The FAA’s Dave Sizoo says, “There’s a loss-of-control fatal accident, on average, once every three days.” Sizoo, a former F/A-18 pilot, is an agency flight-test pilot. He spoke to the seldom- spoken about disconnect between what we teach new pilots about angle of attack and how they translate that new knowledge into good flying habits once they climb into an airplane. “You’re tested on the theory behind angle of attack in the knowledge exam,” Sizoo says. “But when a new pilot enters the cockpit, they usually can’t find the angle of attack indicator.” The reason is that AOAs don’t exist in most small airplanes. The FAA promoted their use, but they are still not prevalent in the GA fleet. “When a student does not have an AOA indicator in the cockpit, they are taught to use airspeed as a proxy,” Sizoo says. “However, the published stall speed they learn is only valid at one weight—in coordinated, unaccelerated flight—and that may create a false sense of safety beyond those conditions.” In ground school, new civilian pilots learn, for example, that aircraft stall speed increases by 40 percent in a 60-degree bank when the pilot tries to maintain level flight. This increases load factor. Sadly, history has proven that many pilots who overshoot that turn from base to final aren’t thinking about how their 85-knot base-tofinal speed might suddenly need to jump to nearly 120 in order to maintain a similar safety margin above stall. The precision flying required to aim for the three wires on a Navy carrier makes understanding angle of attack critical to fighter pilots. That’s why, early on, Navy- and Air Force-trained pilots learn their fighter’s angle of attack indicator is accurate at all weights, configurations, accelerations and angles of bank.
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