Go for a spin

Let’s review what you think you know about spins. They occur when we stall the wing and add in uncoordinated flight in the form of yaw, right? OK, I agree.

What about recovery? Almost all texts say it the same. It’s:

1. Power to idle.

2. Neutralize the ailerons.

3. Full opposite rudder.

4. Forward on the yoke.

5. Hold until rotation stops, then pull out of the dive.

I was always under the assumption that the sequence of rudder and elevator wasn’t terribly important. In fact, I figured the only reason you don’t come forward on the elevator too soon was because you didn’t want to break the stall and turn the maneuver into a steep spiral prior to taking out the yaw. Because after all, we’re spinning because the wings are stalled, and bringing forward elevator will break the stall, right?

Well, it turns out that’s a big myth. In fact, most competent aerobatic pilots already know this, but you can add full forward elevator in a spin, and so long as you’re still holding full rudder in the direction of the spin, the airplane won’t recover. Far from it. Depending on the type of aircraft, it may even transition to an inverted spin if you add opposite rudder after the full forward elevator. And if you’ve never done an inverted spin, let’s just say they are more than a little disorienting. But in all airplanes, it will increase the rate of rotation and actually make the corkscrew tighter and faster–a situation obviously not desired if you’re in an inadvertant spin.

Senior Editor Dave Hirschman performing an inverted flat spin

This and many other realizations came courtesy of Bill Finagin, an aerobatic instructor from Annapolis, Maryland. Bill flies a Pitts S-2C, a beast of an airplane that’s well suited to this type of training. Senior Editor Dave Hirschman also few with Bill, and said he learned a few things about spins too. That’s saying something considering that Dave has thousands of hours of aerobatic time.

The larger point is that every pilot needs instruction, and not just for initial flight training. Flying with Bill was very humbling for me. I experienced vertigo, seriously overcontrolled while trying to recover, and probably would have kept doing that had he not been in the back. Far from being a scary though,  I’ve been in enough training situations to really value a session that pushes me hard. Every student should. The military does it best. Push beyond your comfort zone sometimes and you’ll find that it’s well worth the trepidation you had before the flight. That goes for something as simple as a long cross-country to something as advanced as formation training, serious aerobatic training, and anything else that’s new and different. You’ll feel more confident, and if you’re like me, perhaps a bit more queasy too.

–Ian Twombly

  • http://airwaystoairways.blogspot.com Ben

    I just did my first spin yesterday. My instructor spun us and recovered, and then he spun us again and had me recover it.

    Terrifying as it was to see the ground rotating around you like that, it was also a lot of fun and very valuable to see a spin in person. If I don’t get more spin training before I finish my private pilot’s license, I plan to take a stall-spin course at some point in the future.

  • Machteld

    Pushing beyond your personal envelope is a good thing to do. I was fearful of stalls because I was terrified I’d get into a spin. So my instructor suggested doing some spin training to help me overcome my fear. Unveiling the mystery of a spin was a magical moment. I actually went on and took some aerobatics lessons after that.

  • http://AOPAOnlineFlightTraining Al

    This is good advice and is “money in the bank” for any pilot which (s)he might have to draw on some day. I would go one step beyond this, however. As a career trainer, I genuinely feel that a modicum of aerobatics should be part of the required curriculum to obtain a commercial license. I don’t mean to make a commercial pilot an aerobatic demonstration master at all, but one entrusted with flying the public for compensation should be able to properly recover an airplane from any conceivable attitude and return directly it to normal flight — and I have seen many who could not. The operative word here is “properly.” There is plenty of flying time in the Commercial Pilot training requirements (either Part 61 or 141) to provide the student with 5 hours of aerobatic training. I think it should be required. It is done at my school and practically every graduate of our course of instruction has commented that it was well worth the investment. We have a well-documented case here locally where the pilot of a major commercial airline found his Boeing 737 rolling inverted and applied the wrong correction with the resultant loss of 25 lives. That, alone, should be enough to generate this requirement.