Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Don't Pull!

When I started to learn to fly gliders, over 35 years ago, I had drummed into me the importance of avoiding a spin from the final turn. It was a not uncommon happening and pilots were killed regularly. The conventional wisdom was that it happened when you were low and slow, when you were trying to stretch your glide. You tried just a little too hard, maybe used a little too much rudder as the nose began to drop through the turn and voila you had stalled.
Recently I had a box seat as someone pulled hard turning final. I watched the airspeed decay and saw the stick approaching the "stall stick" position. I called "watch you airspeed" then when I got no response I said "don't pull, watch your airspeed". Finally when there was still no positive action I "pushed" and the pilot then responded positively.
This was a powered aircraft. We were neither low nor slow when it started and there were no other factors that would have generated a need to "pull". It was a shallow turn, balanced, and there was no sudden sink. So why did the pilot pull like they were in a 60 degree bank, and why did they seem so unresponsive to the situation?
A friend recounted a similar story to me. He is vastly experienced, has been flying almost as long as I've been alive, and the story was almost exactly the same, albeit the reaction was quicker.
So why did they do it? I'm certain that there was no ground reference illusion stuff happening, despite the FAA's fondness for the concept. This was plain and simple: they had the aim point firmly in the centre of their attention, they were neither low nor slow and yet they pulled, and pulled hard enough to matter.
I expect the aircraft to be sinking at that stage, all the way from base turn to landing, the aircraft is sinking. It's losing 1000' usually during that period and I expect that to continue during the turn to final. It appeared to me that the pilot was having none of that, they wanted the aircraft to fly a level turn and they pulled to get it.
Is there something strange happening out in training land that I've missed? Don't people subscribe to the three As of final approach: Airspeed, Aspect, Aimpoint? Aren't they aware of the stall stick position and the importance of never getting there - especially turning final? Don't they practice descending turns? Don't they think about using power to manage descent rate?
I'd love to hear what you think about this. I'm becoming convinced that it's not just "low and slow" as the conventional wisdom would have it.

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