March 2014- When I looked up at the all-glass attitude indicator, for a moment I wasn’t quite sure what I was staring at. Instead of a nice horizon line separating a blue sky and brown terrain, the PFD instrument was showing almost all brown.
A few seconds ago the airspeed indicator on this highly modified L-39 Albatros was nudging 300 knots, but now the numbers were winding up on the digital display, indicating we are likely heading downhill to terra firma. Finally, I realized I was inverted and pitched almost straight down, leaving me just a matter of seconds to figure out what to do.
“Watch the airspeed,” came the voice over my intercom. The voice was that of high performance wizard Lee Lauderback, the inspiration behind Stallion 51 Corp. of Kissimmee, Fla., and its team of P-51 Mustangs.
Lauderback began talking me through a recovery that included a power reduction and a roll back to the upright. Within a few seconds, the emergency was over, and the jet was happy again, plowing along straight and level. Whew! Very glad to have had Lauderback along on this flight.
Unusual Attitude Training
Stallion 51’s new division, Unusual Attitude Training (UAT), recently launched its upset prevention and recovery program which is the result of over 25 years of training, most of it in the company’s shiny P-51s. But when Lauderback decided he wanted to move forward with the most realistic training in the world, he and his team began searching the collection of civilian jets for a suitable trainer.
For a number of reasons, they selected the Czech L-39 turbojet and immediately upgraded the advanced trainer’s instrument panel to glass, simulating the equipment now found in most corporate jets and airliners. After five years of preparing both aircraft and instructor teams, Lauderback’s UAT company is now operational.
The UAT program trains everyone from individual pilots to entire corporate flight departments. The training has received emphatic endorsements from the FAA, NTSB and corporate flight departments.
“Put 10 corporate guys in the room and most likely eight have never been inverted,” Lauderback stated matter-of-factly. Recently he flew with a 29,000-hour airline captain who had never been upside down in an airplane.
“Most pilots are trained to operate within only a small box of the larger envelope that represents what the aircraft is capable of. They live in a world where they are expected to restrict themselves to, say, 30-degree banks and maybe 20 degrees of pitch. What we do in our UAT program is to expand each pilot’s personal envelope.”
The Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) is divided into four phases, the first being a fascinating look at aeromedical physiology. Candidates interact with a staff flight surgeon, a Senior AME who instructs them on how, where, when and why their bodies can influence their decision-making.
Next comes an in-depth look at the aerodynamics of unusual attitudes and upsets and a detailed examination of what forces act upon the aircraft in any number of configurations. Techniques of recovery are then matched to the situation. Every phase of this “ground school” is supported with first-class multimedia illustrations and real life video, followed by some lively discussions with the instructors.
“Our UAT program represents the best talent I’ve ever put together,” Lauderback said. “We have more than 50,000 hours of combined flight time.”
Instructors bring skills from a wide variety of aviation backgrounds, from corporate to military, from bush pilot to airshow pilot.
The highlight for many UAT candidates is undoubtedly the flying. Two sorties normally accompany the ground school, the first a VFR segment for about 1.2 hours, which can be done in the P-51 Mustang if desired, followed the next day by a 1.0 IFR segment. “It’s similar to what the military does,” Lauderback noted.
There are perhaps dozens of other unusual attitude training courses around the United States, but Lauderback is quick to differentiate his program.
“A guy that’s flying jets or high-end turboprops is not going to relate to the cockpit of an Extra 300 or a Citabria. He wants his training to be jet-to-jet. We may be the new kids on the block, but our L-39 is filled with cutting-edge technology. Our cockpit and our performance closely match what the pilot is used to seeing.”
Today, a lot of aviation training is relegated to the simulator. “We do all kinds of things you can’t reproduce in a simulator,” Lauderback said. “How can you show a pilot what three gs feels like if they’re sitting in a simulator? How can you learn to recover without also pulling the wings off? G-calibration of the pilot is an important part of our UAT training.”
Corporate flight departments are drawn to Stallion’s UAT course because chief pilots are always looking for ways to get out of the training rut and do some continuing education that strikes a chord. “One guy we trained had been to simulator training 18 times for the same recurrent training course,” Lauderback said. “Pilots get pretty excited about what we’re teaching them, and we’re very proud of that.”
Like all unusual attitude training, pilots are distracted and then given the opportunity to correct a significant aberration of either altitude or heading or both. Students are trained to get the aircraft back to straight and level without structural damage or failure or hitting the ground. All of us had some variation of the training during our private pilot course, but we probably didn’t train for upsets in IMC.
And that’s where Stallion 51’s program shines. The rear cockpit in the tandem-seat jet is equipped with a curtain that completely isolates the pilot from seeing outside. Lauderback commands prompts from the front seat over the intercom.
Calibrated for the real world
Stallion’s UAT course is not to be confused with a scare-you-to-death aerobatics program, but is instead calibrated to be real, featuring real-world upset scenarios and teaching real-world recoveries that save pilot, passenger and airplane. “O.K., close your eyes,” came the command. Lauderback pulled the jet vertical and rolled in some bank angle creating a classic unusual attitude without excessive maneuvering or discomfort for the student pilot—me, in this case. As I wait with eyes still shut, I know I’m in good hands and that this training is as real as it gets.
And then these words came through the intercom: “Open your eyes, you have the aircraft.”
I blinked and realized I was near inverted and pitched almost straight up with almost no airspeed left before the two swept wings on this jet quit flying completely.
“Push the stick; unload the aircraft.”
As I pushed the nose toward a zero-g configuration, I was absolutely amazed to discover that the aircraft continued flying, well below the bottom of the green arc and its associated stall speed. Wait, we were below the stall speed but the airplane was still flying!
“Normal stall speeds are figured at one g. Go below one g and the stall speed gets even slower. Knowing that might just save your bacon one day,” Lauderback said clearly.
Did your instructor teach you that?
We turned the jet toward home and, on the flight back to Stallion 51, I knew I’d just had a day I’d always remember and gained a skill set that just might save my life one day.