Eye of Experience #7:
To Spin or Not to Spin?

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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.

Eye Of Experience

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 pilot's training.

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.

Spin training proposals never make it

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 these years.

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 every time.

Both Sides of the Issue

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 learning experience.

Good Spin Training

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 might blunder.

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.

Realistic Scenarios

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.

Some Disagree

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.

If stall training were done right ...

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.