The FAA has rolled out a huge new batch of rules requiring expanded simulator training for airline pilots. The rule change is largely the result of the turboprop regional airline crew that got slow on approach and pulled back on the stick when the stall warning stick shaker activated instead of reducing back pressure on the controls. So the new rules will require pilots to train for something they already know and practice–lower the nose when the shaker fires.
I think the stick shaker is one of the great aviation safety inventions of all time. Its warning is totally intuitive and the shaker is unmistakable in the visual clutter of cockpit warning lights and CAS messages, and the increasing number of warning tones and spoken alerts. The shaker message comes through your hands, the very thing that connects a pilot to the airplane. What warning could be more clear?
Over the past few years shaker warnings again proved their value in helicopters. Safe Flight Instrument Corp. created a collective shaker to warn a pilot when he was pulling up too far asking the engine and main rotor system for too much power. Exceeding collective power limits can damage the engine, transmission and other components. At a minimum a costly inspection is required. The U.S. Army was very interested in the system because collective power eceedance events was costing a bundle.
Once the Army installed the Safe Flight collective shaker the rate of exceedance dropped to nearly nothing. And that was with no exotic training or lengthy practice by the pilots. It’s just obvious. When the collective lever in your left hand starts vibrating vigorously it’s a natural reaction to push it down a little, or at least stop pulling up.
Several car companies have now adopted the shaker as warning concept because of its intuitive and unique ability to alert a driver as well as a pilot. In some premium cars a shaker in the seat vibrates when the anti-collision system detects a threat. If the collision threat is on your right, for example, the right side of the driver’s seat shakes. It’s a natural reaction to sense the vibration on one side, be alerted, and look in that direction for a threat. Cadillac, for example, isn’t sending owners to sim training to learn how to respond to the seat shaker. It’s obvious, and it works.
Despite the intuitive nature of the stick shaker warning airline and other jet pilots have been practicing recovery from a shaker activation in the flight simulator at least every year. When the shaker starts to vibrate the column in the sim you add power and reduce back pressure or you flunk. And you should flunk if you can’t figure that out.
But thanks to Congress which responded to pressure from families of victims in the Buffalo crash pilots will now have to spend who knows how much time in the sim increasing the angle of attack until the shaker fires and then taking action to reduce the AOA. What’s next? Increased training on the importance of lowering the wheels before touchdown?
Another accident the added to the brew of new training requirements is the Air France Airbus crash into the Atlantic more than four years ago. In that one stall warning was totally absent because all three air data systems failed leaving the crew with no clear and reliable indication of airspeed. Maybe the AOA indication was still working but the crew had so many confusing warning messages and such odd indications on the flight instruments that it would have been extremely difficult to know what was reliable and what wasn’t.
Because of that Airbus accident airline pilots training in the sim will now be required to hand fly without reliable airspeed indication. Losing any of the primary flight instruments has been a staple of sim training for many years so this isn’t really new either.
There are other requirements in the rewritten rules for pilots to practice directional control on the runway in strong crosswinds, and to recover from a bounced landing. Duh? Everybody’s been doing that already, too.
But Congress acted, the FAA reacted and everyone can congratulate themselves that new rules will transform an unbelievably excellent airline safety record into the unobtainable perfect record. I sure wish paperwork had the kind of power.