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How You Can Prevent An Elevator Trim Stall

There's nothing wrong with going around when a landing just isn't working out. Just don't forget to compensate for trim as you add go-around power.

Elevator Trim Stalls: A Maneuver You Probably Won't Practice In Training

The elevator trim stall demonstration shows what can happen if you apply full power for a go-around without maintaining positive control of the airplane. They're a demonstration-only maneuver; only flight instructor applicants may be required to perform it on a practical test (FAA Airplane Flying Handbook).

It's not a maneuver that's commonly taught to students, but it is something you need to be aware of. Here's why...

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But First, Do You Remember How Trim Works?

The trim tab is one of the most common types of tabs used in small single-engine airplanes. A trim tab is attached to the trailing edge of an elevator, and it's operated by moving a small control wheel (or trim switch) in the cockpit.

When you move the trim tab up or down, it sticks out into the free air stream, and deflects the elevator in the opposite direction. So even though it may seem 'backwards' to move the tab down to make the nose of the plane go up, seeing the tab in action helps it all make sense.

Why This Stall Is Unique

Elevator trim stalls are most likely to happen in these scenarios:

  • During a go-around procedure from a normal landing approach or a simulated, forced-landing approach. The trim is set for a normal landing, and when you add power for a go-around, your aircraft's nose pitches up.
  • Immediately after a takeoff, with the trim incorrectly set (excessively nose up).

In each case when power is added, if you don't respond correctly by adding forward pressure to the yoke, your airplane pitches nose-up. If the trim is excessive, your plane could quickly reaching the critical angle of attack, resulting in a stall.

The combined effects of increased propwash over the tail and elevator trim tend to make the nose rise sharply.

To relieve heavy or overwhelming control pressures, you need to re-trim immediately. Keep go-around power set, and place one hand firmly on the yoke with forward-pressure to keep the nose from rising. With the other hand, begin trimming nose-down until you regain airplane control.

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If taken to the full stall, recovery will require a significant nose-down attitude to reduce the AOA below critical AOA, along with significate re-trimming. And during the recovery, you could have a significant loss of altitude.

How The Demonstration Works

If you haven't done them before, ask your instructor to demonstrate elevator trim stalls. Extend the flaps, close the throttle, and maintain altitude until the airspeed approaches the normal glide speed. When the normal glide is established, trim the airplane nose-up for the normal landing approach glide. During this simulated final approach glide, advanced the throttle smoothly to maximum power, just like you would do during a go-around.

The objective of the demonstration is to show the importance of making smooth power applications, overcoming strong trim forces, maintaining positive control of the airplane to hold safe flight attitudes, and using proper and timely trim techniques (FAA AFH).

How Can You Avoid Elevator Trim Stalls?

Because of the potential risk of an elevator trim stall, some pilots don't recommend trimming on final approach. But just because the nose will pitch up during a go-around, doesn't mean you shouldn't use trim on final approach.

It just means you need to be ready to apply forward control pressure and begin rolling trim forward on go-arounds. Having a little bit of nose-up trim on final approach is a great way to make you're able to flare smoothly for landing.

The key is understanding how much trim is too much. Avoid trimming to the point where you're forced to place forward-pressure on the yoke to keep the nose down on short final or in the flare. If you're trimmed correctly on final, you should be able to let go of the stick/yoke, and your plane won't pitch down or up.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced an elevator trim stall? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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