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Think you know spins?Think you know spins?

Spin mythsForget the airspeed indicator, airshow performer Mike Goulian urged attendees at AOPA Aviation Summit Sept. 23; stalls are all about angle of attack.

The veteran performer and flight training professional joined 2011 flight instructor of the year Judy Phelps and AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman to take aim at conventional wisdom in the seminar "Spin Myths." Pilots should practice stalls and spins, they said, so that they understand what conditions lead to a spin—and know how to avoid them, especially in the most critical stages of flight.

Goulian said he covers up the airspeed indicator in part of training to rid students of the belief that a particular number will keep them from stalls: In airshow routines, he stalls his airplane at about 140 knots to enter a snap roll, he said, nearly three times the aircraft’s power-off stall speed. Pilots should get accustomed to the power setting and pitch for climb, level flight, and descent, he said; they’ll spend more time looking out the window, and less worrying about airspeed.


The seminar took off from Hirschman’s 2010 "Spin myths" article and video, which explored common misconceptions about spins and ignited hearty debate on the subject. Hirschman outlined a few of the myths in the seminar.

Think the same, standard recovery will get you out of a spin in any aircraft? Hirschman played a video of what "full forward stick, full opposite rudder" looks like in a Pitts S2-C: Starting from a dizzying lefthand turn, the nose crossed the vertical and entered an inverted spin to a chorus of "ohs" from the audience.

Many pilots think the ball in the turn coordinator always shows spin direction, and the first step in any spin recovery is to "step on the ball." But Hirschman said the turn coordinator is subject to position errors and can’t always be relied on to show the direction of the spin.

And isn’t your modern aircraft more spin resistant than earlier designs? If you think that FAA certification requires an aircraft to demonstrate that it can recover from spins using standard techniques, think again: The only approved recovery from a spin in a Cirrus, for example, is using the ballistic parachute, Hirschman said.

You might think that because CFIs must demonstrate instructional knowledge in spin theory, spin avoidance, and spin recovery, all CFIs can safely teach spins. But a review of fatal stall/spin accidents on instructional flights from 1991 to 2000 found that 91 percent occurred with an instructor on board.

Practice, practice, practice

When Phelps was learning to fly, a photograph of the Cessna 150 trainer she was flying hung in the flight school—upside down, in a dive. While she knew the aircraft had made it safely back to a normal attitude—she was training in it, after all—the image frightened her.

"I was literally terrified of doing a stall because I didn’t want to end up like that picture," Phelps said. When she later did spin training, "It took the fear out of it," she said.

She encouraged pilots to go back to the basics. A stall can happen at any attitude and airspeed, she said, and a stall doesn’t mean it will spin. Understanding the flight controls better and recognizing the conditions that lead to a spin will help pilots prevent them—especially important because most spin accidents start with a spin entry at or below traffic pattern altitude.

Spin training also helps rid pilots of the knee-jerk reactions that can aggravate a spin.

"People see the ground, they don’t want to push the stick forward. They want to pull back," Phelps said. A pilot’s first spin can seem to be happening too fast, but the motion slows down after a while, she said.

That’s not the airplane slowing down, Hirschman said—it’s your mind speeding up.

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