To spin or not to spin? That is the question AVweb's Howard Fried tries to answer as he reviews the pros and cons of spin training. Dropped from the training syllabus in the late Fifties, there are still many who feel it has value and would like to see all pilots exposed to this maneuver at a time other than when they are killed by it. Howard suggests that reintroducing it may be more difficult than you think, even if everyone agreed it was a good idea.
October 7, 1998
|About the Author ...
Howard Fried started flying with the Army Air Corps in WWII, where he
served both as a multi-engine instructor pilot and in combat piloting B-17s.
After a stint teaching sociology and on-the-air and management jobs in the
radio business after the war, he turned to teaching flying again full-time.
Over 40,000 general aviation hours later, he is still instructing
and running his own flight school. Along the way he administered over 4,000 flight tests
as a Designated Examiner until victimized by rogue FAA
He has authored two popular flying books aimed at student pilots and
instructors, Flight Test Tips and Tales and Beyond The Checkride, and a
series of audio tapes, Checkride Tips from
Flying's Eye Of The Examiner.
To be or not to be?
William Shakespeare, 1636
To spin or not to spin?
Howard Fried, 1998
Ever since spin training was deleted from the primary training
requirements way back in 1957 there has been a raging controversy
in the aviation education community over whether it was a mistake to
drop spin training and whether or not to reinstate it in every
There is no doubt whatsoever that a bit of aerobatic training,
including spin training, would produce better airplane manipulators,
if not better pilots. Pilots would certainly become more aware
of their spatial orientation. And, if a pilot should find himself
or herself in a truly unusual attitude, he or she would be prepared
to apply proper recovery technique. The question remains, then,
why is this not done? One answer is that the flight schools and
the airplane manufacturers, concerned about the fear of spins
driving prospective flight students (and consequently airplane
buyers) away, always bitterly object to the idea of reintroducing
spin training into the primary curriculum.
Prior to 1957 the Private Pilot Flight Test (what we now call
the Practical Test) included a requirement that the applicant
demonstrate spin entries and recoveries, right and left. Today
this requirement only applies to flight instructor applicants,
and even they don't have to do it on the checkride just so long
as they have an endorsement to the effect that they have had training
in spin entries and recoveries, left and right. Ever since spin
training was dropped from the primary curriculum from time to
time proposals have been advanced to reintroduce spin training
to all pilots. Thus far, none of these proposals have progressed
beyond the proposal stage. Meanwhile, pilots are continuing to
die as a result of blundering into inadvertent spins. In fact,
the rate at which this happens is relatively unchanged in all
It is my understanding that the reason spin training was eliminated
from the primary curriculum was in an effort to encourage the
manufacturers of training airplanes to build, if not spin proof,
at least spin resistant trainers. And, this effort was at least
partially successful, because at least some (but not all) modern
trainers have to be forced into a spin.
Perhaps Fred Weick had
the right idea way back in the mid-30s when he designed the
Ercoupe, a delightful little airplane which was characteristically
incapable of spinning. Other than that single model, any certificated
production airplane can be made to spin. We're not referring
to the homebuilt kit airplanes. Some of the composite construction
kits, particularly the Burt Rutan canard designs, are truly spinproof.
Just because a production airplane is not certified for spins
doesn't mean it can't or won't spin. It simply means that it wasn't
tested for fully developed spins in the certification process.
There are, of course, two elements required for an airplane to
spin. First, it must be stalled, and second, there must be a yaw
moment introduced. Recovery techniques vary slightly from one
make and model of aircraft to another, but the basic recovery
technique always involves the stopping of the autorotation by
eliminating the yaw and then recovering from the stall. Works
Where do I stand on the subject, you ask? My feet are firmly planted
on both sides of the issue. Please permit me to explain. Most
of today's flight instructors have never experienced a real, fully
developed spin. What happens is this: During the course of flight
instructor training, the instructor instructor will one day say,
"OK, today we'll get the spin requirement out of the way."
He and his CFI trainee then go out to the airplane, take off,
and climb to a decent altitude, at which time the instructor says,
"Now watch closely while I demonstrate a left entry and recovery."
At this time, he hauls back on the yoke, stands the airplane on
its tail, and just as it breaks in a stall, he mashes on the left
rudder. The airplane falls off on the left wing and starts to
rotate. Immediately (before it has gone through a quarter of a
turn), the instructor mashes on the right rudder and relaxes the
back pressure. As the airplane recovers in a slight dive, he says,
"There, that was a left one. Now I'll show you one to the
right," and he repeats the process.
In the forty years since spin training was dropped, we are now
into the forth generation of CFIs who got their spin training
like that, and that kind of so-called spin training is actually
worse than useless. It is a detriment. The instructor trainee
has not seen a real spin and would be incapable of recognizing
one if he were to experience it. If this is how it is to be done,
I would strongly oppose putting spin training back in every pilot's
On the other hand, if spin training were to be conducted properly,
I would even more strongly favor its reintroduction into the primary
flight curriculum. By "conducted properly," I mean if
spins were to be introduced from normally anticipated flight situations
and permitted to develop into a genuine spin rather than only
an incipient spin. This would provide a valuable learning experience
and would truly equip the student to recover not only from an
inadvertent spin, but almost any unusual attitude into which he
When I say "normally anticipated flight situations"
here's what I mean: In a steep turn (50-55 degrees of bank) to
the left, P-factor is attempting to yaw the nose of the airplane
farther to the left. Meanwhile, the pilot is holding right rudder
to keep the nose level and a bit of right aileron to counteract
the overbanking tendency. The airplane is pulling almost two Gs,
raising the stall speed drastically. Just a slight nudge on the
elevator will result in a stall. The left (bottom) wing will come
up and over as the nose drops and the airplane starts to spin
to the right. The picture from the cockpit is quite alarming.
If the power is not instantly reduced to idle, the spin will
rapidly tighten and altitude will be lost at a rapid rate. In
a steep right turn, the yaw to the right is aggravated by holding
left aileron to offset the overbanking tendency and right rudder
to help prevent the airplane from unbanking.
Using an airplane certified for spins, the student is taken to
a good, safe altitude, say five thousand five hundred feet AGL,
and the runway is set up at an even five thousand feet. We then
overshoot the turn from base to final, steepen the bank, and pull
the nose up in an effort to get lined up with the hypothetical
runway. They would quickly learn what happened to all those airplanes
that spin in on final.
Another good spin training scenario is to again hypothesize a
landing approach. This time we're on final. The airplane is in
landing configuration with a substantial amount of up elevator
trim. At the last moment we attempt a go-around. As we apply full
power, with less than perfect rudder usage, P-factor yaws the
airplane to the left, the nose pitches up drastically, the airplane
stalls and starts to spin. Again, the student sees a realistic
situation from which spins occur.
Using scenarios such as these for spin training, I would strongly
favor the reintroduction of spin training into the primary curriculum.
Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know how you feel about
this. The aviation community seems to be almost equally divided
on the subject.
There are those who maintain that the spin recovery characteristics
of different make and model airplanes are so different that spin
training in primary training airplanes would be useless, but I
believe that since the two elements necessary for spins--a yaw
moment and the fact that the airplane must be stalled--are the same in all aircraft, the recovery
technique always requires that the rotation be stopped by removing
the yaw with opposite rudder and recovering from the stall with
normal stall recovery technique. It has been conclusively shown
that all normal category GA aircraft will recover from a spin
if the power is retarded and the controls let go. Proper recovery
technique is necessary, however, for a prompt recovery with minimum
loss of altitude.
Of course, if stall training were to be done properly, there would
be no need for spin training. Flight instructors and flight schools
are doing it all wrong. They are teaching their students in a
totally unnatural way how to make an airplane stall and then how
to recover. What they should be doing is teaching students how
to recognize an incipient stall and prevent it from happening.
No stall, no spin. It is as simple as that.
Even more fundamental is the necessity to instill in the student
a complete understanding of the concept of angle of attack. This
seems to be a particularly difficult concept for many students
to grasp, and quite a few pilots out there are unaware of the
relationship between power and angle of attack--how adding or
reducing power changes the direction of the relative wind, and
thus the angle of attack. Perhaps this is because the idea of
relative wind is hard to visualize. We will be discussing this
in more detail and greater depth in future Eye of Experience columns.