"When you know how to do basic aerobatics there are NO unusual attitudes!" -Patty Wagstaff, Airshow performer.

There is a lot of discussion about the difference between aerobatics and upset recovery training, and for good reason. From the outside looking in, they appear to be very similar and have a lot in common.

  • Aerobatic aircraft
  • Instructor experienced in aerobatics
  • parachutes are worn
  • aerobatic maneuvers are flown
  • lots of fun is had

But make no mistake, they are different. Maybe not apples and oranges different. More like grapefruit and oranges. 

The goal of aerobatic training is to execute some 3 dimensional maneuver with precision. A loop should be perfectly round, beginning at the same altitude, heading, and airspeed. A slow roll is only correct when altitude and rate of roll are constant. Every maneuver has its own definition and standards. The goal of aerobatic training is to complete maneuvers as perfectly as possible, and in the more advanced training environment, prepare a pilot for aerobatic competition where they will be judged on their precision. 

Upset recovery training on the other hand has the goal of preparing the pilot to recover from any attitude they may find themselves in. In order to accomplish this, the instructor either puts the aircraft in some unexpected attitude, or allows the student to enter an unusual attitude, then trains the student how to identify the situation and apply the appropriate recovery technique. 

Can either training philosophy train a pilot to recover from unexpected attitudes? Absolutely. The difference comes in training efficiency. To become a competent aerobatic pilot, one must dedicate tens if not hundreds of hours to aerobatic training. throughout the training, the whole focus is on precise completion of the maneuvers. Upset recovery training only focuses on identifying a problem, and then correcting it. This can be done over several days of training rather than several months. UPRT isn't meant to be pretty, it's meant to work. 

When the aerobatic pilot eventually botches a maneuver, they must recover in ways similar if not identical to those trained in upset training. Even here there is a fundamental difference. The aerobatic pilot is intentionally at a safe altitude and mentally prepared for an upset if one occurs. A "normal" pilot typically doesn't have those luxuries when an upset occurs; they tend to happen when the pilot is distracted from their flying duties or task saturated.  Given that the scenarios that require a recovery are so different, the training should be different as well.

If you've been paying attention, this blog is the first time we have used the term "upset recovery training." Everywhere else we talk about Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, or UPRT. There is a sizable and immensely important distinction. Upset recovery training is not unlike the unusual attitude training you received in private or instrument training (except that it is expanded to cover "all attitudes" rather than the typical +/- 60º of bank and +/- 30º pitch). The instructor puts the pilot in an unusual attitude, the student recovers, everyone goes home happy. UPRT is focused primarily on prevention. We look through accident reports and identify the chain of events that lead to some accident. There are common themes in these accident chains. If a pilot is aware of these chains, the idea is for them to quickly identify those elements in their own operations and remove themselves from a situation before it ever has a chance to turn ugly. Even with the best training, many upsets are unrecoverable. 

We don't teach "upset recovery training." We go one step further and teach prevention and recovery. We do fly aerobatic maneuvers, but they are used for specific purposes such as entering unusual attitudes or demonstrating recovery techniques rather than with the intent of precise execution of a figure.