Printer Friendly

Deep stall aerodynamics: you didn't practice this type of stall during your primary flight training. They're generally unrecoverable, and mainly affect swept-wing jets.

On October 22, 1963, a prototype of the British Aircraft Corporation One-Eleven (BAC 1-11) short-haul jet airliner, registration G-ASHG, crashed near the village of Chicklade in southwest England. The aircraft was evaluating stall characteristics at varying center of gravity locations when the flight crew found the flight controls unresponsive after entering a stable stall and the aircraft struck the ground at a wings level attitude with a high rate of descent and little forward speed. All aboard died in the crash.


The 1-11 was one of the second-generation of jet airliners--others being the Douglas DC-9 and Boeing 727--featuring aft-mounted engines, swept wings and all-moving T-tail horizontal stabilizers. Post-crash investigation concluded the prototype 1-11 had experienced an unrecoverable deep stall in which the wake of the stalled wing covered the high-mounted horizontal stabilizer, thus blanking the elevator controls and preventing normal recovery techniques.

While the deep-stall phenomenon (or "super stall" as it had been known) was identified at least 10 years earlier during testing of the delta-wing Gloster Javelin, not much was understood about its causes or effects. Investigation into the 1-11's deep-stall crash contributed a great deal to the aerodynamic understanding of the phenomenon, and caused quite a stir when it was discovered that each of the cutting edge aerodynamic features of the new generation of airliners contributed to the phenomenon in some way.

While most of us never have the opportunity to fly a T-tailed jet transport, deep stalls can and do affect other aircraft. Thankfully, most general aviation aircraft are aerodynamically boring for the most part, and that's actually a good thing. Exceptions, however, can be found, perhaps at your local airport.


Before we begin a discussion of deep stalls, a quick trip back to private pilot ground school is in order, to review the basics. Just about any private pilot will quickly (err, should quickly) tell you an aerodynamic stall is a condition in which the wing's actual angle of attack exceeds its critical angle of attack, causing oncoming air to no longer flow smoothly over the wing. As one result, the wing loses lift. That's good for starters, but lets dig a little deeper this time, stopping short of involving funky Greek letters.

To better understand stalls in general, and deep stalls in particular, it's important to examine the effects of wing design and angle of attack on the wing's center of pressure (also called the center of lift). This is the point at which the lifting force acts; in other words, it's the up arrow on the typical four-forces diagram. The center of pressure is typically located at one-third to one-half of the wing's chord, and is balanced by the down force provided by the horizontal stabilizer. (Stick with me here, it'll get more interesting, I promise.)

For aerodynamic reasons not being addressed here, as the angle of attack increases, the center of pressure shifts forward. As the wing stalls at its critical angle of attack, the center of pressure goes to zero. Presuming timely recovery is effected and the wing's angle of attack decreases, the center of pressure then shifts rearward with the decrease. However, in typical straight-or tapered-wing piston singles and twins, there really isn't a very wide range over which the center of pressure can shift. The result? What we consider "normal" stall behavior. The concept that the center of pressure shifts forward with increasing angles of attack is the first key point to keep in mind for later.

During private pilot training, your instructor probably pointed out the controls became increasingly sluggish during stall entry. That's because the stall begins at the wing root and progresses outward toward the ailerons, with the intention of keeping them flying as long as possible. That's usually the result of engineers designing washout into the wing; the angle of incidence at the root is greater than at the wingtip, causing the stall to begin at the root. The concept that patterns of stall progression differ for various wing designs is the second key point contributing to deep stalls.


Anyone looking at the corporate jets and airliners flying these days can't help but notice they look quite a bit different than garden variety piston singles and twins. These aircraft have features not typically found on light general aviation aircraft such as swept wings, T-tails (while some light aircraft have them, they are the minority) and aft-mounted engines. These aircraft are designed for high-speed and high-altitude flight, and would not make very good trainers. On the flip side, a Piper Cherokee isn't exactly the most suitable all-weather transport aircraft, either.

While the swept wing has numerous aerodynamic advantages for high-speed flight, it is characterized by very poor stall characteristics. Due to the effect of spanwise flow, less air flows over the wing at the wingtips than at the wing root, thereby causing the stall to begin at the wingtips and resulting in loss of aileron control. Additionally, because the turbulent airflow separating off of the ailerons will not strike the horizontal stabilizer, no buffet occurs to give pilots the aerodynamic stall warning commonly found on lighter aircraft when some of the turbulent airflow separating from the wing root strikes the tail. That's what produces buffeting with which we all should be familiar.

Another more sinister stall characteristic of swept-wing aircraft results from the forward shifting of the center of pressure, as discussed above. While the wings of straight-winged light aircraft allow the center of pressure to shift only slightly with changes in angle of attack, the range the center of pressure is able to shift on a swept-wing aircraft is far greater, leading to a pronounced nose-up tendency during stalls. This is a very bad thing because if left unchecked, the nose-up tendency can pull the aircraft deeper into the stall, leading to extremely high angles of attack.

There were a variety of aerodynamic benefits that led designers to choose to build aircraft with T-tails as opposed to conventional tails, such as permitting a longer effective distance between the wing and the tail increasing the tail's moment, thus allowing a smaller, lighter surface providing the same amount of downforce as a larger tail with a shorter moment. By using a T-tail, the space toward the rear of the fuselage is freed up to be used to mount engines, which has its own aerodynamic advantages.

Despite designers having the best of intentions, when you put all of these factors together you get an aerodynamic perfect storm. Should a swept-wing aircraft be allowed to stall, there will typically be no aerodynamic warning, and the aircraft will become longitudinally unstable. As one result, the nose will continue to rise, deepening the stall. With a conventional tail design, the turbulent air separating off the wing would trail mostly above the tail, whereas with a T-tail design the tailplane bears the complete load.

This turbulent wake interferes with the smooth flow of air over the tailplane, limiting its effectiveness (remember, the nose is rising uncontrollably at this point, and the wingtips are already stalled, thus rendering the ailerons ineffective), eventually blanking it entirely. At high angles of attack, the engine nacelles have a similar effect on the tailplane. This is known as a "locked-in deep stall," and it's a sure-fire way to ruin a pilot's day.


The aircraft features mentioned above are found in many of the most popular transport aircraft designs in recent history, so how come they aren't falling out of the air left and right? Deep stalls have been and continue to be a serious concern in aircraft design, and a number of design changes have emerged over the years to prevent deep stalls from occurring.

A direct result of the crash of the BAC 1-11 prototype discussed above was the incorporation of a "stick pusher," which later became a common feature on most similar airliners, among other design changes. Stick pushers operate by monitoring an angle-of-attack sensor and forcing the yoke forward when it becomes dangerously close to exceeding the critical angle of attack. A stick shaker physically vibrating the yoke to give pilots unmistakeable warning of an impending stall is typically found on transport aircraft which would otherwise have no natural stall warning.

A fairly commonplace aerodynamic modification is the incorporation of ventral strakes on aircraft, such as the delta fins found on Learjets, the Piaggio Avanti and Diamond's D-Jet. These primarily aid in dampening dutch roll tendencies, minimizing or eliminating the need for yaw dampers. A secondary benefit is they induce a strong nose-down force at high angles of attack, preventing the aircraft from entering a deep stall. In addition, some more exotic devices such as parachutes and small rockets have been installed in the tails of aircraft known or thought to be susceptible to deep stalls in an attempt to physically force the tail upward and remove it from the wake of the wing should it experience a deep stall.


Despite ongoing aerodynamic research, wind-tunnel testing, and computer modeling, deep stalls continue to plague new aircraft designs from time to time. A Canadair CRJ100 Regional Jet, C-FCRJ, on a test flight out of Wichita, Kan. crashed on July 26, 1993, after entering an unrecoverable deep stall. More recently, a deep stall resulted in the crash of Pulkovo Flight 612, a Russian Tu-154, registration number RA-85185, near Donetsk, Ukraine, on August 22, 2006. Data shows that the Tnpolev's descent from FL330 to impact took 210 seconds, close to 9500 ft/min.

It is generally thought that non-swept wing aircraft are not susceptible to deep stalls unless they feature a T-tail, and that swept wing aircraft can be susceptible to deep stalls regardless of their tail position. Combining a swept wing with a T-tail presents the greatest potential for entry into a locked-in deep stall. Most modern aircraft designs are concerned more with equipping the aircraft with safeguards such as stick pushers or AOA limiters which prevent the aircraft from stalling thereby preventing deep stalls from occurring. However, the fundamental aerodynamics of the aircraft could still allow such an event to occur should the safeguards fail.

This has been the whirlwind survey course of stalls and deep stalls painted with broad strokes by someone who is certainly not an aeronautical engineer. Just whatever you do, please don't find a CFI and ask him to go show you deep stalls, I don't think either of you would enjoy it much.


On a conventional straight-wing/low-tailplane airplane, weight acts downwards forward of the lift acting upwards, producing a need for a balancing force acting downwards from the tail. As angle of attack increases, the tail encounters wing wake turbulence, the aerodynamic buffeting from which serves as a warning of impending stall. Reduced effectiveness of the tail prevents the pilot from forcing the airplane into a deeper stall.

In a swept-wing jet with a T-tail and rear fuselage-mounted engines, the T-tail remains clear of the wing's wake and pro vides little or no warning in the form of a pre-stall buffet. Also, the tail is fully effective approaching and into the stall, enabling the pilot to place the wing into a deeper stall at a much greater angle of attack.

At the stall, the swept-wing T-tail airplane tends to pitch up rather than down, and the T-tail is immersed in the wing wake, reducing tail effectiveness and the airplane's ability to counter the nose-up pitch. Also, the air behind the wing may sweep across the tail, stalling it and eliminating all pitch control and the ability to lower the nose.



An airplane equipped with swept and/or tapered wings has a tendency for the wing to develop a strong spanwise airflow towards the wingtip when it is is at high angles of attack. This leads to airflow separation, and the subsequent stall, to occur at the wingtips first. The tip-first stall results in a forward shift of the wing's center of lift relative to the airplane's center of gravity. One result is the nose tends to pitch up, probably not your first choice when nibbling at the edges of a stall.

Another disadvantage of a tip-first stall is that it can involve the ailerons and erode roll control.

Generally, the fully developed deep stall is unrecoverable and is to be avoided. Because of their pitch-up tendency, proper stall recovery in many swept-wing airplanes involves applying full power, rolling the wings level and holding a slightly positive pitch attitude to fly out of the near-stall condition..



When flying at a near the airplane's minimum drag speed ([V.sub.MD]), an increase in angle of attack causes drag to increase faster than lift. The airplane begins to sink. In turn and when maintaining a constant pitch attitude, this tendency results in a rapid increase in . angle of attack as the flightpath trends more downward and less forward.

Once the stall has developed and a large amount of lift has been lost, the airplane will begin to sink rapidly, accompanied by a corresponding rapid increase in angle of attack. This is the beginning of what is termed a deep stall.

As an airplane enters a deep stall, increasing drag reduces forward speed to well below normal stall speed. The sink rate may increase to many thousands of feet per minute. The airplane eventually stabilizes in a vertical descent. The angle of attack may approach 90 degrees while the indicated airspeed may drop to zero. At a 90-degree angle of attack, none of the airplane's control surfaces are effective.

That condition can occur without an excessively nose-high pitch attitude. On some airplanes, it can occur at an apparently normal pitch attitude, something that can mislead the pilot because it presents itself similar to the beginning of a normal stall recovery.


Lee Smith, ATP/CFII, is a freelance writer and corporate pilot living in Hagerstown, Md.
COPYRIGHT 2010 Belvoir Media Group, LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:STICK AND RUDDER
Author:Smith, Lee
Publication:Aviation Safety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Previous Article:Top three icing myths busted: some real-world examples demonstrate in-flight icing is a problem no matter what airplane you fly.
Next Article:Failure to multitask? Pilots have to be able to do more than one thing at a time, without thinking or becoming complacent.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters