Stall Recovery


Eddie sez:

We've been teaching stall recoveries all wrong for years and we've killed some people as a result. Finally, after the needless loss of all aboard Colgan Air 3407, the collective aviation community has seen the light.

There used to be a stall recovery procedure in the G450 manual, G450 AOM 06-03-30: "Recovery from stalls accompanied by the stick pusher is accomplished by smoothly advancing power and rolling wings level. As airspeed increases, pitch is increased to reduce altitude loss. Excessive or sudden pitch changes should be avoided to prevent entering a secondary stall accompanied by the stick pusher." The diagram above was from that manual, and it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Whenever you took a check ride in the past, the objective was to minimize the amount of altitude loss. Once again: wrong, wrong, wrong. What should the objective be? It should be to get the wing out of the stall as soon as possible. If you have altitude, use it!

Compounding simulator training that teaches a focus on altitude preservation, most big airplane pilots have never actually stalled a big airplane. Yes the simulator is good, but it isn't that good. Why is this important? A swept wing, T-tailed aircraft stalls differently than most aircraft used for stall training. Where a Cessna 152 or Piper PA-28 pitch down during a stall, most swept wing aircraft actually pitch up.


Figure: Approach to stall, from G450 Aircraft Operating Manual, Historic, §06-03-30, figure 2.

Everything here is from the references shown below, with a few comments in an alternate color.

Last revision:


How Wing Sweep Affects Stall Onset


Figure: Straight wing versus swept wing CL, from Eddie's notes.

[Dole, pgs. 125-126] Throughout the history of aviation, the slow speed region of flight has been the most hazardous. The reasons for this are quite different for propeller aircraft and for turbojet aircraft. Examination of the lift coefficient curves for each type of aircraft will help explain some of these differences. [The figure] shows the curves for a straight wing, propeller driven aircraft and a swept wing, jet aircraft. Note: the type of propulsion doesn't matter to the curves, it is the wing sweep.

Three differences can be seen from these curves:

  1. The straight wing aircraft has a higher value of CL. Recall the basic lift equation:
  2. L = CL ( ρ V2 295 ) S

    It can be seen that if the lift equals the aircraft weight, stall speed will be a minimum when the values of the lift coefficient is a maximum (CL(MAX)), and that the higher the value of CL(MAX), the lower the stall speed will be. This, of course, means that the straight wing aircraft has a lower VS for the same weight and wing area.

  3. The swept wing aircraft must fly at a higher AOA to achieve maximum lift.
  4. There is a sudden reduction of CL for the straight wing aircraft at stall, but not for the swept wing aircraft.

The straight wing aircraft will reach its maximum lift at an earlier angle of attack, but the amount of lift produced by the wing drops sharply with any further increases in AOA.

The swept wing aircraft requires a higher angle of attack to reach its maximum lift and further increases in AOA only result in smaller decreases in lift production.

How Wing Shape Affects Stall Warning and Roll Control


Figure: Stall progression, from Eddie's notes.

[Dole, pg. 126] Stall of a wing will occur where the ratio of the local lift coefficient Cl to the wing lift coefficient CL is highest. . . . The straight wing is usually rectangular, or it has a slight taper. The wing area near the wing tip is large compared to the lift in that area, and the wing loading is, therefore, low. . . . The maximum wing loading is at the wing root. Stall will, therefore, start at the wing root and then spread outward and forward as shown in [the figure].

Swept wings have more taper, with the extreme being the delta wing with a taper ratio of zero. The delta wing's area at the tip is very small, and the wing loading is very high. Stall starts where the wing loading is highest, so the stall starts from the wing tip and progresses inboard and forward.

Straight wing aircraft, with stall starting at the roots, seem to have advantages over swept wing aircraft, which stall at the tips. First, there is more adequate stall warning, caused by separated air buffeting the fuselage. Second, the ailerons of the straight wing aircraft are not enveloped in the stalled air until the stall has progressed outward from the wing roots, compared to the relatively early envelopment from tip stalling.

A straight wing airplane gives you an early warning of a stall with buffeting near the fuselage; you have full use of your ailerons until the stall has progressed well beyond the earliest warning.

A swept wing airplane gives only the slightest warning at the earliest stages of the stall, the buffet will be far from the fuselage. As the stall progresses, the ailerons quickly become impacted by the turbulent air at the wing tips.

How Tail Design Affects Pitch Control and Stall

Low Tailed Aircraft


Figure: B-747 vertical forces, from Eddie's notes.

[Dole, pg. 258] The forces in the pitching plane are shown [in the figure]. Assume the aircraft is trimmed in straight and level flight and that the aircraft's CG is forward of the AC (as shown). A downward balancing force on the tail is required. In case of an aft CG location, an upward force on the tail is required.


Figure: B-747 Prestall, from Eddie's notes.

If the speed is reduced, a gentle up deflection of the elevator is required to maintain altitude, and the downward load on the tail is increased. The static stability of the aircraft causes a nose-down pitching tendency, which has to be resisted by further up elevator to keep the nose from dropping. The low set tail soon becomes engulfed in the turbulent, low energy air from the wing wake. This reduces the efficiency of the tail.

The tail becomes less effective as the aircraft begins to stall.


Figure: B-747 stalled, from Eddie's notes.

At the stall, two distinct things happen. The airplane responds to the traditional nose-down pitching tendency at the stall, and the whole airplane responds with a nose-down pitch. Second, at the moment of stall, the wing wake passes straight aft and goes above the low set tail. This leaves the tail in undisturbed, high energy air, and it now is at a high positive AOA, causing an upward lift on the tail. This lift increases the nose-down pitching tendency.

The decrease in the wing's lift causes a nose-down pitching moment. As the air above the wing goes above the horizontal stabilizer, the tail down force is decreased which also causes a nose-down moment. The aircraft is said to stall "conventionally."

T-Tailed Swept-Wing Aircraft


Figure: G450 vertical forces, from Eddie's notes.

[Dole, pg. 258] Again assume that an aircraft is trimmed in straight and level flight.


Figure: G450 prestall, from Eddie's notes.

As the aircraft is slowed toward the stall, the handling characteristics are much the same as the low tailed aircraft, except that the high tail remains clear of the wing wake and retains its effectiveness. Continued speed reduction is, therefore, more efficient.

The tail does not lose its effectiveness as the angle of attack is first increased.


Figure: G450 stalled, from Eddie's notes.

At the stall two distinct things happen. The swept wing, high tailed airplane tends to suffer a marked nose-up pitch after the stall (this is explained in detail later), and the wing wake, which has now become low energy turbulent air, passes straight aft and immerses the T tail and makes it incapable of combating the nose-up pitch and so the aircraft continues to pitch up. The great reduction in lift and increase in drag cause a rapidly increasing descent path. Thus the AOA is increased, and the pitch-up problem is worsened. The airplane is thus well on its way to extreme angles of attack and deep stall.

The effect of wing sweep. In practice the whole wing does not stall at the same instant. Swept and tapered wings will tend to stall at the tips first because of the high wing loading at the tips. The boundary layer outflow also resulting from wing sweep slows the airflow and reduces the lift near the tips and further worsens the situation. This loss of lift outboard (and therefore aft) causes the center of pressure to move forward, which augments the pitch-up tendency.

Because the swept wing stalls first at the tips, there is more lift inboard which is forward, causing a pitch up. The tail becomes immersed in the turbulent air and has less "grip" and is less effective combating this tendency, making the pitch up tendency worse. But this effect isn't true for all T-tail aircraft. You can engineer the camber of the stabilizer's airfoil to stall conventionally if you want, for example: Stalling a Tomahawk, courtesy TheCFIGuy. So the lesson here is to be wary of your airplane's stall characteristics. Even if you've stall that exact airplane before, any changes to loading and atmospheric conditions can surprise you.

How Ground Effect Affects Stall Angle of Attack

We intuitively understand our wings are more effective when flying in ground effect, generally accepted as an altitude one-half a wingspan above the surface. But the fact the stall angle of attack is actually less when in ground effect is harder to fathom:


Figure: Airplane lift versus angle of attack in and out of ground effect, from NTSB AAR 12/02, figure 5.

It might help to think of it this way: the wing produces maximum lift at a lower angle of attack when in ground effect, so it will stall at a lower angle of attack. This was learned the hard way in the accident of Gulfstream G650 N652GD:

[NTSB AAR-12/03, ¶2.3] Ground effect results in increased lift and reduced drag at a given AOA as well as a reduction in the stall AOA; thus, the stall AOA is lower for airplanes in ground effect compared with the stall AOA for airplanes in free air (out of ground effect). Ground effect decreases as the distance from the ground increases and is generally negligible above a height equivalent to the wing span of the airplane (which is about 100 feet for the G650). [The figure] depicts the changes in the airplane‟s lift and stall AOA due to ground effect.

Of course this seems to run contrary to an analysis of this mishap. The wing produces more lift at a given angle of attack when in ground effect than when out. But it will stall at a lower angle of attack.

[NTSB AAR-12/03, ¶2.3]

  • During an October 7, 2010, meeting of the Gulfstream flight test safety review board (SRB), an estimate of the reduction, or decrement, from the free-air stall AOA to the in-ground-effect stall AOA was presented as 2°. This 2° decrement (which was previously provided to Gulfstream‟s flight test engineering department by the company's flight sciences department) was based on G650 low-speed wind tunnel testing. A 2° decrement was also used during the GIV and other Gulfstream programs. After the accident, a G650 aerodynamicist indicated that the decrement was a generally accepted and agreed-on value that could not be further refined during flight tests because of the expectation that the airplane would always be operated below the stall AOA near the ground.
  • During a March 24, 2011, meeting to discuss Roswell II takeoff performance testing, FTE1 indicated that he had revised the decrement from the free-air to in-ground-effect stall AOA to about 1.6°.
  • In addition to the revised decrement for the in-ground-effect stall AOA, the stick shaker activation threshold had been changed (starting with flight 125 on March 7, 2011) from 85 to 90 percent of normalized AOA, which reduced the margin for stall protection. The Gulfstream chief flight test engineer stated that he and FTE1 made this change to allow predicted takeoff speeds to be achieved without stick shaker activations that would invalidate tests.
  • For the accident flight, the free-air stall AOA was 14.7°, and the 1.6° decrement for the in-ground-effect stall AOA resulted in a predicted in-ground-effect stall AOA of 13.1°. Thus, the stick shaker AOA set to 90 percent of normalized AOA (equivalent to an actual AOA of 12.3°) provided a 0.8° margin to the in-ground-effect stall AOA assumed at the time. However, the stick shaker (and the PLI) did not provide any warning before the actual stall on the accident flight, which occurred at an AOA of about 11.2°. The NTSB's aircraft performance study for this accident found that the flight test data that Gulfstream had collected during previous G650 field performance takeoffs, particularly the data from the flight 88 and flight 132 uncommanded roll events, were sufficient to quantify the changes in aerodynamic lift and the actual reduction in the stall AOA because of ground effect. Thus, Gulfstream should have been able to accurately predict the G650 in-ground-effect stall AOA before the accident flight.

Proper Stall Recovery Procedure


Figure: Jet versus piston drag, from Eddie's notes.

[Davies, pg. 92] In the [figure shown] the total drag curves have been plotted against speed for both a piston-engined and a jet aircraft. The two speed scales at the bottom show the relative changes, as a function of stall speed. . . . Notice the VIMD [the point of minimum drag] of 1.2 VS for the piston, this is typical. On the jet, however, VIMD is much higher at around 1.4 VS; this is typical of the latest jets, although earlier models were nearer 1.3 VS.

Flight below VIMD on a piston-engined aeroplane is quite well identified by the steepness of the drag curve; in flight, as well as on paper! But the relative flatness of the drag curve around VIMD for the jet does not produce any noticeable changes in flying qualities (other than a vague and irritating lack of speed stability), and all this is a bit of a trap.

All this means that when, for example, holding in the clean configuration in a jet transport at high altitude, with a speed in the neighborhood of 1.5 to 1.6 VS, care is necessary to avoid any decrease in airspeed; if this should occur the aeroplane will quietly slide up the back end of the drag curve. Although at higher lift coefficients associated with lower speeds some extra lift is produced, the drag increases faster than the lift increases, the L/D ratio deteriorates and the net result is a steepening of the flight path. So the aeroplane begins to sink. This sinking tendency can be salvaged in two ways:

  1. The nose can be put down to reduce incidence and allow the aeroplane to accelerate to a speed above VIMD, when steady flight conditions can be again established, but as this always involves a height loss it can rarely be used.
  2. The thrust can be increased to accelerate the aeroplane to a value above VIMD to establish steady flight conditions again. it is important to emphasize that the amount of thrust to accelerate the aeroplane is quite large.

So, if you suspect that this is what is occurring, don't play around with small increments of thrust hoping to sort things out without making it obvious that something has gone wrong — give it a handful. Fly the aeroplane with some determination and get it re-established in a steady flight condition as soon as possible.

The text from D. P. Davies is a bit dated and I think you can substitute "straight wing" for "Piston-engined aircraft" and "swept wing" for "jet aircraft." But his bottom line is a good one: don't play around, give it all the power you can. Now adding what we know from the thirty years of history since this text was written, also give it a handful of pitch, you need to break the stall.


Figure: Proper stall recovery technique, from Eddie's notes.

Your prime directive here is to get the wing comfortably flying again and that means you have to decrease the angle of attack. The best way to do that during a stall, or even an approach to a stall, is to decrease pitch. That is going to take a conscious push forward on a swept wing, T-tailed aircraft.

If you don't decrease pitch enough and the stick shaker becomes a pusher, do not override the pusher! Let it pitch the nose over and then try again to manually recover.

What if you are low to the ground you say? Well how much altitude is needed for the recovery? If you practice this realistically in the simulator it rarely takes more than 300'. If you are any lower than that you are no longer managing a stall, you are managing a very hard landing.

Update: AC 120-109

In late 2012, the FAA released AC 120-109 Stall and Stick Pusher Training which acknowledges "Reduction of AOA is the most important response when confronted with a stall event." It further outlines the following stall recover template:

  1. Autopilot and autothrottle ... Disconnect
  2. While maintaining the attitude of the airplane, disconnect the autopilot and autothrottle. Ensure the pitch attitude does not increase when disconnecting the autopilot. This may be very important in out-of-trim situations. Manual control is essential to recovery in all situations. Leaving the autopilot or autothrottle connected may result in inadvertent changes or adjustments that may not be easily recognized or appropriate, especially during high workload situations.

  3. Nose down pitch control ... Apply until stall warning is eliminated
    Nose down pitch trim ... As Needed
  4. Reducing the angle of attack is crucial for recovery. This will also address autopilot-induced excessive nose up trim. If the control column does not provide sufficient response, pitch trim may be necessary. However, excessive use of pitch trim may aggravate the condition, or may result in loss of control or high structural loads.

  5. Bank ... Wings Level
  6. This orients the lift vector for recovery.

  7. Thrust ... As Needed
  8. During a stall recovery, maximum thrust is not always needed. A stall can occur at high thrust or at idle thrust. Therefore, the thrust is to be adjusted accordingly during the recovery. For airplanes with engines installed below the wing, applying maximum thrust may create a strong nose-up pitching moment if airspeed is low. For airplanes with engines mounted above the wings, thrust application creates a helpful pitch-down tendency. For propeller-driven airplanes, thrust application increases the airflow around the wing, assisting in stall recovery.

  9. Speed brakes/Spoilers ... Retract
  10. This will improve lift and stall margin.

  11. Return to the desired flight path.
  12. Apply gentle action for recovery to avoid secondary stalls then return to desired flight path.

AC 120-109 Stall and Stick Pusher Training, 8/6/12, U.S. Department of Transportation

Davies, D. P., Handling the Big Jets, Civil Aviation Authority, Kingsway, London, 1985.

Dole, Charles E., Flight Theory and Aerodynamics, 1981, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, New York, NY, 1981.

Gulfstream G450 Aircraft Operating Manual (Historical), Revision 24, September 18, 2009.

NTSB Aircraft Accident Report, AAR-12/03, Crash During Experimental Test Flight, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation GVI (G650), N652GD, Roswell, New Mexico, April 2, 2011