers at its headquarters. With CAE, APS is providing UPRT to 200 flight instructor and pilot candidates at the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy. Student pilots will receive a two-day, three-flight course; flight instructors will undergo a 3-day, 3.5-flight regime. CAE had previously offered any of its customers the option of taking UPRT with APS.

“We see day in, day out with our clientele that a tremendous amount of training is in technology management and integration,” says APS President Paul “B.J.” Ransbury. “Issues that we've seen are pilots being able to deal with situations when technology does not work. Flying skills have been sacrificed for tech training.”

APS will soon open a second location in Dallas for UPRT using the Extra 300, as well as one in the Netherlands, using Slingsby T-67 aerobatic side-by-side two-seaters. APS also links inflight experience to simulators, demonstrating what does and does not transfer using CAE Embraer ERJ 145 full-flight simulators in Mesa.

Each Extra 300 flies 4-5 times per day and 80-90 flights per five-day week. The company plans to train more than 1,000 pilots in UPRT in 2013.

“Simulation has a tremendous amount of benefit, but we don't think you can get away from the aircraft,” says Ransbury. “We use a heavy emphasis on transferability of skills. We expose pilots to upsets in the aircraft, then put them in the simulator to see what is representative and what is not. It is easy to make correlations.”

With that methodology, he says pilots' simulation experience is enhanced because they “recently experienced real-life cuing of upsets.” He says APS recommends recurrency training at least every five years, but corporate flight departments are “self-selecting” 2-3 years for refresher courses.

Though the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 will require the FAA to institute UPR and stall training starting in August 2013, the agency has not yet stated whether simulator, inflight training, or a mix of the two, will be required along with academic training.

Icatee believes the current airline pilot population, at a minimum, should receive dedicated simulator sessions in UPR during training. “They would get a dedicated upset program or set of training objectives, and go into a fully developed stall to learn the cues,” says Advani. Included would be “specific elements that can create surprise in the simulator.” For recurrent training, he says Icatee recommends that pilots be exposed to upset events or upset-specific training once every 3-5 years.

“We're starting with Part 121 [airline transport pilots], but we don't see any limitations to taking it outside of there,” says Advani.