The new ACS (that’s Airmen Certification Standards for those who have been living in a cave for the last year) was written with the intention of making the testing process more relevant, more streamlined, and more simple. Why then has it created so much headache and made our flight training environments anything but simple? One area that really causes some confusion is the new slow flight and stall standard. For years, the testing standard for slow flight stated that the applicant must “establish and maintain an airspeed at which any further increase in angle of attack, increase in load factor, or reduction in power, would result in an immediate stall.” The new ACS changes the words immediate stall to read stall warning. In other words, when an applicant performs slow flight, he or she must not allow the stall horn to blare during the maneuver. Will I fail if the stall horn sounds during slow flight on a checkride? NO! But you should make a correction so that the horn does not continue to sound.
I recently had a discussion with one of the FAA representatives who took part in a committee to increase general aviation safety. The group reviewed a number of accidents and made recommendations for how to prevent accidents in the future. One of the videos they watched was of a gentleman who was proposing to his girlfriend. He had written “will you marry me?” on the ground, then flew his plane around in circles over the spot so that his girlfriend could read the message. Someone was videotaping from the ground. The stall warning horn could clearly be heard from the ground as the pilot circled. The flight ended in a stall/spin crash, killing both occupants. Although no one likes change, when I hear stories like that, I realize that the new ACS is a safer standard. When we practice slow flight with the stall warning continuously going off, we learn to ignore the stall warning horn. That’s not a great thing to be teaching new private pilots.
As far as stalls go, the ACS hasn’t changed things all that much. A private pilot checkride still requires a full stall break whereas a commercial checkride requires that the applicant recover at the first indication of a stall, i.e. buffet, horn, etc. The difference is that now, the applicant is required to speak during the maneuver and announce the stall indications as they happen. For a private pilot, that might sound something like this, “There’s the horn. There’s the buffet. There’s the full stall.” Recover. A commercial pilot need only announce the first indication as the recovery will be immediately initiated afterwards. “There’s the horn.” Recover.
To recap, for slow flight, fly at an airspeed just above the stall warning. If you hear the horn, make a correction. For stalls, verbally announce the stall indications as they happen. Pretty simple right? Let’s not make this harder than it has to be…