Opinions Differ — Part Deux
The FAA received what you might call “spirited” feedback from the general aviation community on this change. One of the primary concerns was that removing the requirement to test an applicant at what pilots like me learned as “minimum controllable airspeed,” or MCA, meant that instructors would not bother to ensure that pilots are still trained and proficient at maneuvering near the critical angle of attack (AOA) — or, just as important, understand what happens beyond the stall warning.
Although the FAA asserted in SAFO 16010 (since replaced by SAFO 17009) that a pilot is still expected to “know and understand the aerodynamics behind how the airplane performs from the time the stall warning is activated to reaching a full stall,” we did review the entire slow flight and stalls area of operation to ensure the knowledge, risk management, and skill elements adequately capture what a pilot should know, consider, and do relative to each task. As a result, the agency revised the evaluation standards for these tasks in the June 2017 editions of the ACS for the private pilot-airplane and the commercial pilot-airplane certificates.
With the primary focus on understanding aerodynamics associated with flying slow in different phases of flight, there is now only one knowledge element for slow flight available for evaluators to select for the practical test. The FAA refined and consolidated the risk management elements. In the skill task section of the slow flight task, we modified the phrasing to require an applicant to “establish and maintain an airspeed at which any further increase in angle of attack, increase in load factor, or reduction in power, would result in a stall warning (e.g., aircraft buffet, stall horn, etc.).”
Everything In Its Proper Place
Contrary to what you might have read or heard, the “MCA” task element never disappeared from the practical test requirements — after all, it is not possible to perform a full stall task required on the private pilot-airplane practical test without first passing through that flight condition. That said, to more clearly convey the expectation for evaluation of an applicant’s ability to recognize airplane cues for an impending stall and a full stall, the FAA added a requirement for the applicant to “acknowledge cues of the impending stall and then recover promptly after a full stall has occurred.”
Here’s another way to think about the rationale for this approach to the slow flight and stall tasks:
- Slow flight — that is, flight at the airspeeds and configurations used in the takeoff/departure and approach/landing phases of flight — is a normal operation that should not be performed with continuous activation of the stall warning.
- Except in the case of a thoroughly briefed full stall maneuver, a pilot should always treat the stall warning as an “abnormal” situation, and promptly perform the stall recovery procedure.
- A pilot should always treat an unbriefed/unintentional full stall as an emergency situation, and execute a prompt and correct stall recovery.
You have probably heard the cliché that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while (somehow) expecting different results. We weren’t making headway against LOC-I by testing pilots in a way that encouraged, indeed required, intentional disregard of the stall warning. So it only makes sense to try a new approach to putting this pesky perpetrator out of business.
Susan Parson (email@example.com, or @avi8rix for Twitter fans) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing. She is an active general aviation pilot and flight instructor.
This article was originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.