Got a request from a reader in Canada who was confused by FAA wording on a placard. Imagine! Usually they’re pretty clear, including the near-worthless death and destruction placards that adorn many new aircraft as a result of our overly litigious society.
See the photo: No English teacher would have written it that way. In my opinion, this could be far more clearly stated by saying, “All acrobatic maneuvers, including spins, are prohibited.” I recommend a modest proposal to the FAA that they remove the word “approved” from the current verbiage.
Now to make things a bit more complicated, some aircraft are certificated in two categories depending on weight and balance envelopes, such as the one shown here. There is a normal category which prohibits aggressive activities; utility category allows increased Gs from 3.8 to 4.4. That’s quite a bit and in some aircraft, it will allow one to conduct spins if, and only if, those loading conditions are met. That usually means a forward CG. The C-172 fits this description: normal category—no spins, utility category—OK to spin. Some aircraft, like the A36 Bonanza, are also certificated in two categories, but spins are prohibited—period.
There are some CFIs who think that because normal category aircraft have been flight tested to recover from a one turn spin that one can tiptoe right up to the edge of the envelope by only doing one turn. This is not a great idea because those intrepid factory test pilots usually have: 1) a spin chute on the aircraft, 2) a parachute firmly attached to themselves, 3) some even have modified the doors on the test aircraft to make egress easier. Impromptu escape options usually don’t measure up to that. Awhile back I spoke to a young pilot who said she and her instructor had been doing one turn spins in a Cessna 210. I advised in the strongest terms possible of the above.
Describing chandelles, lazy 8s, and steep turns as acrobatic is pushing the definition. They are definitely maneuvering flight, but as long as one is not exceeding 60 degrees of bank or more than 30 degrees of pitch (by inference from FAR 91.303) they can be done in utility category aircraft.
Don’t forget if you’re practicing spins (in an appropriately approved aircraft) that parachutes may be required. If one is training for a CFI-airplane certificate, it is not required, but everyone else must wear a chute. This rule gets winked at a lot. Some CFIs introduce their primary students to spins without a chute on the premise that the student will someday become a CFI. That’s a stretch in my view although attorneys make a great living debating such things.
My opinion, not backed up by any statistics, is that the chute is there largely for psychological comfort. In most aircraft, unless the doors have removable hinges (quickly) or a canopy that jettisons (quickly), the odds of getting out are pretty slim if the machine is disintegrating around you and spinning earthward. We’ll have an upcoming segment on the topic on AOPA Live later this spring.
Would love to hear from someone who did escape with or without a chute, and the circumstances.