Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Unusual Attitudes Lesson by wifiCFI


To determine that the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with attitude instrument flying while recovering from unusual attitudes.


The applicant demonstrates understanding of: 

Flight instruments as related to: 

Sensitivity, limitations, and potential errors in unusual attitudes 

Correlation (pitch instruments/bank instruments) 

Function and operation 

Proper instrument cross-check techniques

Risk Management

The applicant demonstrates the ability to identify, assess and mitigate risks, encompassing: 

Instrument flying hazards to include failure to maintain VFR, spatial disorientation, loss of control, fatigue, stress, and emergency off airport landings. 

Failure to seek assistance or declare an emergency in a deteriorating situation. 

Collision hazards, to include aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and wires. 

Distractions, loss of situational awareness, and/or improper task management. 

Failure to interpret flight instruments. 

Failure to unload the wings in recovering from high G situations.

Unusual Attitudes (AFH C4)

An unusual attitude is commonly referenced as an unintended or unexpected attitude in instrument flight.

A pilot is taught the conditions or situations that could cause an unusual attitude, with focus on how to recognize one, and how to recover from one.

An upset is defined as an event that unintentionally exceeds the parameters normally experienced in flight or training. 

These parameters are: 

Pitch attitude greater than 25°, nose up 

Pitch attitude greater than 10°, nose down 

Bank angle greater than 45° 

Within the above parameters, but flying at airspeeds inappropriate for the conditions 

Environmental Factors

Turbulence, or a large variation in wind velocity over a short distance, can cause upset.

Icing can destroy the smooth flow of air over the airfoil and increase drag while decreasing the ability of the airfoil to create lift. 

Therefore, it can significantly degrade airplane performance, resulting in a stall if not handled correctly.

Mechanical Factors

Modern airplanes and equipment are very reliable, but anomalies do occur. 

Some of these mechanical failures can directly cause a departure from normal flight, such as: 

Asymmetrical flaps 

Malfunctioning or binding flight controls 

Runaway trim. 

Human Factors


A loss of the natural horizon substantially increases the chances of encountering vertigo or spatial disorientation, which can lead to upset. 


When operating in IMC, maintain awareness of conditions and use the fundamental instrument skills:

Cross-check, interpretation, and control to prevent an upset. 

Diversion of Attention

In addition to its direct impact, an inflight anomaly or malfunction can also lead to an upset if it diverts the pilot’s attention from basic airplane control responsibilities. 

Failing to monitor the automated systems, over-reliance on those systems, or incomplete knowledge and experience with those systems can lead to an upset. 

Diversion of attention can also occur simply from the pilot’s efforts to set avionics or navigation equipment while flying the airplane. 

Task Saturation

The margin of safety is the difference between task requirements and pilot capabilities. An upset can occur whenever requirements exceed capabilities. 

Sensory Overload/Deprivation

A pilot’s ability to adequately correlate warnings, annunciations, instrument indications, and other cues from the airplane during an upset can be limited. 

Pilots faced with upset situations can be rapidly confronted with multiple or simultaneous visual, auditory, and tactile warnings. 

Conversely, sometimes expected warnings are not provided when they should be; this situation can distract a pilot as much as multiple warnings can.

Spatial Disorientation

All pilots are susceptible to false sensory illusions while flying at night or in certain weather conditions. 

These illusions can lead to a conflict between actual attitude indications and what the pilot senses is the correct attitude. 

Disoriented pilots may not always be aware of their orientation error. 

Nose High Unusual Attitude

Nose High Attitude Recovery

Done in this order:

Increase Power (full if necessary)

Lower the nose

Level the wings

Nose Low Unusual Attitude

Nose Low Attitude Recovery

Done in this order:

Decrease Power

Level Wings

Raise Nose

ACS Standards

Recognize unusual flight attitudes solely by reference to instruments; perform the correct, coordinated, and smooth flight control application to resolve unusual pitch and bank attitudes while staying within the airplane’s limitations and flight parameters.

Common Errors

Incorrect assessment of what kind of upset the airplane is in

Failure to disconnect the wing leveler or autopilot 

Failure to unload the airplane, if necessary 

Failure to roll in the correct direction 

Inappropriate management of the airspeed during the recovery

FAA Sources Used for This Lesson

Airmen Certification Standards

Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH) Chapter 4

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