PPL pilots are taught stall recovery by experiencing it first hand with an instructor.

Do airline pilots intentionally stall an aircraft during training? Or is it all simulator practice because it's too risky?

  • I don't think this is worth an answer; but I thought I'd put my two cents in. I grew up literally on a runway; and (sometimes tragic) avionic stories were hard to miss. My understanding is any type of stall, esp. such as a tail spin, is something no sane pilot would want to intentionally engage in actual flight. – motoku Jul 20 '15 at 5:04
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    @MotokoKusanagi in small aircrafts, stall (and spin, depending on which part of the world you're in) are mandatory during training. Not to mention, stalling and spinning can be so much fun! – kevin Jul 20 '15 at 10:46
up vote 34 down vote accepted

In 727 and 747-100/200 aircraft and their simulators for the two airlines I flew those aircraft for up to my retirement in 1999, all stall training was done in simulators, never in the actual aircraft.

Stall training in the sim consisted of slowing (or otherwise loading up the wing) until the stick shaker started. Recovery was accomplished by unloading the wing and then adding power in that order. Whether unloading the wing was accomplished by just relaxing back pressure or by positive forward movement of the control column (or by rolling out of a bank if you were in one) was a judgement call.

Typically the sim instructor wanted a significant stick shaker warning, not just a quick blip that you immediately stopped. Also, it was considered bad form if, once you stopped the stick shaker, it started again. Obviously that meant you had loaded up the wing again and were moving toward a secondary stall, which was a definite no-no. As I remember, that was more likely to happen if you made the mistake of leading with power rather than first reducing the angle of attack.

Every once in awhile someone would want to play a bit and see how the sim reacted to a full stall. As I remember, the sim would just bounce around with a very high sink rate. I never felt its response to a full stall was at all representative of what the actual airplane would do.

I experienced the stick shaker in flight in a 747 three times that I remember: once during a test flight in which that was part of the testing, once with a check airman who liked to play, and once on the line.

The instance on the line was when I was still an f.o., and it was the captain's leg. He had extended the speed brakes for the descent. When he brought the power up for the final approach, he forgot about the speed brakes. The stick shaker came on immediately. He realized what he had done, and retracted them, and the stick shaker stopped.

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    My conclusion is you never experienced a real stall, not even in the simulator. The stick shaker comes on before serious stalling starts, and I think some accidents could have been avoided had the crew actually experienced how a stall feels (AF447, Birgenair 301, XL888T come to mind). Remember, if some sensors malfunction, the stick shaker might never activate, and you need to fly by the seat of your pants. I have made it mandatory for myself to stall every small aircraft I ever flew at different altitudes. I have even spun most of them for 3 turns or more, even an ASH-25. – Peter Kämpf Jul 18 '15 at 22:20
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    @PeterKämpf You're correct in that I never experienced a real stall in a 727 or a 747, and I don't think the sims of my time accurately did a stall even when we kept the control column all the way back and let it buck. In light aircraft I've done a lot of spins. I actually found them enjoyable, although a Cessna 150 in a spin would sometimes scare people as it would really wind up after about a turn and a half if you held it in the spin. Actually, I took a lot of criticism from insisting that my private pilot students experience spins even though it wasn't required for a PPL. – Terry Jul 19 '15 at 1:38
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    @PeterKämpf Ran out of room, but I wanted to say that the airplane that I found was the most fun to spin was a J-3 on floats. The best way to do it was with the door open. It was a very slow motion spin with the nose way down and no tendency for the airspeed to increase. – Terry Jul 19 '15 at 1:41
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    We can always expect a great answer about airliners from Terry (-: – kevin Jul 19 '15 at 2:23
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    I wholeheartedly agree, every student pilot should experience spins, ideally in several different aircraft and for several turns so he/she sees what happens after the incipient spin phase. I had instructors who would spin just a half turn and then end the spin before it had fully developed. I trained spinning on slow days in gliders, when the weather was't good enough for cross-country flying and I had to kill altitude somehow. Yes, it is fun when you know what you do. Interesting observation on the J-3: I guess the added drag of the floats made the J-3 so enjoyable to spin. – Peter Kämpf Jul 19 '15 at 5:48

Usually, training is done in a simulator. Not only are the training maneuvers dangerous, but just from an economic perspective, the time in a simulator is cheaper than putting time on a real aircraft, especially for larger types.

Also, stalls are not always covered in regular training for airline pilots. Simulators do not always accurately model a plane's behavior in this situation. When properly flown, airliners should not be in danger of stalling. There are also numerous warnings, and the Airbus fly-by-wire system has an alpha floor protection feature that will automatically increase the engine power if the aircraft gets close to stalling.

However, accidents have shown that even an Airbus can stall, and pilot error has led to multiple cases of airliners stalling and crashing. The result is that pilot training is being changed to include better training for these situations. This takes time though and whether pilots currently get better training depends on the airline.

  • Yes, I remember reading accident investigation reports where the flight crew were under the impression that alpha prot was active when, in fact, it wasn't. Alpha prot is inactive during some modes of flight, isn't it? Or in case of certain types of consistency check failures is alpha prot disabled? I seem to recall. – curious_cat Jul 18 '15 at 15:35
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    @curious_cat yes, alpha protection is not always available, see this question which addresses one such case. – fooot Jul 18 '15 at 16:21

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