5 Scary Rumors About Airplane Stalls That Aren’t True

When I was a young warthog… sorry, too many Disney movies, I mean kid… some friends of my family were private pilots. When I talked to them about flying, for whatever reason, I was drawn to what they thought was scary. Airplane stalls always seemed to be on the checklist, no pun intended.

Memories of these conversations caused some anxiety going into my training, but over time, I found ways to minimize these scary things to the point where they disappeared.

Here are five scary things you’ve heard about airplane stalls that simply aren’t true:

1. When the airplane stalls, the motor quits

This one gets a big ol’ NOT TRUE on the truth-o-meter.  Most non-pilots’ only experience with a “stall” is when their car engine quits. This colloquialism gets a lot of use in the media and in circles where they just don’t know any better. The reverse, “when the motor quits, the airplane stalls” is just as false. However, this condition does turn you into a not so great glider.

2. Practicing airplane stalls is like the worst roller coaster you’ve ever been on times 10

As a youngin’ who didn’t like rollercoasters, this one worried me. It made me believe that every stall recovery required me to be aggressive and violent with my control inputs. What could have been gentle and docile recoveries turned into mini-rollercoaster rides. Only after greater understanding of what was happening did I adjust my technique to teach better recoveries that get the airplane flying sooner, lose less altitude, and keep the students from using sic-sacs.

3. Stall Speed/G-Force increases with bank angle

This concept is one that is probably the most misrepresented across the training industry. Were it true, aerobatic rolls of the aircraft wouldn’t be possible. We need to remember that stalls happen when we exceed the Critical Angle of Attack (AoA).

G-Force only increases when we – the pilot – command it (ignoring turbulence). When we roll the aircraft into a bank angle, we move our lift vector away from vertical, allowing gravity to win and start us descending. If we don’t want to descend, we increase lift by manipulating the yoke/stick/sidestick to increase AoA. If we don’t stop moving the control backwards, eventually the Critical AoA is exceeded and the wing stalls.

At 60 degrees of bank, the pilot needs to APPLY 2 G’s to maintain level flight. It doesn’t just show up automatically because we’ve rolled. The minimum velocity of relative wind needed to generate that 2 G’s, whether wings level or turning, is the same, and bank angle has no affect. It’s not the bank angle that raises the stall speed, it’s the commanded increased AoA to generate the required G from the pilot.

4. Stalling in a turn will make the airplane spin

Spins are like a delicious cake: you need the right ingredients to make it. The simple recipe for a spin is Stall + Yaw. When the airplane is coordinated (ball centered), there’s no net Yaw acting on it, so if a pilot does command a stall, no spin will result. If we’re uncoordinated but don’t command a stall, once again – no spin will result. 

5. I’ve never flown an airplane with an Angle of Attack Indicator

When Chuck Yeager was getting strapped into an F-15 on October 14th, 2012 for the 65th anniversary of his first breaking of the sound barrier, the camera crew caught an interesting quote from the General: “See, that to me is a stupid instrument, it tells you what your Angle of Attack is. If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be flying.”

Every airplane ever invented, from the Wright Flyer to the Boeing 787, has an Angle of Attack Indicator in it. What the General meant is that a pilot should know their AoA by the positioning of their elevator controls. In our airplanes that could mean the stick, yoke, or side stick… whatever controller is connected to our elevator.

You can’t avoid stalls. Airplanes stall on every flight. If you think back to all the stalls, and minimum controllable airspeed, and all the landings you’ve ever done, they all had the elevator controls being pulled back to or near their stops. This correlates to a command by the pilot for an increasing AoA. When the stall warning, buffet, or stall break happened, it did so when the elevator controls got to or near the extreme limit of their aft (or when inverted forward) travel. And all the stall recoveries involved releasing the control from this extreme position, before eventually resuming a more gradual input to finish the recovery.

Next steps

If you haven’t seen it yet, our brief introduction to airplane stalls may prove quite helpful.

Did this help? What are some scary things you may have heard about stalls? Let us know.