Do you hate practicing power-on stalls? If so, you’re not the only one. For many pilots, a departure stall performed at full-power feels as close to an unintentional spin entry as you can get. Our palms sweat a little as we see the high pitch attitude and feel the buffeting. As the airplane rolls off in on direction our stomachs do aerobatics of their own. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
You can master the power-on stall. There is a technique I discovered long ago that has helped many students master this tricky and nerve-wracking maneuver. By “discovered” I mean I stumbled across it after much trial and error on my own – by no means did I invent this technique and I’m certainly not the first to teach it. Nevertheless, there are plenty of pilots and instructors that benefit from trying it out, so I’m sharing it here in the hopes it might help you too.
Power-on stalls torment new pilots because they often involve unusually high pitch attitudes and a lot of p-factor and other left-turning tendencies which combine to make the stall particularly nerve wracking. This nervousness or discomfort often leads to inappropriate responses from pilots.
A YouTube search turns up endless videos of people practicing power-on stalls and reaching full aileron deflection after one wing drops off. The airplane’s continued roll startles the unsuspecting pilot. Some hesitate to reduce pitch or even pull back more. One let go of the controls completely and gripped the door post which prompted the CFI to take over. I’m not trying to poke fun at anyone, these responses aren’t uncommon. We just need to work past them, and I’ve found one technique seems to help.
This technique works well in straight stalls and helps students develop the coordination skills that they’ll need in turning stalls. It’s a good building block to more advanced skills. Here’s the technique that has worked for me:
- Clear the area and setup for a straight-ahead stall as you normally would.
- Find a reference point on the horizon about 20 or 30 degrees on your side of the nose (so you can see it when the nose blocks the view of the horizon ahead of you).
- As you add power and increase pitch keep an eye on the reference point.
- Keep the wings level with ailerons (only momentary deflections from neutral should be necessary).
- Prevent any yaw with rudder – hold your reference point perfectly still.
- Continue to increase pitch while holding your reference point – expect more rudder will be needed as you increase pitch.
- Recover at the full stall by reducing pitch promptly.
I have used and taught this technique in a number of low wing and high wing trainers with good results. Student pilots with a few hours can reliably stall a C-152 or 172 without any noticeable roll-off, but it takes a little practice. Apprehension regarding this particular maneuver strikes pilots almost universally until it is mastered, and sometimes we have to build up our comfort level before our precision improves.
And on to Plan B
It might take some practice to get consistently good results. In the meantime, if you do experience a wing drop or roll-off in one direction:
- Keep the ailerons neutral – resist the urge to roll against the bank, this won’t help and in many cases makes things worse.
- Apply rudder opposite the roll. If the left wing drops, apply right rudder or vice versa.
- Recover from the stall promptly with forward elevator.
- If the wing drop progresses further and you begin to enter a spin, reduce the throttle to idle, and do it now. Continue to keep the ailerons neutral, rudder opposite the spin, and move the control wheel/stick forward to recover (unless the manufacturer specifies a different spin recovery procedure.)
Reducing the angle-of-attack pronto generally prevents a wing roll-off from progressing to a spin, but delayed or inappropriate actions could take you there. Remember that the wing must be stalled for the airplane to spin.
Because of the discomfort that students (and even some instructors) feel toward stall recoveries, it is even more important to practice these maneuvers regularly so that our responses become automatic. The natural responses of trying to counteract a roll-off with aileron, or even pulling back on the yoke after the nose pitches over in a stall need to be reprogrammed, and that can only happen with practice. As with any maneuver, perform these at a safe altitude and after a thorough briefing. Working with a qualified instructor is always recommended. Don’t let your discomfort with power-on stalls keep you from mastering them. They are too important.