Mandated Spin Training

Mike Goulian - Extra 330SC

Unless you’re an instructor, practical spin training is not required by the FAA for any pilot. I’ve always been amazed by that. Even if you plan on performing spins intentionally, no training of any kind would be legally needed. Does that make sense to you?

But it gets worse. Flying a massive airliner with hundreds of people on board? No spin training required; these days, the computers will take care of everything. Stall shakers, stick pushers, and AOA probes are infallible!

Even if you are an instructor, your spin training could have been as simple as a single flight, perhaps a spin entry, a half turn of rotation, and a recovery. Call me crazy, but that seems… inadequate. My flight training experience was rather old school, consisting of tailwheels, spins, and aerobatics in stone-simple aircraft which bear little resemblance to today’s glass-infested airplanes. With all due respect to those who think I sound eerily like an 80-year old complaining about how “things ain’t how they used to be”, let me say that even a broken clock is right twice a day, so stick with me for a moment and see if you don’t agree.

There was a time when practical spin training was required for even the most basic pilot certification. Unfortunately those were the early, wild west days of flying, and I can only imagine spins weren’t approached by barnstormers with the level of forethought and consideration we typically give to those things today. As I’ve previously noted, they had a appreciable tolerance for risk back then. By the late 1940’s, conventional wisdom was that the training itself was leading to more accidents than inadvertent spins occurring in the wild.

Mandated spin training was discontinued by the Feds in 1949.

So how has this policy been working out for us? Not well, in my opinion. I’m often asked where my zeal for spin training comes from. The answer is simple: decades of accident reports. A search of the NTSB database for the word “spin” reveals 4,019 accidents — most of them fatal. That’s approximately 4,019 too many. It’s also worth noting that the database only goes back to 1962, so we can’t compare the statistics to what came before. According to the Air Safety Foundation:

Stall and spin-related accidents are among the most deadly types of GA accidents, with a fatality rate of about 28 percent, and accounting for about 10 percent of all GA accidents.

To be fair, some of the 4,019 NTSB reports referencing spins were helicopter accidents and others did not involved an aerodynamic spin. For example, a recent RV-6A accident report involved a loss of directional control on landing, leading the aircraft to “spin” off the runway. Even so, I still count nearly 20 spin-related crashes in the past twelve months. That doesn’t sound too bad when compared to the 50 year average, but keep in mind GA flying activity is down sharply (22 million fixed-wing GA hours in 2000 vs only 12 million a decade later).

Empirical evidence suggests that spin training might help avoid some of these tragedies. Unfortunately the average GA pilot doesn’t necessarily look at spins very favorably. More than any other maneuver, spins come with a long litany of baggage. Horror stories from other pilots, tall tales of spins that swallow the aircraft whole like Moby Dick, apprehensiveness about motion sickness, and so on. This requires delicate handling by those who do provide such training. Unfortunately, some still approach this using blunt force. “Just do it”. That works about as well as exposing a GA neophyte to advanced aerobatics. They run away and never return, while the bad experience only grows with each retelling over the years.

Teaching spins is not rocket science, but it must be done methodically. It’s very tempting to skip items that a more experienced pilot “ought to know”, but 99% of pilots spend 99% of their time flying straight-and-level. As a result, I’ve seen some really weird explanations from spin students about basic aerodynamics. One of the most common errors is a belief that aircraft stall at a specific speed rather than a specific angle of attack. If you’re always wings-level at 1-G, that might seem like gospel after decades of uneventful flying. If only the laws of physics would abide such misconceptions!

That’s why my spin training always begins with a thorough review of basic aerodynamics: how lift is developed, stalls, coordination, wing drops, and finally the mechanics of the spin itself. When teaching spins, the best advice for a CFI is: assume nothing.

In the air, it’s vital that the spins are worked up to slowly, beginning with stalls of various types. Remember this is not only a new activity for most trainees, but the aircraft is unfamiliar and the instructor is an unknown quantity as well. Earning the student’s trust early on allows them to focus on the spins later rather than questioning whether they’ll survive the experience. I’ve found falling leaf stalls are particularly valuable because the student must be comfortable with high angles of attack. If they gain nothing permanent from the training beyond this, it is a success, because we all must fly at high angles of attack during landing.

A quality spin training syllabus will include many things that even those who’ve got spin experience might not be familiar with: demonstrations of the difference between spins and spiral dives, drills to build confidence, techniques for assisting apprehensive students, advanced spin modes for those who take to it with greater ease, and so on.

One of the most common misconceptions about spin training is that its primary purpose is to help you recover from a spin. The truth is you aren’t terribly likely to encountering one inadvertently. If proper coordination is maintained (and it’s often not — that is why we have these stall-spin accidents), few pilots will encounter one in the heat of battle. No, the best reason for teaching spins is to eliminate fear of the unknown. Such fears can be debilitating at a moment when the pilot can least afford to be indecisive. The same can be said of upset recovery courses.

I’ll take it a step further and state that many landing accidents are caused by a lack of spin training. What does one have to do with the other? Students who are afraid of spins will be afraid of deep stalls. It’s only natural to fear the unknown. Those wing drops can be scary if you don’t understand what’s causing them, what will happen if you don’t correct properly, and how the resulting spin entry should be handled. A fear of stalls means they’ll be apprehensive about high angles of attack and low airspeeds. So they approach the runway with too much energy just to be on the safe side, with predictable results.

With all that in mind, it astounds me that the FAA proclaims spin training as unnecessary. I see people every day who have had no spin training and their flying is often marked by poor rudder skills, limited understanding of the related aerodynamics, and a lack of appreciation for the importance of coordination.

That’s the benefit of spins, and the reason I feel strongly it should be mandated as a central part of primary training. The stick-and-rudder skill deficiencies in today’s pilots didn’t start today. It began years ago when they were learning how to fly. Fixing it will require a journey into the past. It’s time to get back to basics, and you won’t cover all the bases unless spin training is a central part of the mix.

79 comments

  1. The article, even though I am at commercial pilot level, and done solo spins to 2 – 3 rotations, just made me crack a book open to revisit basic aerodynamic theory, just to confirm I knew what I always thought about AOA, wing drops, coordination, etc…because I found myself coming up with the answers as decisively as I would have liked. Knowledge is power. Once you know what the A/C is doing and why, you can pilot it accordingly

      1. Seems to be a lot of self aggrandizing golden arms on here. Ron, how many of those stall/spin accidents you refer to were in the pattern, too low for all the spin training in the world to be of value. The focus of basic PPL training should be how to avoid stall/spins, particularly low to the ground. More people will die doing unnecessary spin training than will ever be saved knowing how to recover from a (recoverable) spin.

        1. I’d have to review the data to come up with that answer, but regardless of the number, I’ve been doing spins for 15 years, and every plane I’ve done them in can complete a one turn spin and recover to level flight with about 500 feet of altitude loss. I don’t understand why people are of the opinion that any incipient spin in the pattern is “unrecoverable” even with “all the spin training in the world”. It’s not.

          1. C’mon Ron, most stall/spins occur on the base to final turn. Chuck Yeager isn’t going to recover from that spin. The PPL focus should be on avoiding that position in the first place.

          2. Fair enough. There is certainly an altitude below which it is not possible to recover, but exactly what that altitude is depends on several things, not least of which is how far the spin progresses before recovery is initiated. As I noted in the post, however, the main impetus for the training is comfort and avoidance. It’s kind of like stall training in that regard.

          3. Probably because a lot of those entries are of the
            “stall/spin due to attempt to correct an overshot base-to-final
            turn” variety. I don’t think it’s likely that many folks encounter
            a spin at some arbitrary point in the pattern — sure, if you’re at
            1000 AGL, you may well recover in time — but at low altitude on
            the base to final turn, you haven’t much of a chance. I’m all for
            extending the envelope and getting spin (and other acro) training
            as a way to grow, but I’m not so sure that means that the FAA was
            wrong about the risk/benefit of spin training as a
            requirement.

        2. If a pilot recognized the parameters that resulted in a spin, the situation in the pattern would never
          progress that far.

          1. I’m close to my PPL checkride, so no real experience
            here… but I’ve been reading accident reports, and most spins I’ve
            seen are indeed base-to-final. I’m also thinking focusing on
            avoiding a stall at low altitude/low airspeed/higher AOA situation
            is key to reducing these accidents. I just took the knowledge test
            too, and remember that a stall is required for a spin to occur :-)
            I still want to do spin training, though! The Warrior is too easy
            in stalls, and not approved for spins.

        3. In my 37 years as a flight instructor, most of my PPL students (all except the earliest ones) learned spin entries and recoveries. It is part of a natural progression as they go from basic wings-level power-off stalls, to more advanced accelerated and cross-control stalls, and on to spin, which are really just advanced stalls. Learning to recognize the causes of a spin and the onset of a spin enhances their ability to avoid a spin before it actually happens. Learning to recover from a spin gives them a much better chance of actually recovering from a spin even at pattern altitudes without smacking the ground, versus the “never spun” pilot who is still trying to figure out what is happening when they hit the ground. And it is a great confidence builder. I work into spins gradually, just like I do with stalls. As for spin fatalities in training, I wonder how many of those were inadvertent low-altitude spins, how many were in airplanes that shouldn’t be spun (placarded ‘spins prohibited’ by the manufacturer or loaded outside of the utility category if so required), how many were deliberate spins below a safe altitude, and how many were inadvertent spins with instructors who had lost their ‘sharp edge’ because it had been decades since their last spin. (If you are going to teach spins, you should practice them regularly in the same make & model airplane in which you teach them.) The argument that spin training doesn’t matter because most spins occur in the pattern and they aren’t recoverable that low is spurious. Saying that we shouldn’t do spin training because spin training doesn’t always save lives is like saying that we should do away with seat belts and airbags in cars because they don’t always save lives. (I also encourage my students to eventually get some acrobatic dual, to learn how an airplane handles all the way through all three axes and in really extreme unusual attitudes.)

          1. The argument is not that spin training “doesn’t matter,” but rather that the FAA’s study of the matter concluded that the costs outweighed the benefits for primary students.

            Justifying it as a requirement for the PPL based on a search of accident records is at best incomplete if you don’t exclude unrecoverable ones. The spin in those cases is just an artifact of the accident, and too far down the chain.

            I agree, and I think all agree, that training is a good idea. The question is when and how.

          2. And should the training — which is already available — be mandated. I argue it should be, as it’s the logical completion of stall training.

            Even in cases where a spin may have been deemed unrecoverable, the training might have prevented a stall from becoming a spin in the first place.

          3. I’ve been studying spins ever since I spun an RC airplane in 25 years ago after the spin went flat and was unrecoverable. Initially my focus was on the mechanics of spins through a combination of flight testing, wind tunnel testing, and aerodynamic analysis while studying Aerospace Engineering. Somewhere along the way I had to write a paper for a psychology class (engineers don’t get psychology). I finally settled on the topic of mandatory spin training and the FAA’s choice to drop the requirement. I framed the decision as negative reinforcement vs positive reinforcement to make it comply with the nature of the class.

            I had always heard that the primary reason spins were eliminated was because more accidents were caused by the training itself than by inadvertent spins. However, in my research I discovered that the primary factor in the decision was related to aircraft design and the concept of spin resistant and spin proof aircraft. Companies like Ercoupe and Stinson were coming up with clever ways to make their airplanes spin resistant or spin proof but they were paying a price because their spin resistant airplanes were not easily marketed as trainers since they couldn’t comply with the spin training requirement. I don’t know if these companies lobbied the FAA to change the rules or if the FAA took it upon themselves but I did find a document that stated that the “reason” for changing the rules was to entourage aircraft manufacturers to continue designing spin resistant and/or spin proof aircraft.

            At the time I imagine that the FAA envisioned a future where all aircraft were rid of the pesky potential for spinning through advanced design features like leading edge slots, coupled aileron and rudder, differential aileron deflection, limited elevator throw etc. The problem is that these “features” robbed the airplane of performance and/or limited their usefulness through added weight and drag or reduced C.G. envelopes. In the years since only a handful of designs have been certified as spin resistant or spin proof.

            If we could go back in time and talk to the FAA during their deliberations on the subject we could tell them “Hey guys, this isn’t going to work! Eliminating spins from private pilot training will NOT result in safer airplane designs!” Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time and we are stuck with a massive population of pilots who have never seen a spin making re-introduction of the requirement overnight impossible and unsafe. That doesn’t mean that spin training can NEVER be re-introduced, it simply means that it can’t be done overnight.

            If quality spin training is to be re-introduced it has to start with current requirement for CFI’s to receive spin training. The first step- close the loop hole allowing CFI applicants to receive their spin training without wearing parachutes in aircraft without sufficient safety features (jettison-able doors/canopy, quick release seat belts, sufficient g-limitations). Second step- create an accreditation for “spin instructors” that ensures that the teacher actually has some experience and knowledge. This one is tough because the FAA is clearly incapable of handling such an accreditation. I believe the answer comes through a relationship with the leading aviation organization specializing in aerobatics, the International Aerobatic Club (IAC). The FAA should work with the IAC to develop a vetting system to qualify spin instructors.

            Once a generation of CFI’s received quality spin training they could take it a step further and require that Commercial pilots receive spin training. This would create enough demand for quality spin training that a network of schools would develop with qualified instructors and equipment within a decade. Once that network was developed it would be possible to re-introduce mandatory spin training to the masses. A lofty goal I know but that’s what I set out to do after writing a paper on the subject many years ago.

        4. Mike,

          I agree that emphasis on spin prevention vs recovery is correct. Unfortunately, most CFI’s focus on the base to final spin and INCORECTLY teach avoidance through emphasis on keeping the speed up and the bank angle low.

          High speed and low bank is a recipe for an over-shoot, which is the precipitating factor for the spin. A pilot who is afraid to bank will step on the rudder to hurry the turn. The nose drops and the bank increases so the pilot instinctively applies opposite aileron and back elevator… Bang! Spin!

          The primary benefit of spin training is the “Turn Training” that good instructors like Ron include in the spin course. Ron teaches pilots to be comfortable at appropriate speeds and bank angles reducing the chance of an over-shoot. When they do overshoot they’ll know to increase bank rather than step on the rudder remaining coordinated throughout which eliminates the possibility of a spin even if the angle of attack reaches critical.

          Of course the best choice in an overshoot is to roll wings level and go around but cumulous granite and giant pressurized aluminum tubes occasionally prevent that option.

          Ty Frisby

    1. I firmly support the idea of spin training. Just before I got my private pilot’s license I talked to an ATP who also owns a YAK and uses it for aerobatic training. He said the best thing I could do after I got my ticket was to get some “unusual attitude” training. I took him up on it and during the course I learned things about aerodynamics and recovering from attitudes I never dreamed I would get into. The trepidation I entered the course with was mollified by the valuable knowledge I gained while upside down, sideways, diving and spinning. Therefore I heartily concur with the need for spin training. In fact I’m thinking of getting a refresher. So I scratch my head at the FAA “logic” on this issue. Thanks Ron for the no-nonsense article.

  2. I was a luck PPL student back in the late 1990s – my
    instructor said to me (in a whisper), “Your ahead of the game and
    doing so well, I’m not sure what to do with you. Do you want to do
    spins today?” So we did. And it was scary and exhilarating and
    awesome. And I made my comfort level with the airplane improve, as
    well as my own spin training / endorsement when I got my CFI
    certificate, more than a decade later. It sticks with you, in a
    good way, and makes you a better pilot for it. I agree with you
    wholeheartedly, Ron!

    1. For some reason it cracks me up that he whispered it to you, as if it was something illicit being smuggled in from south of the border. Sounds like yours was a very positive experience, gaining confidence and losing that “fear of the unknown”. Another spin success story!

  3. Bravo! Great piece Ron! I know we share this opinion, but the more people that would sign up for a spin training, or aerobatic instruction, or an unusual attitude course, the better they would be. You wisely point out that what’s really happening is they are gaining confidence, or to put it another way, they are alleviating the potential that they might do something improper at the wrong time due to fear, or worse panic.
    Brent

    1. Exactly. I can’t even imagine being confronted with an unexpected spin, spiral dive, wake turbulence encounter, or other such attitude when I’d never seen anything beyond the standard 30 degrees of relative pitch. I’d imagine most rarely see more than 10-15 degrees nose down. Simultaneously taking correct and prompt action would be unlikely, especially with passengers screaming, things flying around the cockpit, and so on.

  4. It’s too bad not everyone can undergo at least an intro to aerobatics training regimen. Nothing I’ve done has had such an impact on skill or general comfort with the aircraft (thanks, Ron!).

    1. You’re most welcome! And I agree with you, frequently noting that aerobatic training has done more to improve my skills and confidence than anything else I’ve experienced.

      Hope you’re staying dry in the Northwest!

  5. Thanks for the great post! I’m a CFI in Canada where spin training is mandatory for both the PPL and CPL licences. I think it’s great experience for all pilots.

      1. Well half way on the intro flight the instructor got bored of my boring left and right turns he said, “Ok my airplane” and we did some acro and a spin :) I learned at RHV, San Jose, Ca.

          1. Perhaps would-be pilots who are scared off merely by experiencing a spin in training ought to reconsider their commitment to flying.

  6. I learned to fly in the early 70’s. I am fortunate that my
    instructor thought spin training was important. He personally hated
    them, but taught me anyway. And as you say not to get out of one
    but to really know what it takes to get there. Basic stick and
    rudder skills trump automation every time.

    1. It’s pretty easy for me to advocate for spins because I love ‘em, but I respect your instructor for insisting on the spin exposure even though he did not find them enjoyable.

      Automation certainly has its place; it can be invaluable for reducing fatigue and pilot workload — especially on long flights — but it was not intended to replace the aviator and we use it that way at our peril.

  7. As a student pilot, over 40 years ago, I inadvertently
    entered a spin while practicing stalls. I almost panicked, but
    finally remembered what the training manual said and recovered
    after about five turns. Since I had not remembered to reduce power,
    and overcontrolled the the C-150, the resultant dive at redline
    torqued the aircraft out of rig. I pulled out 400 feet above the
    ground. The next day we did spin training…in a different
    150.

    1. Wow, you became a “believer” the hard way! Spins take several turns to become fully developed, and the yaw rate increases significantly during that period. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to keep the panic at bay while you thought through the recovery as the world blurred by faster and faster.

      Any power left in during the spin will tend to aggravate it and make recovery more difficult. That’s something I warn students about, because the intentional spins are typically done with the power at idle, whereas an unexpected spin might very well occur with the power in and even those with spin experience might forget to reduce power to idle.

      Thanks for relating your story Jeff!

  8. Ron, you’ve made some excellent observations about spin
    training during primary improving skill and confidence. You did not
    address your first premise however, which was, primary spin
    training killed more people than it saved. I don’t know if there is
    any data to support that premise, but I do know that not all CFI’s
    are created equal. I’ve met a few that I wouldn’t want to spin a
    plane with. Much of aviation consists of unwelcome compromises. If
    it didn’t, we’d never get off the ground.

    1. I agree with your observation Bob. Not all instructors are created equal, and you really want someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to spin training.

      I didn’t find any hard data on accident rates during intentional spin training prior to the FAA’s regulatory change in 1949. The searchable NTSB database doesn’t go back beyond the 1960’s. But the apocryphal rationale is one that I’ve seen noted in several places. Unfortunately that was the best I could do. If anyone knows of a place to dig up that data, I’d love to explore it…

  9. Great article Ron! Of course since we’ve done some spins together you know I agree. The “startle” reflex is a well researched area of human behavior. A little trainng goes a loooong way. What is your opinion on the type of aircraft used for training?

    1. I’m pretty agnostic on aircraft type, at least when it comes to primary spin training. Each aircraft has it’s virtues and drawbacks. The classic tailwheel designs are hard to beat (Citabria, Cub, etc) because they’re tough, inexpensive to operate, and provide centerline seating, simple controls, and honest handling.

  10. I was fortunate enough to be required to take spin training before I could solo, so I guess I’m non the wiser in this matter. I personally have no qualms banking 45-degrees in the pattern. Not because I’m some wannabe hotshot, but because of my experience with spins. I can also say that the little tailwheel experience I have helped with my coordination.

  11. At the very least, it should be required (and part of the PTS) for the Commercial certificate. If it’s not required to be demonstrated during a checkride then a lot of the training will just get signed off and never actually occur, as happens now with CFI applicants. I know it’s going to be a logistical problem since the typical “commercial” training aircraft aren’t typically approved for spins but the increased safety and confidence that it will bring to newly minted Commercial pilots makes it well worth it.

    I did spins with my instructor in lesson 4 of my PVT training back in the early 80’s and I can’t recommend it enough. I think that CFIs might benefit from basic aerobatic training, just loops, rolls and spins. Again, a similar logistical problem since there aren’t too many aerobatic trainers around, but doable. Bring back the 152 Aerobat, it was the perfect airplane for that.

    1. Actually a surprising number of aircraft are approved for spins. Some Skyhawks are permitted to spin when operating in the Utility category. Cubs, Citabrias, Stearmans, Decathlons, Luscombes, etc are all approved for spins.

      As you mentioned, there are standard tricycle gear GA aircraft which have aerobatic variants. The F33 Bonanza and 152 Aerobat come to mind. I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of at the moment.

  12. Great points, Ron. I’m living proof of your point that stall training isn’t just about how to get out of a stall. After my stall training–which I requested–my control of the airplane and confidence as a student skyrocketed.

    1. I agree completely, and would be hesitant to fly with a pilot who had not undergone any spin training. Isn’t there some speculation regarding spin recognition being the cause of that Air France crash off South America a few years ago?

  13. Glider pilots routinely do spin recovery training prior to solo. I understand that this exercise was eliminated from power instruction some years ago. Sometimes, depending on altitude, you may have only a fraction of a second to identify the spin and recover. If the pilot has never done a spin recovery, it is going to take some measurable time for that pilot to recognize what is happening and start the correct response. This delay could make the difference between life and death. In my opinion, all pilots should not only experience spins, they should practice them enough so that recovery becomes routine.

    1. Isn’t it odd that glider pilots would typically receive practical spin training while their powered counterparts would not? The same aerodynamic laws apply to both…

      1. My first certificate was a glider rating. Spin entry and recovery was hammered in from the start. In the midwest when you spend a lot time working a weak thermal you can be occasionally cross controlled. If you fly into an up or down draft at that point you can be quickly upset. I didn’t know spin training wasn’t part of the PPL until after I had SEL rating ( for the tow plane). I think everyone should, if not start, get some glider time. Certainly came in handy at my engine failure.

        1. I am rated in power and gliders. I wish I could have taken some of my power students up in a glider to teach them about more than spins. Think about adverse yaw and rudder use. Many of our trainer aircraft (think single engine Cessnas and Pipers) are so docile that pilots can be sloppy about the rudder and get away with it. Not so when your ailerons are at the end of such long wings. Then tie that back to spins and the roll the rudder plays in what happens in an uncoordinated (poor/improper rudder use) stall.

  14. In an earlier life, I flew for a living and then was employed by the National Transportation Safety Board as an air safety investigator from which I retired a number of years ago. The stall/spin training today is pathetic. One particular stall/spin accident stands out. It was a double fatal accelerated stall from low altitude which developed into a spin and nose down ground impact with fire. I asked the FAA Principle Operations Inspector at the large flight school, if flight instructors and students were taught stalls and spin entries with uncoordinated flight controls – He went ballistic at the question and replied that they teach stall recognition and recovery in coordinated flight. He added that instructors get spin entry and recovery training. I asked him what they taught if there was an inflight departure from controlled flight and he again he said they teach stall recognition and avoidance. This particular FAA inspector was similar to others that I interviewed over the years. Teach stall avoidance, but not much on what happens after the airplane has departed controlled flight.

  15. “The best reason for spin training is to eliminate fear of the unknown”. Thank you Ron! I had no qualms with the stall itself during training, but without my instructor seated next to me, I was extremely nervous about power-on stalls and if I would panic and “lock up” should a spin occur. Reading about it and performing it is two different things. I’d love some spin training now!

    1. You’re not alone — trepidation about stalls, especially the power-on variety, is quite common even when a CFI is present. The pitch attitudes are higher, the wing-drops more pronounced, and of course there’s the fear of what would happen if it devolved into a spin. I hope you do get that training Dave!

  16. I respectfully disagree for several reasons. First, the premise of the article is that spin accidents are killing pilots, and that is only partially correct. The types of spins that cause fatalities in those accidents are not recoverable spins. The accidents are indeed “spin accidents,” but they are in reality “unrecoverable spin” accidents. They are low altitude “base to final” or maneuvering spins that are not recoverable regardless of the pilot’s skill. That has regrettably been proven by highly skilled, ATP level pilots and factory test pilots, who have done spins and for whatever reason make a faulty low level turn and discover what an unrecoverable spin is. So learning to do a spin and recover has no value other than to teach what is already taught, which is spin avoidance.

    Second, the reason spin training was removed from the PVT curriculum, as I understand it (I was being born in 1949 and not yet flying), is that more pilots and instructors were killing themselves in having low skilled PVT candidates attempt to conduct spins and recover, than were being killed in post-PVT spin accidents. The “cure” was worse than the disease.

    Regrettably, the decision that was made at the time needed to be purely “clinical.” We are going to lose some careless pilots to spin accidents, let’s accept the number of 20 per year. If we add spin training to the PVT curriculum we may make a few of those more spin resistant, so hypothetically we reduce that number to 15. But in the course of the training, again hypothetically, we kill 8 more, so we now have (again hypothetically) 23 deaths per year rather that 20. That was the type of decision that was made, and I believe it is still a good decision.

    I do not disagree that spin training is good and useful. I respectfully disagree that it should be given to a PVT candidate who may have a whole 10 hours in an aircraft, and may not even have solo’d yet.

  17. I have been a CFII for forty years. I totally disagree with the need for spin training. After the FAA eliminated the spin requirement, the general aviation accident rate decreased. In all my years of instruction, I only had one student that insisted on spin training. After that session, he never returned. As we all know, you cannot spin unless your airplane is stalled. That is why we teach stall recognition and recovery. If spin training was required, we would have more fatal accidents, not less.

  18. I was incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to do a ~20hr tail wheel endorsement & introduction to aerobatics course a few years ago. Having earned my Commercial ticket in Canada, I went through the required spin training.. but nothing like this. Working with the instructors in the aerobatics course, there were several flights dedicated ONLY to spins. I learned how to actually modify the spin once in it (e.g., make it shallow/flat or steeper, increase or decrease the rotation speed, how to manage reversed controls when inverted, etc.)… let me just say: hanging in an open cockpit by your harness in an inverted spin will definitely take the ‘scare’ out of any normal spin.

    Besides the excellent spin training, the work done over those two weeks increased my ‘hands & feet’ skills by leaps and bounds. I would recommend it to any pilot who can stomach a little bit of a roller coaster ride.

    1. when i was working on my private license in 1968 we use to do spins in the cherokee 40 to heading pullouts .also learn that 45 degree turns in pattern to landing not a problem AS LONG AS YOU HAVE AIRSPEED AND NOSE DOWN

      1. .. and for good measure, you should keep a little opposite rudder in. By consciously keeping opposite foot on, you’re much less likely to accidentally stomp the inside foot (usually happens when students in a wide turn want to line up with the runway), stall the inside wing, and end up in one of those un-recoverable spins. It also doesn’t hurt to be slipping a little. If you’re slipping in one of those turns, it’s really not an issue.. but if you’re skidding and you happen to stall, that wing that’s already down 45 degrees is going to end up somewhere underneath you.

        1. You can wing-over it easily with enough opposite rudder, in some airplanes at least. Instead, one should coordinate properly, IMHO. Now, it’s safer to error towards top rudder than bottom one in such case, no doubt. But getting into such a habit seems like a bad idea. Remember that nowadays most basic aircraft, except Champs/Citabrias, have very little adverse yaw.

          1. I agree with you Pete. Skids are more prone to spin entries than slips but the best (not to mention most efficient and comfortable) strategy is to keep it coordinated unless circumstances dictate otherwise.

  19. As a commercial glider-ride pilot I gave many aerobatic rides where my first maneuver after tow release was a one-turn spin followed by recovery into a loop. No student at our operation could solo without having spin instruction. We transitioned many power pilots. All said there piloting skills and aviation knowledge were greatly improved!

  20. I find the idea of spin training valuable, however, one needs to look at the cost of spin training. A spin is considered an aerobatic maneuver, and in so being, requires the pilot to be wearing a parachute. Most modern aircraft have gyro instrumentation, and a spin is very wearing on the attitude and directional gyros. As a CFI airplane and glider instructor, I believe glider training would be valuable in learning about energy management during an engine failure. I believe teaching the proper techniques of stall recovery and cross control stall recovery should suffice, since the recovery is the same as a spin. If we prevent spin before it happens, then it may not happen. I for one would encourage a student to take aerobatic training and learn more about the flight envelope of the aircraft in general, and this would include at least 3 hours in a glider as well, learning about energy management.

    1. Yes, spins are hard on mechanical gyros. Of course, more and more aircraft are moving toward solid-state units, and the best airplanes for spin training are also some of the least expensive: simple old taildraggers.

      I couldn’t agree with you more regarding glider training. I wrote an article about the glider concept of speed-to-fly and how that could help a power pilot in an engine-out scenario.

      1. I’d be curious in seeing supporting data for the claim “spins are hard on mechanical gyros.” While this OWT has been around for eons, there is nothing to support such a connection exists.

  21. I learned to fly in a Citabria in 1969-1970, and we did spins and basic aerobatics. Then I flew for over 40 years, got an ATP and a couple of jet type ratings, did some aerobatics in my former L-39 (but no spins) and have flown mostly in a Citation for over 6 years. Then I recently acquired a T-34 and found a friend who is a USAF test pilot, and we’ve been having a blast doing aerobatics and spins. I had forgotten the pucker factor that goes with the first spin or two, and then the exhilaration that comes with becoming comfortable with them. The T-34 is descending at 9,000-12,000 fpm in a spin, but ft’s only around 500 ft per turn. Nonetheless, we start with plenty of altitude so we end up with plenty of altitude. Great fun and nothing like it to build confidence and an appreciation for how the airplane will respond to control inputs.

  22. I was an active private pilot for twenty years. I flew an antique taildragger. Spin training saved me and the airplane three times over the years I flew it. I strongly advocate spin training for all pilots.

  23. Why does no CFI recommend spin training on a simulator?
    After I got my private pilot certificate at age 60, I decided it
    wasn’t enough that I’d been told what to do in a spin. I wanted to
    really know if I could recover in an actual spin. My feeling at the
    time was: You can tell me all day long what to do to recover from a
    spin but until I’ve actually been in one, I won’t have the
    confidence that I can get out of it; I’m afraid I’ll panic
    & forget everything I’ve memorized. And I passionately
    wanted my first spin to be with a competent CFI on board. So I took
    some spin training in a Citabria. It was no big deal. The CFI
    demonstrated it with me following along lightly on the stick. We
    only did 1 & 1/2 turns. HOWEVER, I realized 1/2 way thru
    this exercise that my hand – without my even being aware of it
    being done – had left the stick & was holding tight to the
    metal support bar in the plane. :-0 Needless to say, if I’d been
    alone in the plane, this wouldn’t have worked well for recovery.
    Next time I handled the controls myself & got it right. I’m
    so glad I got this training & experience. I feel I’m far
    better prepared for executing spin recovery than I was before this
    training. Part of it is probably muscle memory. Part of it is
    diminishing the fear because you get more comfortable with
    something once you done it a few times as opposed to never having
    experienced it. A spin is not the time for panic. But since a lot
    of people are adamantly against routine spin training, why don’t
    CFI’s at least recommend spin training on a simulator? I don’t
    believe that’s nearly as good as experiencing ‘the real deal’, but
    wouldn’t it be an improvement over what is the current state of
    private pilot certificate training, ie, no required actual
    spinning? If the Canadians still require a student pilot to do
    spins, what is their accident rate for this student training as
    compared to their spin accident rate for already certificated
    pilots? Susan

  24. How about increased training on stall awareness. I go to
    recurrent training 3 times a year and have to demonstrate stall
    recovery, quite frankly I do not understand how you can
    accidentally stall an aircraft, it takes alot of work to get one to
    stall. It takes even more effort to get it into a spin and keep it
    in the spin, just teach the student to let go of the controls, the
    aircraft will save itself

  25. I think you’re wrong on both the facts and the merits, Ron.
    Most fatal spins begin at altitudes too low to permit recovery once
    the spin develops. An airplane can’t spin if it doesn’t stall, and
    it won’t spin if a stall is coordinated — so awareness of
    coordination, angle of attack, and the fact that stalls can happen
    at any airspeed are crucial, but spin training isn’t. Furthermore,
    it could scare off a good number of otherwise safe pilots, me
    included. I hold single- and multi-engine commercial certificates
    and have logged about 1,800 hours without accident, incident,
    enforcement action, or even a flat-spotted tire — but the spin
    training I’ve done has scared the daylights out of me. If I’d had
    to do it as a student pilot, I probably would have quit
    instead.

    1. Most stall training is done at straight and level at altitude. We feel the nose drop and recover. But, when a real departure or landing stall occurs, it’s typically in some form of a turn. When a stall in that configuration happens, the experience isn’t one of the airplane’s nose dropping, it’s the lower wing that stalls and the airplane begins to flip over into a spin. Individuals who have never experienced a spin before, will typically attempt to correct with opposite aileron because they are unaware they have just encountered a spin entry. If on the other hand, a pilot can recognize the feeling of that lower wing dropping out, he/she can immediately push the stick forward and recover without losing hardly any altitude.

      I got caught in a wind shear situation on a base to final turn one time, at around 400 feet above the ground. I was in a perfectly coordinated turn when the lower wing suddenly dropped out. Instantly pushing the stick forward allowed me to easily recover and land safely. With out my spin training, and ability to recognize the incipient spin, I would have tried to recover with opposite aileron and I would have ended up drilling a hole in the ground.

      I’m glad you’ve never had something like this happen to you before. But for those of us who have had situations like this arise in our flying experience, well, I for one, can say that I am alive today because of my spin training.

  26. I am a Private Pilot, and in order to earn my license way back in the last century (1978), I endured a series of spin training exercises with my instructor. When I heard that spin training was not required, I was stunned, yet happy that I myself had been required to undergo the training. It made me much more cognizant of the circumstances, the indications, and the recovery protocol for spins. Mind you, I was never a fan of spin training, and was perfectly happy to never have to do any again. However, I consider it a fantastic and perhaps even vital part of training to be an airman(person). It is certainly a much more positive action on the part of the FAA than requiring arbitrary sleep apnea tests.

  27. Spin training is available to anyone that wants to receive it. There is no evidence mandated spin training would accomplish anything, so I see no reason to force it on the pilot population. Not to mention, many airplanes are not approved for spins, it would add another obstacle to becoming a pilot.

    1. My perspective is that spins are the logical extension of stalls. Or to put it another way, the currently mandated stall training is not complete. Simply demonstrating a minor wing drop (which is the start of a spin) is insufficient. Surely we can agree that discomfort with high angles of attack is an unsafe state. Everyone must fly at high AOA to land.

      But your point about adding more obstacles to the pilot certification process is a good one.

      1. Even with mandated spin training, I can’t see pilots out practicing spin demos. The data indicates that without periodic rehearsal, skill retention will diminish with time. (Ref: Childs, Spears, et.al) So later, in an inadvertent spin, the probability a pilot will recognize, recall and execute the correct procedure is not very good.

        Discomfort with high alpha maneuvering should be a good thing because it spikes arousal. If a pilot knows that a spin is a product of careless control handling/control inputs during high alpha flight regimes, that should get them on their toes to avoid that condition. The reality is they are not recognizing what’s going on.

        I’d much rather see CFI’s encourage more proficiency training. Usually when a pilot passes a check it’s a handshake, good luck and see you in 2 yrs when it’s time for a flight review. CFI’s are really missing an opportunity by not showing a student how to set up a proficiency monitoring program. A new pilot on his own can’t even recognize how bad their skills are with regard to routine flight operations 6, 12 and 18 months later. How are they going to recognize a spin and then recall and perform a recovery, usually with zero room for error?

        1. Oh, and for what it’s worth, I fly for an air carrier. I bet I do more stall training than any private or commercial pilot. Have to recognize and avoid stalls because if you get the plane I fly in a spin, there is no recovery. No matter how much spin training you have had.

  28. I thought I’d do a little research to debunk the myth that spins scare potential pilots away from being pilots..

    ~65k Canadian pilots in 2008 (of a population of 33.5m).. one in every 515 (0.194%)
    ~617k American pilots in 2011 (of a population of 311m).. one in every 504 (0.198%)

    so, either it’s the spin training that’s leading to that 0.004% difference.. or something else

    Respectfully, my opinion is that pilots shouldn’t be afraid of a spin, an engine failure, icing, or of anything else that can easily happen when you’re flying a light aircraft. Pilots need to know the warning signs leading up to these events to attempt to avoid them and the procedures to follow if they actually occur. A “robotic” response is impossible, but an emotion like fear gets in the way… and a lack of training can only make this worse.

  29. Great post, Ron.

    Unfortunately, as I’m sure you know, the logistics of spin training can be tough. For example, getting a 172 to fit into the utility category with a couple of big guys can be a challenge. Plus, a 172 is just plain hard to get to spin and once a spin starts, more often than not degenerates into a spiral dive.

    I have received and given instruction in spin training and think it is great…for no other reason than to build confidence and to show how to recognize that you are getting into trouble as well to see the difference between a spiral dive and a spin and how to recover from either. Spin, spiral dive and a more aggressive fully developed stall series (cross controlled, secondary stalls, etc.) should be required for Commercial Pilots as well as CFI’s. But perhaps it is better handled by a required logbook endorsement somewhere between the PPL and the Comm rating just like complex, tailwheel and high performance endorsements are managed.

    Another issue to consider is that DPE’s and FAA Examiners may not be all that up to snuff in the airplane they are testing you in. To test a candidate in a series of fully developed stalls or spins/spiral dives in a complex airplane can be a real challenge – especially if the examiner is not familiar with the airplane or well practiced in the maneuver and the candidate screws up. So, to make all that a mandatory part of the PTS for Comm or initial CFI checkride can be ominous at best. Again, I think this is all best managed by a logbook endorsement in a suitable aircraft by a proficient instructor (assuming one wants to move past the PPL stage or just to enhance their own skillset).

    Referring to an earlier comment about spinning Cubs and Luscombs, I own a 1947 Cessna 140. I’m okay with spinning my airplane because it is corrosion free (well….mostly) and otherwise sound. But I sure wouldn’t want a steady diet of spinning antique airplanes that I am not personally familiar with. And, yes…I know that spins are a 1G maneuver. It’s the screwups that can get dicey.

    But, again….great post. I am on board with the concept 100%

  30. I had a surprise with an aircraft that I spun intentionally. When I applied rudder to break the spin, there was, unlike other aircraft, zero resistance from the pedal. If I hadn’t know I was doing the right thing, I might have abandoned it and try the wrong pedal. (I thought maybe my rudder cable had broken, but that was just a weird property of this aircraft).

    Strongly agree that the best reason to become deeply proficient in spins is that it will prevent you from ever entering one unintentionally. But, as from the above experience, the heat of the moment is no time to be thinking about what is right. It needs to be habituated.

  31. I’m sort of wondering if even one of the cheering commenters seen the NASA videos of unrecoverable spins of common aircraft such as Grummans? Back in 1949 the proportion of airplanes that once in a blue moon would just not recover was probably as high as it is today. Of course we now have Cherokees and Cessnas, which, when loaded properly and rigged correctly, will probably recover, so that’s good. But IMHO it’s not good enough.

    Spin training without a chute is utter madness and the main reason it’s so popular among the commentariat might be that dead students cannot leave blog comments.

Leave a Reply