If a plane was suddenly inverted through no action of the pilot, say wake turbulence from a much large plane (think 747 vs. Learjet), should the pilot first try to right the plane or get the nose pointed in the correct position so that the wings start producing lift again?

I would think that a pilot would instinctively try to get the plane righted, but I wonder if this would be the best course of action, especially if there's not a lot of space between the plane and the ground. In trying to do so, the pilot could lose precious seconds that would otherwise be spent avoiding the ground. Though possibly counterintuitive, it seems like it would be best to get the plane flying, even though it's inverted, and then get it right side up.

This brings up another question: are pilots trained how to handle an inverted aircraft? But I think it's a separate question.

  • $\begingroup$ The scenario described in this question would not happen. In reality, if the turbulence is that strong, the plane will break apart. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Feb 12, 2018 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ @kevin that's not entirely accurate. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Feb 12, 2018 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ @kevin, I have heard at least one reliable account of an airliner (B737) rolling past 90° due to wake vortices. The wake is not usually violent to the airframe, more often it is improper recovery technique that overstresses the airframe. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Feb 12, 2018 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ @kevin, wake turbulence from a Boeing 767 also brought down a Learjet 45 landing in Mexico City that was carrying Mexico's (I believe) Interior Secretary. The Learjet crashed in downtown Mexico City. Sorry, I don't recall the year, but can probably find it if you're interested. $\endgroup$
    – BillDOe
    Feb 12, 2018 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ Just looked it up; it was in 2008. $\endgroup$
    – BillDOe
    Feb 12, 2018 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


What you are describing is Unusual Attitude Recovery (UAR) techniques, which are a standard part of the training for every Private Pilot1

Here is a good description of just such an event.

Almost all pilots do instinctively want to right the plane first, but as I'll explain below, this is a mistake, and the point of UAR training is to change the pilot's instinctive approach.

The actual biggest threat to a plane in an unexpected unusual attitude is speed. If the plane has too much speed (above VA), sudden control movements can damage the airframe or even break apart the plane.

If the plane has too little speed (stalled or spinning), there may not be effective airflow over the wings and tail, and moving the controls may not do anything at all! (remember, control surfaces need a steady flow of air over them to be effective).

So the very first and most important step in UAR is to manage speed. Upon recognizing that they are in an unknown and unusual attitude, the pilot's immediate action must be to look at the airspeed indicator: If its too high (yellow-arc or above), pull the throttle to idle and let the speed come down. If its too low (white-arc or below), immediately add full throttle and let the speed come back up.

Once the airspeed is anywhere in the green-arc (and precision is not terribly important here, just a manageable speed), then the next steps are to return the plane to roughly level (+/- 10° of pitch), and roll the wings level.

1 I'm unsure if Recreational Pilots and Sport Pilots also get UAR training.

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    $\begingroup$ A minor detail, but in your last paragraph the final steps differ depending on the type of upset: If you’re “nose high” and banked, you should pitch down first, then roll level; however if you’re “nose low” and banked, you should roll level first before carefully pitching up (otherwise you might pull into an ever tighter spiral, overstressing the airframe). $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2018 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ For a low nose, high bank upset, you would not wait after "reducing throttle" for the speed to come down before levelling the wings. For a sufficiently high bank angle/low nose (especially on jet aircraft), only reducing the throttle will not be sufficient to even decelerate the aircraft (especially not if past 90 degrees bank). You would simultaneously reduce throttle and level wings. When wings are near level, you would smoothly raise the nose. Technique differs by acft. With low mounted engines, full pwr at high pitch/low speed can result in a pitch up moment you cant overcome by elevator. $\endgroup$
    – Waked
    Feb 13, 2018 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ Check out FSF Airplane Upset Recovery training aid: flightsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/… with section 2.6.3 containing guidance on actual techniques for recovery $\endgroup$
    – Waked
    Feb 13, 2018 at 12:20

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