Loss of Control in Flight

It can happen in a heart beat!

The single biggest threat to GA accidents/incidents has been VMC flying into IMC for the longest time. Engine failure might have been another. But times have changed.

As we continue to fly newer aircraft, such as the Cirrus, Cessna G100, Diamond and more, there has been a shift in the cause of accidents/incidents.

snf19No surprises here.  Advanced weather information in the cockpit provided by XM Satellite, TIS, and ADS-B has considerably improved the safety of flying in bad weather in leaps and bounds. This does not necessarily eliminate weather related accidents/incidents completely. VMC flying into IMC is no longer so much a threat. But if unprepared, latency in updates to weather information, can still result in accidents and incidents.

According to the latest safety statistics, Loss of Control during flight, is the single biggest contributor of accidents to GA flights. Not only that, compared to other categories of flight such as Commercial and Air Taxi, GA accidents/incidents continue to increase!

photo(5)I can remember a time, when I flew with a single VOR receiver in the cockpit. My sole knowledge of en route weather was what I garnered during preflight planning, any en route HIWAS weather or ATC provided weather updates. Whenever inclement bad weather was expected, I choose to stay home.

Loss of Control during flight is whole different matter. It is one, we rarely prepare for. True, we do learn stall recovery, but loss of control during flight, is a valid threat. There are so many factors that can contribute to loss of control: loss of rudder control, stall, spin, loss of aileron and more.

And, it can happen in a heart beat!

Recently during a flight into Lakeland, FL, I experienced a slight loss of control. No stall warning. If there were one, I am trained to react. Neither did the controls feel mushy. The nose didn’t drop left.  Instead it oscillated to the right. I am still uncertain of the nature of the error. And hence unsure what the correction should be. Unfortunately, I didn’t check airspeed at the time. The last time I checked, it was 69 knots.

To my credit, I can only claim a long day, with almost 8 hours of flying at least half of them as PIC, some of them in IFR, and some of them holding, flying and following directions. My first thought was wake turbulence or some sort of winds…

What do you think?

I recently attended the 4th in the series of Safety Seminars hosted by NTSB, in collaboration with FAA, SAFE, AOPA and Flight Safety, where GA Safety is still a major concern.

Loss of control is still, in my mind, a major threat. One that is difficult to plan or prepare for.

True, stall and spin training are there.

But what, if you don’t know what is happening? How can you react then?


Safety Seminar: Preventing Aerodynamic Stalls and Loss of Control Accidents

8 thoughts on “Loss of Control in Flight

  1. swpilot May 22, 2014 / 10:59 pm

    Loss of control is definitely a cause for concern within GA community but you have understand that compared to scheduled/airlines, GA flight plans vary dramatically over a wide range of experience and proficiency and most GA pilots fly in the single pilot CRM regime with IFR (IMC) just adding to the workload. Now add fatigue factor which can be impact the quality of control for a pilot with each hour being added. This is further degraded by lack of sleep or stress at work the previous day or on the day of flight. Human factors can get to even the most proficient pilot and force a mistake.

    Apart from adequate rest and managing fatigue, regular self-proficiency flights and perhaps adding some upset recovery training (visual and under hood) could help pilots recognize an issue before it becomes critical.

    I have a theory of what may have happen in your case – Wind Shear: Something I have seen at some frequency flying around DFW area and sudden shift in wind can cause wide airspeed variations increasing potential for loss of control. My experience has been similar to yours many years ago with airspeed shifting few times from 90kts to 50kts and back to 90kts while descending through altitude and once on approach where the stall siren forced me to firewall the throttle and go around.

    Flying is all about managing known risks and being prepared for the unknown. Sometimes mother nature and the risks associated with winds can surprise us in ways we don’t expect, catching us off guard and forcing an error.


    • flynthings August 31, 2014 / 10:22 pm

      I’ve thought about this a lot and continue to think about it, as I really would like to know what happened. I’ve spoken to other pilots/instructors as well. I think, it might have been prop wash, since I was getting really close to the aircraft ahead of me. There was no stall warning, so I know I wasn’t stalling…


      • swpilot August 31, 2014 / 11:53 pm

        Glad everything worked out well in the end. I am exercising my CAP/OpenAirplane checkout to fly the NY skyline this weekend 😉

        Blue skies and tailwinds 🙂


  2. flynthings May 24, 2014 / 10:53 pm

    swpilot, I agree with you wholly about the wide range of experience as well as fatigue factor. Especially the latter can influence how competent one is to react to situations


  3. flynthings August 31, 2014 / 11:59 pm

    Enjoy… I’ve done it twice, and It is one of my best flights!


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