November 2009 Issue

The Spin On Spins

We’re taught to avoid spins, and that’s good, but lack of knowledge can be dangerous. Some things you may not know might save your life someday.

The FAA doesn’t talk much about spins. Mostly, they want us to learn to avoid them. Clearly, avoiding an inadvertent spin is good, but it might help to know a bit more about them. Plus, the whole specter of Air France 447 crashing into the Atlantic at what French authorities indicate was a very high vertical speed and a nearly level attitude suggests that it might be nice to know a bit about flat spins in particular. Most of us have heard it before: Spin training used to be mandatory, but sometime after WWII it was decided most inadvertent stall/spin accidents occurred at an altitude low enough to make recovery unlikely and needn’t be taught. So, the FAA dropped spin training from all but the CFI curriculum and instead began to emphasize spin avoidance. Now, the FAA is taking that one step further by de-emphasizing stall practice and recovery, and instead concentrating on teaching pilots to avoid stalls. With this progression, soon spins and even stalls may be solely the realm of the aerobat and the accident victim. Our goal, of course, is to minimize the latter, so a little education is in order. We’ll start with a brief discussion of the stall and then focus on the aerodynamics of spins and their recovery. Finally, we’ll take a look at what makes a flat spin.

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