Spin Training: Not So Sure?

Stall/Spin accidents account for only about 8 percent of the total accidents, but they are responsible for 25 percent of the fatalities and serious injuries. Obviously, if we could do something to knock out this relatively tiny percentage of accidents, we could put a huge dent in the personal pain and suffering we see each year! But is specific, detailed training in the entry and recovery from spins the answer?

The statistics indicate otherwise.

Rarely does a spin entered at cruise altitude claim even the low-time student. Much of the current General Aviation fleet is made up of airplanes that are difficult to spin in the first place, and many were required to demonstrate a HANDS OFF RECOVERY from a one-turn spin to be certified. Thus, most inadvertent spins are recoverable if there is enough altitude.

The ones that traditionally do result in crashes occur at low altitude, in the traffic pattern, at the end of a “buzz job” or something similar. No amount of expertise in spin recovery could have prevented most of these accidents. There simply is not enough room to get the airplane back under control! Nothing can prevent the incautious pilot from misloading or over-loading his airplane to the point of seriously altering the stall/spin characteristics, either. Once again, recovery techniques, no matter how well learned can’t help in an unrecoverable airplane.

In Canada, the stall/spin accident rate regularly runs about TEN TIMES that of ours here in the States. How come? Let’s see. The populous regions of Canada lie right along our common border, and it’s pretty hard to tell which side of the border you’re on, so that can’t be it. The weather doesn’t change much either, until you start getting pretty far north.

Different airplanes? Except for a slightly higher number of seaplanes and biplanes that go ta-pocketa-pocketa a lot and have names that start with DeHavilland, it’s pretty much like our General Aviation fleet. You don’t suppose the fact that they have all those funny registration codes that start with “C” and don’t have any numbers could have anything to do with it, do you? Nah.

So, what IS the difference? Our neighbors to the North do a lot of spin training, that’s what.

But isn’t that supposed to HELP the situation, not make it WORSE? Yes, but if you look at all the variables mentioned above, Spin training could work to your disadvantage.

First, look at the training aircraft. Most can be safely spun and do not require any particular effort to recover, but several are specifically placarded against intentional spins. Others can only be spun if loaded in the Utility Category. Some are very difficult to get a real spin out of, so the training you did get would be of limited value.

Remember the Ercoupe [featured on the cover of this issue]? It was designed as a stall-proof and spin-proof airplane. This was achieved through a variety of means; interconnected rudder and aileron controls to prevent cross-controlling, severe elevator authority limiting to prevent high angles of attack, and lots of dihedral in the wings for stability.

If you really don’t remember the Ercoupe, you can look at a number of today’s popular training aircraft and see most of the same design philosophy. As a veteran of several thousand hours instructing in some of these trainers I can vouch for the fact that a couple of them were ALMOST made spin proof, and will basically recover by themselves.

On the other hand, take one of these mild-mannered teaching machines and misload it and it will eat your lunch, as has been proven many times. There is a film clip showing a test flight made in an intentionally aft-loaded Cherokee 180 that is spun and very quickly goes flat and unrecoverable. After what seems like about 30 extremely rapid rotations during which the test pilot does everything he can think of, the spin is finally broken by deploying a rocket-propelled parachute hooked to the tail, Wild!

The point here is that spin training in a carefully controlled environment may not relate well to the real world.

How about the student who has selected a flight school that operates trainers that cannot be spun? Spin it anyhow? Make him go elsewhere for spin training? And how about the operators themselves? Imagine the hue and cry that would go up from the guy who has a couple dozen machines on the ramp that are placarded against spins, and all of a sudden spin training is required? OH BROTHER!

Am I saying then that the student should NEVER get ANY spin training? Not at all! If your trainer can be spun safely and legally, go do it once or twice, but that’s it, just to see what it’s all about, and to get a healthy respect for the phenomena. (Hard to call it a maneuver, really, since you are basically out of control!)

As mentioned above, the rest of the picture is just too variable to be worth working with, even in the same airplane. There ARE some things that DO stay the same however, and that is where the training time should be spent. Consider the following:



This last bit may sound familiar to some, as it was part of the FAA Accident Prevention Program’s “Back to Basics” series, titled “Avoiding The Stall/Spin Accident”. Notice it says “AVOIDING”, not recovering from! This is still good stuff, and may still be available at your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). It’s probably on VHS, though!

So, where should the training effort be? Slow flight. Gradually introduce the consequences of pushing the slow flight too far in various configurations. This will of course result in the full suite of stalls, approach, departure, accelerated, etc. He or she should be fairly well versed in the recovery from these stalls, and the results of mishandling the recovery, which could result in a spin

The INSTINCT that needs to be developed in this area, however, is to “recover” from slow flight BEFORE it develops into a stall and progresses into a spin. The student should be able to control down to the activation of the stall warning device through the complete range of flap and gear positions, and then be able to climb, descend and turn in that configuration and at that airspeed, give or take a bit to keep the stall warning on, up to at least a medium bank.

Much more useful training than stalls and spins! Why? Because the student who is aware that something is going on that will lead to a serious problem and corrects for it now has a better chance of survival than the student who is a master at recovering from disaster but doesn’t see it coming!

Demonstrate the consequences of pushing things or allowing things to go too far, but TRAIN and PRACTICE the AVOIDANCE of inadvertent stalls and spins. If we do that, the stall/spin accident will become as rare as engine failures!

Remember, NO STALL, NO SPIN!

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