Spin Training

By Jason Catanzariti, CFI


While on vacation in Arizona over New Year's I decided to get two things crossed off my list: the IFR written exam (passed with a 93), and my spin training endorsement. All flight instructor candidates must undergo spin training so they know what to do if a student inadvertently causes one.

So off I went to Deer Valley Airport just north of Phoenix, where there is a college of aeronautics. They agreed to let me sit in on a ground school session for spins, and then make the flight the next day. So I soon found myself in a class with four students dressed in ties and captain's epaulets, leaving me feeling distinctly underdressed.

I have never attended a formal flight school, so it was interesting to see these young students. They were very knowledgeable, and seemed to have a good deal of experience. I thought I was up on my stuff, but they showed me I have more reading to do. In any case, few if any of us had ever been in a spin. We all knew what caused one and the standard procedure for recovering, but this was going to be a new experience.

The chief instructor was running the class, and he quizzed us on several topics I used to think I knew something about. The finer points of stalls and what causes them under varying circumstances, aerodynamic conditions leading up to a stall, the effects of center of gravity on stalls, and different types of spins.

As we delved deeper into spins and recoveries I began to feel more and more nervous about the whole thing. I hadn't realized, for example, that the plane rolls inverted briefly during spin entry. I also didn't know that improper recovery techniques could lead to a "spiral mode" in which the plane comes out of the stall, but continues to turn and builds up airspeed dangerously. By the end of the ground session we all looked a bit anxious - me especially so because I was to fly first. I wondered briefly if the flight schedule was so conceived as to test things out on me prior to subjecting their students to spins.

The morning of the flight was clear and cool, and I drove out to the airport early. Chief instructor Jim met me and we went out to preflight the Cessna 152 we were to fly. We soon took off for the practice area nearby and climbed to 8000 feet. I asked to do a few power off stalls to warm up since I hadn't flown a Cessna for some time. No problem.

Then Jim explained he would demonstrate the beginning of a spin, recover before it fully developed, and that I should just keep my hands in my lap this first time. I took a breath and said I was ready.

The ground school session had let me know exactly what to expect. The night before I had done some "chair flying" to visualize what was going to happen. But there was nothing - NOTHING - that could have prepared me for that first spin.

Jim brought the throttle to idle and pulled the yoke back to initiate a stall. When the stall warning began to go off he stepped firmly on the left rudder pedal. The plane yawed a bit to the left and then...

"Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Oh my God!!!"

I completely panicked as the Cessna snapped over inverted, pointed straight at the ground, and seemingly tried to throw me out the door. Jim recovered from the spin in less than one turn, while I scraped myself off the floor of the plane. He reassured me that most people reacted as I had the first time, and that we would continue at whatever pace I could take.

Computer simulated view of a spin entry


He then had me shadow him on the controls as we did two more entries and quick recoveries. The first time I did exactly the wrong thing and tried to pull back on the yoke further when it was time to recover. What surprised me was that I knew perfectly well what to do and couldn't make myself do it. Although you aren't pointed straight at the ground, it sure seems that way. And pushing forward on the yoke (which is the correct procedure) was a challenging act of will.

We then entered and recovered from fully developed spins to both sides. By this time I was getting queasy, which hardly ever happens to me. Finally, I had to do it myself. Jim said he would count three rotations and tell me to recover. So I pulled it into the stall, stomped on the rudder, and sort of turned off my brain as the plane went into the spin. I held the controls as they were to continue the spin, then performed the recovery on cue.

By this time I was about to vomit, so we headed back with me holding the sick-sack up to my face. I took this time to ask Jim, "So, how long does it take to get USED to that?" He laughed, and said it took a while. Then it gets to be fun.

I managed (just barely) to not vomit, and was able to fly the approach and landing. After landing my legs were rubbery, and I was no good for anything the rest of the day. Couldn't eat for a few hours either.

In the end, it was certainly a valuable experience. And I do plan to do it again to get more comfortable. I think the most disconcerting aspect was seeing such a docile airplane do something so abrupt. Being accustomed to the stable, forgiving qualities of Cessna and Piper trainers, seeing the airplane enter such an unusual flight condition so rapidly is unsettling.

But I can sort of see how it could get to be fun.

Sort of...

Epilogue: Since writing this article I have spun a number of airplanes, and have indeed learned to enjoy it. Once you do it enough times, you gain confidence that the airplane will in fact stop spinning when you take the correct actions. Also, my instructor Jim Pittman was later the subject of a funny AOPA article about his being briefly arrested after ferrying an airplane that had been erroneously reported as stolen!

This site is © Copyright Jason Catanzariti 2014, All Rights Reserved
Web templates