Confusing Spin Guidance

April 10, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

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.

placardSee 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.

chartNow 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.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Bill Murrell

    About 25 years ago I was taking a checkout flight in a 172 from a flight school at the Bowling Green, Kentucky airport. My father was in the back seat. Prior to the flight I had reviewed the placards because I had not flown this aircraft before. It said something to the effect that intentional stalls were not permitted with passengers in the back seat. The flight schools instructor wanted me to do a stall, I reminded him about the placard and he said to do it anyway. I said I would return to the airport, drop off my father and then we could go do it, but I was not going to do it with him in the back seat.

    That ended the checkout and they let me fly the airplane. I have no idea if he was testing me to see if I would do something that I shouldn’t do or what.

  • Gennaro Avolio

    How did you come to the inference that the 60 degree of bank and 30 degree of pitch relates to FAR 91.303? I do agree that chandelles and lazy eights are non aerobatic. A further note on one turn, the first turn in a spin is considered my many to be “incipient” and the spin is not developed until the second turn. Using this this logic to spin a normal category airplane is total idiocy. I further agree about wearing
    parachutes while intentionally spinning. Probably won’t help, but required.

  • Gennaro Avolio

    Let me correct my last statement. Parachutes required only if carrying passengers.

  • Neil G Wilson

    Hi All,

    To get a full understanding of spin training, read AC 61.67C CHG1. See this link:



  • Mark McIntyre

    Further to Neil’s comment, per AC 61-67C, parachutes are not necessarily required for Spin Recovery training. Here’s an excerpt from AC 61-67C, page 14:

    “Because spin entry, spins, and spin recovery are required for a flight instructor certificate or rating, a person receiving instruction from a CFI (or an ATP instructing in accordance with § 61.167) need not wear an approved parachute while instruction is being provided in these maneuvers. This provision applies regardless of the certificate or rating for which the person is receiving training and also if the person is receiving instruction that is not being provided for the purpose of obtaining any additional certificate or rating. The instructor providing the training is also not required to wear an approved parachute while providing this flight training.”

    Parachutes may be required by the AFM or Glider Flight Manual (GFM.) For example, the Schweizer 2-33 Flight Manual does not required use of parachutes during spins, however the PW-6U Flight Manual does require parachutes be worn during spin training. My understanding is the AFM or GFM takes precedent over applicable FARs and Advisory Circulars.