It’s not often that I get a blank stare on my face and need someone to carefully repeat what has just been expressed to me. But that’s precisely what Mike Hamel was tasked to do this past fall, after he detailed our mission plan for my introduction to Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT).
Hamel, affectionately known as “Hammer” to friends in the industry, is owner, with his wife Iris, of Aero Tigre based at Quebec’s Airport St. Mathieu de Beloeil, just 30 minutes from Montreal. Aero Tigre is a three-pronged operation that offers members of the general public aerobatic rides up to 45 minutes long, of scenic tours of Montreal and the surrounding countryside, and specialized UPRT training for commercial and business aviation pilots seeking to enhance their skills. Utilizing the nimble Slingsby Firefly T67C aircraft, Hamel can deliver aerobatic and UPRT training programs to beginners and experienced pilots alike. The aircraft’s strong frame, side-by-side seats and two sets of sticks and rudders make it easy for students and instructors to share.
“Don’t worry, Matt, it’s a lot of fun,” Hamel told me before coaxing me into the right seat of the Firefly on my training day. “We’ll do a very mild version of the training I do with commercial and business aviation pilots, nothing too challenging. People love this you know – I had one man who was 76-year-old with Parkinson’s disease and this was on his bucket list. He was so pumped at the end of the flight, he couldn’t stop talking about it! We did a loop, a roll – he still wanted more!”
An aviation veteran with more 35-years commercial and military flying experience in Canada and internationally, Hamel is on a mission to educate Canadian pilots about the importance of UPRT training and offer companies an alternate to U.S.-based training programs. There are currently few UPRT training alternatives in Canada and having an option here could save operations time and money.
“Our training is highly organized with ICAO specifications. All of the training is 100 per cent built around this,” Hamel said. “A lot of people don’t know what is happening with UPRT training and it’s so important. If a pilot on any airline ends up upside down one day, and hopefully they don’t, with this training the pilot can correctly analyze the situation, recover and safely get control of the aircraft.”
The training course the Hamels deliver has both a hands on and classroom element and is designed to give pilots a real life perspective of what happens when an aircraft is out of control. Several case studies including the Coglan Air Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo on Feb. 12, 2009 and the Air France 447 accident in 2009 are included in the training to give pilots necessary context. The course also includes ICAO training videos and more. And unlike UPRT training done in a SIM, the Aero Tigre course gives pilots what Hamel refers to as the “startle” effect – a physical reaction that cannot be duplicated unless you sit in the left seat. It’s a real thing, as I experienced during my flight in the Slingsby.
“If you have seen something in real life, if you have never experienced the ‘startle’ effect, you would not know what to do. The glass cockpit is a great tool, but you still have to know how to adapt in a real life situation. It has happened to me . . . and it is not comfortable. It’s always good to have the right training to deal with any situation,” Hamel said.
Of course, I too, know about discomfort, having experienced a G1 and G3 state in the Slingsby. But it’s comforting to know there are people like Mike and Iris Hamel actively training commercial pilots critical UPRT training right here in Canada.