Golden Age Aviation Inc.
Earl C Downs, President
What’s Up With LOC?
By: Earl C. Downs
Loss of control accidents are the source of real heartburn for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They have placed resolving the issue of pilots losing control at low altitudes at the top of their concern list, and the whole issue is referred to as loss of control (LOC) prevention. Let’s look behind the scenes to see what this is really all about and how we got to where we are now.
Actually, loss of control accidents are closely related to two other loss of control related issues that are referred to as “upset” and “maneuvering” accidents. Upset accidents are usually attributed to some sort of external force that causes an airplane to go out of control, and this is usually connected to being at higher altitudes. Maneuvering accidents usually included takeoff and landings but were also commonly attached to inappropriate low-level activities (buzz jobs).
The term loss of control (LOC) seems to be more related to low-level out of control situations from which recovery is highly unlikely during a takeoff or landing. LOC became recognized as a separate issue when modern, highly automated airliners started having landing accidents because of mismanagement or misunderstanding of the automatic flight systems by the cockpit crew.
For a while, the terms "upset" and "maneuvering" accidents seemed to be used interchangeably with what we are now calling loss of control accidents, but LOC now seems to be the term of choice used to indicate any out of control situation. The bottom line is that what we are now calling LOC accidents has been around for a while.
The FAA recently issued the following statistics relating to LOC accidents and general aviation:
Approximately 450 people are killed each year in GA accidents.
Loss of Control is the number one cause of these accidents.
Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
There is one fatal accident involving LOC every four days.
They also released an official definition of a loss of control accident that reads as follows:
“A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen because the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and may quickly develop into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.” (Highlights added)
Personally, I have major heartburn with this definition as it applies to general aviation. The definition appears to blame the aircraft for doing something wrong, resulting in the pilot not being able to correct it. I do believe this definition works pretty well when applied to a pilot who gets behind some automated system in the airplane and doesn’t have the skills to manually fly the airplane to correct the situation. However, I have come up with another way to define LOC accidents as I believe it relates to general aviation.
Here’s the Earl Downs definition of a loss of control accident:
A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves a pilot allowing an aircraft to depart from controlled flight. LOC can happen because the pilot enters a flight regime that is beyond the pilot’s skill level and may quickly develop into a stall or spin. (Highlights added)
To put it simply, I believe the problem is with the pilot, not the airplane, when we are talking about general aviation LOC accidents.
The FAA and NTSB are primarily looking to technology to resolve the LOC accident problem. They are promoting technological advances in auto-flight systems and angle of attack (AOA) indicators as a key to solving the problem. To a limited extent, I agree that these can mitigate the LOC situation. In particular, I’m a huge fan of AOA indicators, but I consider them practically useless if a pilot doesn’t have the skills to fly the airplane out of a dangerous AOA indication.
A number of years ago several operators opened up aerobatic training programs to address the issues associated with Upset training, and this is now being applied to LOC prevention. I’m also a great supporter of aerobatic training for a number of reasons, but I question the value of this training for resolving loss of control issues when flying the typical general aviation airplane in the traffic pattern.
At Golden Age Aviation Inc., our technique of teaching LOC prevention includes extensive ground training about angle of attack and how you control it in an airplane that does not have an angle of attack indicator. We also teach basic maneuvers that are no longer included in the training programs despite the fact they have a proven value for preventing loss of control and for facilitating forced landings. Our training is based on understanding the reasons for LOC accidents, enhancing pilot skills, and applying the understanding and the skills to stay out of LOC conditions. All of this is taught in the aircraft that you normally fly.
I teach skills of the past to make pilots of today and pilots of the future safer.