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Unusual Attitude Recovery

Unusual Attitudes

One of the leading causes of fatal general aviation accidents is loss of control.

When the airplane attitude is that not normally required for flight, you have entered an unusual attitude. Unusual attitudes may also be referred to as a “unintended” or “unexpected” attitude.

It is important to note, that in order to recover from an unusual attitude, it is first necessary to properly detect the unusual attitude in order to issue the correct control inputs to resolve the issue. Recovering from unusual attitudes becomes more difficult in IMC, or “Instrument Flight Conditions”, as outside visual references can no longer be relied upon.  Under these instances, it is possible, to lose control of the aircraft without even realizing it.

When in IMC, it is essential that you rely upon your instruments and not your senses.


  • Pilots must first know how to properly detect an unusual attitude to properly recover
  • When in IMC it is possible to loose control of the aircraft without realizing it
  • During IMC conditions you should rely on the instruments and not your senses
  • Neutralize controls (stick and rudder), analyze and evaluate the situation to determine recovery
  • Occurs when the perceived aircraft attitude and the actual aircraft attitude different
  • The real attitude may or may not be extreme relative to the horizon
  • To ensure you can recover under the worst conditions (unaided night/IMC) you will be expected to follow a mini-checklist (this is a form of an emergency)
  • Results from turbulence, disorientation, instrument failure, confusion, preoccupation, carelessness, errors, lack of proficiency
  • To maintain aircraft control when faced with these or other contributing factors, the pilot must be aware of situations where LOC-I can occur, recognize when an airplane is approaching a stall, has stalled, or is in an upset condition, and understand and execute the correct procedures to recover the aircraft

Yes, what you are about to embark upon will be quite unusual.  Your CFI is about to make you close your eyes while wearing a view-limiting device, and put the airplane into either a steep nose up or steep nose down attitude, and ask you to open your eyes and rapidly recover.  While this may seem a little crazy, it is actually quite a bit of fun, and incredibly important to master this skill to have a better chance of recovering from such a situation should you accidentally put yourself into such a scenario when you are out flying.

Unusual Attitude Recovery Procedure:

Nose High:

  • Level the wings using coordinated aileron and rudder
  • Add full power
  • Lower the nose to just slightly above the horizon to ensure the aircraft will accelerate (airspeed) and climb away from the ground
  • Re-trim as necessary

Nose Low:

  •  Level the wings using coordinated aileron and rudder
  • Reduce power to idle
  • Raise the nose to just above the horizon to ensure the aircraft will accelerate as well as climb away from the ground
  • Add full power and establish a climb
  • Re-trim as necessary

When Unusual Attitude Recovery Goes Wrong:

Avoid this when practicing unusual attitude recoveries!