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The psychology of spin training

Better techniques for CFI candidates

Most pilots who want to become certificated flight instructors look forward to their spin training with either awe (This will be awesome fun) or dread (I am going to get sick). The federal aviation regulations require training of CFI candidates in stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery procedures. To be eligible for the checkride, CFI applicants must also have an endorsement in their logbook that states they are competent and possess instructional proficiency in stalls, spins, and spin recovery techniques. In other words, can the CFI student perform and recover from a spin while explaining what is happening?

The model at Utah Valley University for many years was to give the CFI candidate one ground and flight lesson in deep stalls and stall recovery. The next lesson was about one hour in length, consisting of the instructor demonstrating a few spins and then letting the candidate practice spin entry and recovery. At that point we gave them the endorsement, but I don’t believe we were getting them to the instructional proficiency level for training. We recently revised our training to include three flights, which is extremely beneficial to the candidates. The first flight has not changed much. The instructor pilot demonstrates fully developed stalls and then lets the candidate practice the stalls. We encourage the candidate to hold the aircraft in a stalled condition in coordinated flight and experience how the aircraft behaves, rather than recover immediately. Some are surprised to find the aircraft does not fall out of the sky, but rather gently floats down. The candidate is also given the chance to practice all of the demonstrated stalls, including cross-controlled, accelerated, secondary, and elevator trim stalls. These stalls are practiced with the intent of showing the scenario in which they could develop, and to provide an intense but safe demonstration.

Since we are doing instructional training, we have the candidate teach a ground lesson on what is happening aerodynamically in a spin, why the aircraft spins, what we need to do to get the aircraft to recover from a spin, and what might happen if you got into a flat spin. We talk through the spin recovery procedure for our aircraft as set out in the flight manual.

On the second flight we climb to 5,000 feet agl. As we are climbing I review what we covered in the ground lesson. “Now we are going to spin the airplane. We are going to begin to stall the airplane. When we get to this airspeed, I will apply full aft elevator and full left rudder and the airplane will spin to the left. We will enter an incipient spin and then I will initiate the recovery.” We review the recovery procedure very carefully. We are spinning the DA20-C1, the Diamond Katana. It is easy to spin and recovers easily.

Here are two scenarios: I calmly enter and recover from the spin and the candidate rationally understands the aerodynamics of the situation and is thinking, Piece of cake, I can totally see what you did with the flight controls and how we recovered. Or maybe, more likely, I enter and recover from the spin and the candidate is thinking, Whoa, what in the heck just happened? This airplane went upside down and started turning in little circles while aimed at the ground, and I left my insides about 1,000 feet above me. Usually in that lesson I will do three or four incipient spins in both directions. We will also do at least one fully developed spin in each direction.

After one or two demonstrations I try to get the candidate to help me on the controls and talk through the entry and recovery. Often they don’t put in enough rudder and the airplane keeps spinning. They forget to put the elevator forward and the airplane is still stalled and won’t recover, and so on. By the end of those fully developed spins the candidates often feel some motion sickness.

If we stopped our training right after those initial spin flights, the candidate would have been in an airplane that was spinning and known that they lived through it (which is a very positive experience), but I’m not sure they could go out and recover if their future student inadvertently put the aircraft into a spin. I can’t endorse that they could actually recover from the spin by themselves.

Now the candidate can go home and think about things for a couple of days. I survived when this airplane turned upside down and started turning in tight circles while aimed at the ground. If my instructor can do it, I can too. Before the third flight I explain, “We are going to go out today and do incipient spins and fully developed spins in both directions. Today I will guard the controls, but you will be doing the spinning. You will be teaching me how to spin and recover.”

It is amazing how much better the candidates do on that third flight.

For some candidates, spins come naturally. These candidates are very confident in doing the spins and recovering from the spins. They are usually sad when we finish the spin training, and talk about how much they loved it. Those candidates should take an aerobatic course.

Finally, if I sense any anxiety as we are climbing to altitude before beginning our spins, I tell my student. “It makes me sick to my stomach to jump on the trampoline with my kids, but spinning this airplane does not. I know how the airplane will react. Spins are serious, but you can be confident in performing spins as you understand, practice, and recover.”

Marilyn Riddle is chief flight instructor for CFI training for Utah Valley University. A CFI since 2002, she has more than 2,600 hours.

By Marilyn Riddle

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