A few years ago, a friend invited me to ride along with him and his flight instructor in a little four-seater Cessna 172 for a flying lesson. He was working on his private pilot’s license at the time, and knowing my interest in aviation, he figured I’d enjoy tagging along for a ride to nowhere in particular. It wasn’t until we got to the airport that I learned what skill his instructor was planning to focus on that day:
I knew enough about flying to know that I was in for an interesting and slightly terrifying day, especially in the motion-intensifying back seat of a small plane.
When you hear the word ‘stall’, your first thought might involve an engine that stops running. This is a terrifying thought in a single-engine plane, but it’s not what I’m talking about here. In an airplane, a stall refers to the wings, not the engine. Specifically, stalling an airplane means putting it in some condition where the wings are no longer generating lift and the plane begins to fall out of the sky.
We spent the bulk of the hour-long lesson doing this on purpose. The instructor would set the little plane’s single engine to idle. Then my friend would pull back on the yoke (the plane’s ‘steering wheel’), pointing the nose of the plane ever-higher until we heard the stall horn sound and the plane began to fall. Then he’d tip the nose down, rev the engine back up, and we’d recover. We did this over and over again.