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