Anatomy Of Two Upset Recovery Training Providers
To be a test pilot, or not to be a test pilot? That is one question airlines will face when deciding which of the two key providers of upset recovery training—Aviation Performance Solutions or Flight Research—to choose for specialized training for their instructors or pilots.
That question is taking on new importance within flight departments as more comprehensive flight-training rules worldwide come into force following several high-profile commercial crashes within the last decade.
I recently visited and flew with both companies, noting the unique approaches they offer. Flight Research begins with the engineering fundamentals more familiar to engineers and test pilots, and uses jet aircraft; Aviation Performance Solutions (APS) starts with applied aviation knowledge and uses light aircraft as their platform. Both training providers are producing pilots who are no longer surprised by an aircraft upset and can respond appropriately.
Whichever company garners the most business in the long run could be decided by a combination of marketing prowess, gut feeling and price. To this end, each company is evolving its business model to incorporate the best features of its competitor.
For marketing perks, Flight Research has the edge. Housed in a cluster of hangars on the eastern end of California-based Mojave Air and Space Port, a stone’s throw from Scaled Composites and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic enterprise, Flight Research has been in existence since the early 1980s, but is only recently becoming more well-known. Inside the hangars are the tools of Flight Research’s upset training—North American NA-265-60 Sabreliner business jets and Aermacchi MB-326M Impala single-engine jet trainers—as well as a stable of other subsonic, supersonic and rotary-wing aircraft the company leases back to the National Test Pilot School (NTPS) next door.
The emergence from intentional obscurity occurred when Bill Korner, along with two partners, purchased the company in May 2013. The deal was somewhat of an anomaly. -Korner—a former military helicopter and fighter pilot, and current businessman and aviation consultant—was initially hired by Flight Research founders Sean and Nadia Roberts—renowned aerospace engineers and flight-test pilots—to plot their “exit strategy” from the business, which included Flight Research and NTPS. The move may have been necessitated to resolve a financial situation with the Internal Revenue Service.
Sean Roberts launched the test pilot school in 1981 to provide a civilian analog to the Air Force Test Pilots School, where he previously worked. NTPS offers flight-test engineer courses where students assess the design and flight characteristics of a wide variety of rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft.
The Robertses created a second company, Flight Research, to handle the logistics of the school—owning the buildings and the aircraft, and performing the maintenance—but the business evolved to take on military flight testing, civilian upset recovery training and certification work.
Korner became enamored on his first tour in September 2011. “I’d been all over the world and I’d never seen anything quite like this,” he recounts.
He later bought the company, splitting off from NTPS but maintaining long-term contracts to provide aircraft, facilities and maintenance. The Robertses,, who developed the ground school portion of the training, continue on as instructors, ensuring a strong focus on engineering and flight-test principles.
Korner’s mission was to correct what he saw as “marginal training” taking place in civil aviation. Today Flight Research provides upset recovery training to hundreds of pilots yearly, mostly from business aviation and governmental agencies, in two-, three- and four-day course packages that cost $12,900-24,000.
His heightened emphasis on upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) required hiring new instructor pilots, including ex-space shuttle commander, F-111 pilot and aeronautical engineer Rick Searfoss; former fighter pilot, airline captain, warbird pilot and aircraft financier Doug Matthews; and warbird pilot and human factors researcher Scott Glaser. I flew with Matthews in the Sabreliner 60 on July 1 and with Glaser in the Impala on July 2 when I visited Mojave to attend a chief pilot’s course, a $5,000 condensed version of the four-day curriculum.
The idea behind the course, launched in June, is to provide a synopsis of the program to help airline operators understand the type of training available. For airline pilots, Korner says, a two-day course would likely be ideal, and the company could scale its operation to handle a surge. There are no confirmed airline customers yet, but Korner says he is talking to nine “major” U.S. and international carriers.
More broadly, the rather sudden interest in UPRT has emerged as airlines gear up to meet new training rules and standards both in the U.S. and internationally, driven in part by the Colgan Air, Air France and Turkish Airlines crashes in 2009. All three accidents had a component of pilot error related to handling stalls and upsets. The U.S. is requiring that, by 2018, all airlines teach pilots, via upgraded full-motion simulators, how to recover from full stalls, stick-pusher activations and other anomalies. Future International Civil Aviation Organization standards will make UPRT mandatory for multi-crew pilot licenses and in-aircraft UPRT a “recommended practice” for the commercial pilot’s certificate, a prerequisite for earning an airline transport pilot license.
Guidance for UPRT providers includes the industry-developed Airplane Upset Recovery Training Aid -(AURTA), a compilation of best practices for handling upsets in swept-wing turbofan aircraft, and an upcoming FAA Advisory Circular on how to train pilots, which includes sample upset scenarios.
Some European carriers are ahead of the curve. British Airways and KLM, in partnership with CAE Oxford Academy in Mesa, Arizona, send their ab initio students to APS for upset training in the single-engine Extra EA-300L, its primary training aircraft. South African Airlines plans to send 10 simulator instructors to APS’s satellite location in Amsterdam for a 5-day, $19,000 “train-the-trainer” program that includes 12 hr. of ground school, 8.5 hr. of flight upset training in two Slingsby T-67 Firefly single-engine propeller-driven aerobatic aircraft, and two 2-hr. full-motion simulator sessions in large transport aircraft. Those instructors will then teach South African’s 800 line pilots in UPRT in the simulator. APS vice president of training, Randall Brooks, says he is in discussions with three U.S. airlines and one Middle Eastern-based carrier about UPRT for their ab initio students. When combined with corporate pilots, government customers and Bombardier’s “Leading Edge” safety training package for owners, APS instructs approximately 1,000 pilots per year, between its Mesa headquarters and its Dallas and Amsterdam satellite locations.
Both APS and Flight Research are seeing more customers being aided by insurance companies via grants or discounts in rates. At Flight Research, two insurance companies offer discounts for pilots who undergo a simulator review one year and UPRT the next. Currently, however, there are no means for the FAA to certify the in-aircraft review.
APS’s Mesa and Dallas operations use the Extra EA-300L for training. In addition to starting up a franchise location with one Extra EA300 in Saudi Arabia by year-end, the company is looking to augment its light aircraft with heavier single-engine turbine equipment by acquiring an Aero Vodochody L-39 or Aermacchi M-311 for recurrent UPRT in Mesa. I sampled APS’s UPRT program at a ground school session with President Paul “BJ” Ransbury, a former Canadian Air Force F/A-18 pilot and professional air show aerobatic pilot. I also “flew” a 1-hr. mission with director of flight operations, Karl Schlimm, a former F-16 and business jet pilot with a mechanical engineering degree. Including Ransbury, APS has eight full- and six part-time instructors, one of whom is a former space shuttle pilot. The three-day program, which includes full-motion simulator and UPRT, is about $7,000.
When Ransbury established the company in 1996 as Air Canada Combat, air combat tactics were in the forefront; upset training was an option. In 2000, he launched a sister company in Mesa called Fighter Pilot International, but an emerging focus on business aviation clients who wanted UPRT prompted a name change to APS and the shuttering of the Canadian side of the business, although Fighter Combat International remains. “We still offer some of the other fun stuff, but mostly to make the job fun for the instructors,” says Ransbury.
APS opened with on-aircraft training only, followed by the academics from AURTA, then the addition of full-motion simulator training. A major curriculum change took place in 2006. He says one thing quickly became apparent: “You can’t train civilian pilots like they’re military or test pilots—they just don’t do it. We made it too complex.” The program was reorganized to focus on a primary demographic—“the regular guy in the industry flying a Citation, Boeing 737 or twin Piper Comanche [and] we took them from a known knowledge base and built up skills that were beyond their experience,” says Ransbury. That change reaped “a huge difference in the interest in the program and the retention of the information.”
The ground school briefing I received was as described—basic reviews of aircraft systems, aerodynamics and stability and control, augmented with special considerations such as high-altitude operations and a focus on upsets and recoveries.
Key to recovering from stalls or upsets (stalls often cause an upset) is APS’s trademarked all-attitude upset recovery process: Push, Power, Roll, Stabilize. “Push” refers to unloading the pitch axis to break the stall; “Power” to adjust the throttle for more thrust or less, depending on speed; “Roll” to level the wings; and “Stabilize” to return to a desired flight state—level flight, descending, and so forth. Pilots are expected to “say and do” the actions. To align with the FAA’s pending UPRT Advisory Circular, the company has a second process that puts Roll before Power, a recovery the FAA favors for stalls and nose-low recoveries. Like APS, many in the industry, including Flight Research, are lukewarm to the priority of putting Power over Roll in the process. Flight Research has its own “say-do” process—UTAP (Unload, Throttle, Ailerons and Pitch).
I used the latter process with Matthews at Flight Research, flying the Sabreliner from the left seat through a series of departure and arrival stalls at 20,000-ft. alt., in part comparing UTAP to the legacy recovery method of using full power while trying to maintain altitude—a technique that fell out favor after the 2009 crashes. The difference between the heavy-handling Sabreliner compared with the Extra was stark, although recoveries were generally the same, albeit with a differing number of control movements required.
The next day brought an even more dynamic experience with Scott Glaser, in large part due to suiting up with flight gear I’m not used to wearing: my own customized Flight Research jumpsuit, a perk for all participants; a full helmet with oxygen mask; and a 1-hr. introduction to the rocket-powered Martin Baker ejection seat I would be riding on in the Impala. Flying from the front seat of the Impala, Glaser departed Mojave and climbed to 20,000 ft. so I could put UTAP to the test from the backseat. After a series of accelerated stalls, nose-high and nose-low upsets, Glaser had me perform a split-S (roll inverted then pull through the vertical) to show how much altitude is lost (about 4,500 ft.) compared with the optimal response—using UTAP—and roll to wings-level (about 1,500 ft. lost); a tail-slide to show the stability characteristics of the aircraft, as highlighted by Nadia Roberts in the classroom (the aircraft flops down and begins to fly again as speed builds); and an upright spin with standard recovery. Again, control feel was much like a larger aircraft compared with the EA300, and required significantly more effort and control-stick movement to effect a recovery.
For my flight with APS’s Schlimm, I wore my comfortable street clothes; the only change to my normal flying attire was the canvas aviator’s hat with headphones built in, and parachute. We started with g-sensitivity training (getting to know what 2g feels like to help prevent exceeding an aircraft’s design loads when recovering), training I also performed in both the Sabreliner and Impala at Flight Research. I found the Push-Power-Roll-Stabilize technique to be straightforward and helpful in all manner of upsets, including recovering from the falling leaf (showing lateral instability in a stall), and the zoom maneuver (showing stall speed relationship to load factor). I also practiced lift-vector control using ailerons in nose-high upsets, and recovered from inverted flight after cross-controlled stalls.
I was not able to complete the next logical step in APS’s training method—transferring the Extra skills to an air transport aircraft in the simulator. While a simulator cannot replicate g forces, wind noise and other unnerving factors, Brooks says it is valuable in terms of transferring UPRT knowledge into a pilot’s actual aircraft, and for practicing crew coordination in an upset. “When they haven’t done it, they’re getting in each other’s way,” he says.
Flight Research also is considering adding full-motion simulators to its training options. Korner says talks are ongoing with two “big” simulator companies. For now, the company uses only on-aircraft training preceded by a deep dive into aircraft design, stability and control courses. The material was familiar to me, but I had not contemplated the equations and relationships for some time in relation to piloting an aircraft. Over the two days I, along with a business aviation pilot from a corporate flight department, sat through five of the 10 education “modules” in Flight Research’s program—information similar to APS’s, but with higher levels of detail and background. Korner says pilots, regardless of their previous training, appreciate the depth.
Video Watch Senior Avionics & Safety Editor John Croft sampling UPRT at APS and Flight Research—tap here in the digital edition or go to AviationWeek.com/UPRT
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