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Features March 2015 Issue

Angle of Attack

Since the beginning of winged flight, aviators have fought a proxy battle with lift. Recent advances are allowing GA to battle head-on.

Research by the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, a group chartered by the FAA to improve GA safety, attributed 40 percent of fatal GA accidents to loss of control in flight. That is more than the next six causes, combined. Many of these accidents resulted from inadvertent stalls and spins. The group’s top recommendation for improving safety was installing AOA indicators in GA airplanes.

When it comes to flying a wing, only one thing matters—angle of attack (AOA). For airplanes, we add power to that wing and get performance. While power is accurately displayed via engine instruments, AOA is an enigma fleetingly glimpsed through airspeed and attitude. The books state that airplanes can stall at any attitude, yet our training confuses that information. Practicing stalls at one G teaches us that stalls occur when a certain attitude is reached. The results are troubling.

But, just slapping an AOA indicator on the glareshield won’t magically solve these problems and make you a better or safer pilot. Strategic planning and tactical techniques enable AOA systems to effectively battle lift.

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