STAL*(The Four Letter Word) by Tom Brant

Up to this point in my long and storied career as a student pilot, I have experienced regular climbs and descents, standard turns, and some rectangular course work. I also was allowed to attempt a few landings, which were pretty smooth, considering my total flight time to date was 2.3 hours. I was feeling pretty good when my instructor told me on the last landing that day, that it was done be me, with no help from him. So I set up for lesson three… This was to be a very interesting lesson indeed.

On the ground that day, I was briefed by my instructor what we were going to practice that day. I was told we were going to do steep turns, and power on and power off stalls. We discussed how these were controlled and what to look and feel for when the stall “breaks”. Up until that point I thought I knew about everything there was to know about stalls, just from talking with pilot friends, reading magazines, and watching videos. So I felt pretty comfortable about it as we took off. Flying out of our controlled airspace and climbing to altitude, my instructor asked what I had planned for the upcoming Memorial weekend. I mentioned that my family and I would be camping at Lake Independence for the three day weekend, to which he told me he was going to be flying his floatplane all weekend, and he would try to stop in and see me at the lake… He told me if I saw a blue and white floatplane on the lake while I was fishing, to come up to it and he would give me a ride. I thought that was pretty cool, plus it was nice to have some conversation on the way up to altitude in the Tomahawk: (2 people at gross weight, doesn’t exactly make it into the rocket category).

When we finally arrived at our altitude, we set up for power on stalls. He asked me if I would like him to demonstrate one before I tried it, but of course, after landing the plane “by myself” a few days before, I thought I was ready to try it out myself. So, I increased power to full, established a 70 knot climb, and then he started to repeat the phrase “pull-pull-pull”. So I followed his direction, and when the stall reared it’s ugly head, I reacted exactly the way I wasn’t supposed to… I panicked. The right wing started to drift off a bit and I immediately tried to counter that with full left aileron. As the wing dropped over (very rapidly) to about 70-80 degrees, the nose came down with it. I was stunned! I let go of the controls, let out a “WHOA!” and grabbed on to whatever was near me for dear life. My instructor lost his cell phone from its belt clip in the event, just to give you an idea of how rapidly it happened. He kept urging me: “More left foot, more left foot”, recover from the dive, more left foot!”. Ok, so I guess I found out who was boss of who that day. The plane definitely was my boss. Then of course my instructor wanted me to try again. Once again the same thing happened. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get myself to use the rudder and not the aileron. Several times I let go of the controls, and he told me: “Don’t give up, you can’t just give up!”. I knew it, but getting that message across to my arms and legs wasn’t happening that day. We did about four of those and then went into the power off stalls. All the results were pretty similar: Sharp right wing drop to about 60 degrees or more. I was petrified. When we headed back to the airport I was pretty rung out, but he had me try a few landings too. They weren’t very good though. I was actually glad to get out of the plane at the end of that lesson.

Later that weekend, while I was getting ready to go fishing, I saw a blue and white floatplane overhead. So I ran down to the lake, and just as I got there, he made his landing and started taxiing the plane right up to where I was on the beach. I was impressed. I met this guy only three times now, and he knew I was some kind of freak after that last lesson, when I was scared out of my shorts. He offered me a ride in the floatplane, and I of course jumped in. It only lasted for about 15 minutes but I knew then, that after he made the effort to give a new student a ride, that he wasn’t ready to give up on me yet. So I thought I shouldn’t give up either, although the fear of that lesson had me thinking otherwise.

After expecting the stalls to be the focus of our next few lessons, he surprised me with pattern work and touch and goes. That day we did 8 touch and goes. I was pretty please with my performance and was starting to get comfortable in the plane again. So I figured the next lesson to be on stalls… This time I was right. The results were pretty much the same. I just couldn’t differentiate between aileron and rudder control. At least this time I had him demonstrate one, so I knew what the recovery was supposed to be like. I recommend this fully. If your instructor asks you on your first attempt if you want to try it on your own, don’t be like me… Have him show you what the result is supposed to be… Then reach for that.

Several more lessons went on and we didn’t do any stall practice, much to my surprise… Then one day after I forgot about them, he wanted us to go out and work on them again. This was one of my most humiliating days so far. As we were climbing I started to get extremely nervous. I had fallen victim to the propaganda bug. People were telling me about how dangerous the Tomahawk is in stalls and spins, so after I heard this, I did some of my own research on the internet. BAD IDEA. It’s good to know what you’re up against, but all those negative things came back to haunt me. Now, instead of letting the plane react normally, I was anticipating the worst. I was looking for wing skins to “oil can” and I was nervous even climbing at 70 knots. No airspeed was fast enough. I asked him that day if I could skip it, to which he said “no”. So I continued my climb, and asked again, as I started to get really nervous… This time he said it was ok to skip it. He could tell I had lost it. He told me to look out the wind and tell him where we were in relation to the chart. I fumbled and wrestled with the chart, flipping it over and over, and just making an absolute mess out of it. My nerves had the best of me. I didn’t want my eyes to leave the horizon and the airspeed indicator, for fear that we would plummet to the ground in a fire ball.

Today, I’m happy to report that I have done stalls several more times and I finally am getting the feel for it. I wouldn’t go so far as saying I enjoy them, but I don’t turn into a puddle at the mere mention of them anymore. The lesson here is: DON’T GIVE UP! It may not feel natural today, or even tomorrow, but if you try-try again, eventually you can have success. I have even learned to accept the normal five letter spelling of the word that haunted me for my first month of lessons. STALL

Tom Brant