Safety Publications/Articles

CFI Tips

Teaching spins

Altitude is your friend

In the course of operating an aerobatic flight and spin-training school in Tennessee, I'm finding out that a lot of new flight instructors are lacking in their knowledge of spins. While some have a good background in spins, others have never been in a spin.

My spin curriculum for flight instructor candidates includes three hours of ground school and two flights with many spin recoveries, including one 20-turn spin and a recovery from a developed spin using only airspeed, turn and slip, and altimeter (see "Spinning with a Specialist," p. 24).

I also teach spin entry with full throttle, reasoning that throttle closure must be the first step in recovery. The spins are flatter and have a faster rotation rate with full power throughout (until the recovery). Since I have 7,000 spins in the airplane (not turns -- spins) I'd like the CFI-to-be to see the situation with me in there.

For instructor applicants, particularly smaller females, I also show how to recover from a spin in the Cessna Aerobat using only the ailerons fully against the spin with the control wheel full back, as might be the case should a student hold it back to "pull out of the spin." I warn that this method may be a fatal error if employed in other airplanes and that it's only demonstrated as something to fall back on in the Cessna 152 if needed. I also teach elevator-only (no rudder) recoveries.

Following are some important suggestions I'd like to offer those who teach spins:

  1. Altitude, altitude, and more altitude. FAR 91.303 allows aerobatics (and spins) to be performed as low as 1,500 feet agl, but 3,000 feet agl is my absolute limit.
  2. If you, the instructor, have not spun this particular airplane (you've spun others of the same model, but not this one), a special preflight check is suggested. With the airplane parked and shut down on the ramp, ask someone to sit in the cabin and hold the control wheel or stick firmly full forward while you try to raise the elevator. Don't try to pull it up by the trim tab side of the elevator (you'll put pressure on the tab). You are checking for control cable slop. The same procedure can be used to check for rudder slop for some types of airplanes.
    If full up elevator cannot be obtained this could mean that a full stall and spin can't be obtained. So, you can't spin that airplane until this is fixed. You're checking to make sure full down elevator is available for spin recoveries.
  3. For Cessna 150s and 152s, plan on a rate of descent varying from 5,500 fpm to 7,500 fpm (C-150) and a fairly constant 7,500 fpm (C-152), and allow at least the following vertical airspace requirements:
    1. Always (again) recover above 3,000 feet agl.
    2. For one turn assume an altitude loss of 1,000 feet.
    3. For two turns, 1,500 feet.
    4. Three turns, 1,800 feet.
    5. For multiple turns allow 200 feet per turn. For instance, in a C-152, a 20-turn spin requires 4,200 feet.

The reason for the disparity in altitude requirements between a one-turn spin (1,000 feet) and a twenty-turn spin (slightly over 4,000 feet) is that the same amount of vertical airspace is required for recovery (stopping the spin rotation and the pull-out) from a one-turn spin as is needed to recover from a 20-turn spin in these airplanes.

Start out in a particular airplane you haven't spun before (after the elevator check cited earlier) in a cautious manner. (Again, you've spun others of this model.) A suggestion is to start out easily with one, two, and then three turns.

For the student, recreational, private, or commercial pilot interested in spin training, two turns or maybe three -- to get into a developed spin -- is enough.

You'll notice one thing: The majority of students will have a greater level of confidence in all their flying once they've experienced a spin. There are some pilots who feel that spin training is not for them, and that's fine. But for those who want it, spin recovery can be a part of their all-around flight training.

Training Trends

December 2004

Student pilot certificates are the number of student pilot certificate applications processed during the month of December, and includes renewals as well as original issuances. Airline pilot hiring is all professional pilot hiring during December as reported by aviation career consulting firm AIR, Inc. and includes major, national, and regional airlines as well as fractional operators.


Student pilot certificates


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I would not feel confident as an instructor if I didn't have spin experience -- if not in the airplane I'm using, then in others. This kind of experience allows me to recognize and stop an unwanted spin entry. I've said and written many times that some current instructors who haven't had enough training in this area may be playing Russian roulette with their students during stall practice. I also think that before students are sent out to practice stalls solo, they should be given dual instruction to recognize and recover from a spin onset. I've had letters from students who said that they had been practicing stalls solo and recognized and recovered from a spin because they'd read my book, The Student Pilot's Flight Manual. The CFI had not mentioned anything about spins during training.

William K. Kershner has been a flight instructor since 1949. He is the author of several books, including Student Pilot's Flight Manual, Advanced Pilot's Flight Manual, Instrument Flight Manual, Flight Instructor's Manual, and Logging Flight Time. A specialist in spin entry and recovery, he teaches aerobatics in Sewanee, Tennessee. Visit his Web site.

By William K. Kershner

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