Calspan provides this training for Navy and Air Force test pilots, military pilots from several other countries, and many pilots who fly corporate jets. Some of that training is done in Western New York, in a specially designated area high above Lake Ontario.
But Knotts estimates that only about 500 of the nation's 34,000 airline pilots have received in-flight upset recovery training.
He agrees with the FAA's proposal to make special hazard training mandatory. But Knotts hopes the FAA will change its proposal by recommending that the training be given in an in-flight simulator, rather than one that sits on the ground.
"We feel that we offer a unique type of training that is the best kind, because the pilot gets a feel for what it is like to be airborne when these things are happening," Knotts said. "By comparison, doing it in a ground simulator is like playing a video game."
On Jan. 12 - exactly a month before the Flight 3407 crash - the FAA proposed sweeping changes in safety training for commercial pilots, other flight crew members and flight dispatchers.
A key element of the proposal is the requirement for all pilots to receive "special hazard training."
"This rulemaking is part of the FAA's efforts to reduce fatal accidents in which human error was a major contributing cause," the FAA said in its proposal. "The proposed changes would reduce human error and improve performance among crew members, flight attendants and aircraft dispatchers."
Donald L. McCune Jr., a retired military and airline pilot, supports strengthening the minimum training requirements. He said the financial problems facing the air travel industry tend to drive some airlines into providing only the minimum amount of required training for their pilots.
McCune, of Mount Pleasant, S. C., is also an aviation law attorney and a member of the National Air Disaster Alliance, an organization that seeks stronger government action on air safety issues.
Some airlines require more extensive and specialized training for their pilots than other airlines do, according to McCune and Jack Eppard, a veteran airline pilot from Rhome, Texas.
"That is why minimum FAA standards are important," McCune said. "The FAA wants more pilots to train for the situations that might confront them before it actually happens to them in the air."
Cost is the one big down side of the FAA proposal. The FAA has estimated that the improvements in safety training would cost airlines $373 million over the next decade.
"It costs a lot of money to send pilots out for extra training. When pilots are training, they aren't out in the aircraft, flying passengers and bringing in revenue," McCune said.
Where do the airlines stand on the issue?
Officials of the Air Transport Association, which represents the airlines, are studying the proposal and are not ready to say whether they support or oppose it, said Basil Barimo, the organization's vice president.
The airlines group said it did have some input into the study that led to the FAA's proposal.
Through a spokeswoman, Barimo declined to comment on whether the FAA proposal will raise air fares, or whether the airlines see any need to raise minimum standards for pilot training.
What do officials of Colgan Air, the operator of Flight 3407, think of the FAA proposal?
And had the Flight 3407 pilot-Capt. Marvin D. Renslow- received upset recovery training?
Renslow had received upset recovery training, said airline spokesman Joe Williams, but he did not provide specific details on the training program Renslow attended.
"Our crew training is already certified by the FAA and meets or exceeds the regulatory requirements for all major airlines. We already use full-motion simulators and other training devices," Williams said. "Colgan Air has instilled a systemic culture of safety throughout our organization that is rooted in significant investment in crew training, systems, leadership and equipment."
Williams declined to answer whether the company agrees with the FAA's call for higher pilot training standards.
According to McCune, there has been a sharp decrease over the past two decades in the number of commercial pilots who have military training. Pilots trained by the military often have received upset recovery training and other training geared to handling hazardous situations.
"In the military, everybody gets the experience of flying upside-down," McCune said.
As he sat in the cockpit of a $5 million Learjet training aircraft, Calspan pilot Bruce H. Magoon said he wasn't about to second-guess Renslow's actions on the night of the crash.
But Magoon did talk about the autopilot, the device whose connection to the crash is under investigation by the federal safety board.
Autopilot - the computerized system that can keep an aircraft level and on course without manual control by the pilot - is used by commercial pilots every day, and Magoon calls it one of the great innovations in aviation history. In the big picture, autopilot has made air travel safer for millions of passengers, said Magoon, manager of Calspan's flight research group.
When an aircraft is flying on autopilot, it gives the flight crew more time to monitor altitude, air speed and prepare the aircraft for approach and landing.
"But autopilot is a two-edged sword," said Magoon, a former Air Force test pilot.
"When autopilot is flying the plane, the flight crew doesn't know all the corrections that autopilot is making to keep the aircraft stable. Then, when autopilot is deactivated, the pilot is suddenly on his own."
According to the safety board, Renslow used the autopilot to fly his plane for most of the flight. Shortly after the autopilot deactivated, possibly because of icing, the aircraft went out of control and plummeted into a Clarence Center neighborhood.
In November 2006, the FAA issued a safety warning, urging pilots who observe icing on their planes to disconnect the autopilot every five minutes. The NTSB has gone farther, recommending that the autopilot be turned off for the duration of a flight as soon as substantial icing is encountered. – less – More from ZoomInfo »