Monday, July 20, 2009

Put On Your Protective Armor...

***From Stalls, Spins, and Safety by Sammy Mason***

The tail surfaces are all that are identifiable. The twisted and battered wings protrude from a blackened mass of melted aluminum. The engine and the mangled propeller have been shoved into the cockpit area by the authoritative hand of gravity.

The stall and spin and the resultant loss of life were inadvertent. The pilot of this airplane and the unwary friends aboard anticipated only the pleasure of flight, not the termination of their lives.

Only trained reactions and an educated basic intelligence can protect our fragile lives within the realm of flight. Pilots must not only be trained in the skillful manipulation of the controls but also know the deceptive areas of flight where they might become unwilling victims.

The essence of good basic flight training is to provide pilots with a protective armor of knowledge about-and dependable motor reactions to potential hazards in their incipient stages.

A pilot need not be haunted by a lack of confidence and by uncertain reactions. With a properly trained pilot, flying is a reasonably safe mode of transportation. It is certainly the most pleasurable. However, as with any other form of transportation, it is only as safe as the individual at the controls.


Unfortunately, the undesirable and often unexpected maneuver that killed many pioneer aviators is still killing pilots today. Most modern airplanes are spinnable. The knowledge and skill of the pilot should always match the airplane that is being flown. Because most airplanes are spinnable, spin training should be included in the preparation and licensing of pilots.
Some feel that more lives would be lost because spin training in itself is hazardous. This is true only because of the improper training of flight instructors. If all flight instructors were properly trained, spin training could be carried out with a high degree of safety. Properly implemented, spin training would undoubtedly save many lives. Also, there is a moral aspect to be considered. It seems criminal to license a pilot who has never experienced a spin to carry passengers. Far too many pilots experience their first spin at an altitude from which they are too low to recover.


The fear of spins is understandable. We all fear the unknown. However, a good instructor can guide students through this initial fear and expose them to spins early in their flight training. It is senseless to continue flying with a fear that can be overcome in such a short time.

Pilots who have not been trained in spins and the recognition of incipient conditions from which inadvertent spins emerge develop grotesque flying habits. For example, they tend to fly their approaches with excessive speed, often overshooting runways and either colliding with obstructions at the end of the runway or attempting a last minute go-around, necessitating a steep climb at low speed to clear obstructions. Many accidental spins have been the result of aborted landings that were prompted by panic and incompetence.

Some feel that all that is needed is training in the manner in which inadvertent spins develop so that pilots will learn to avoid those conditions. They argue that there is no need to expose pilots to spins if they know how to avoid them.

This approach to the problem reveals a misunderstanding of how inadvertent spins develop. Simply knowing how to avoid a spin may not prevent a pilot from entering one when distracted by other things.


Stall/Spin accidents occur more frequently than they should, and from everyday flight situations common to normal aircraft utilization.

The answer is not more knowledge, although this is important. Avoiding accidental spins cannot be accomplished through knowledge alone, any more than thinking about placing one foot ahead of the other will improve your ability to walk. The pilot who must devote excessive thought to the manipulation of the controls and maintaining proper flight attitudes has not yet learned to fly well enough. Deciding to not get anywhere near the stall is not the answer. Flying at high angles of attack is part of normal aircraft utilization. Short-field operations, for example, require approaches at minimum speed.

While flying at minimum speed, we might be required to make a sudden pull up, steep turn, or combination of both to avoid other traffic while on final approach. Or we might have to abort a landing well down the runway and pull up steeply at low speed to avoid hitting an obstacle. We may plan and hope that we never become involved in such situations, but flights do not always go according to plans. We must be able to fly an airplane through the complete range of its capabilities, and be able to do it instinctively.

Training in the conditions leading up to a spin and being able to recognize warnings that a spin is about to occur are important and should be a part of a pilot's stall/spin education, but these aspects are only part of the answer. The conditions leading up to the spin may be so completely camouflaged by other factors that demand attention that the pilot may not become aware of them.
Even experienced pilots have become stall/spin victims after complex emergency situations trapped them into hitting the ground in uncontrolled flight.

The answer is more thorough flight training, the type of training that gives one the ability to fly within the realm of a potential stall or spin instinctively and safely.

Incipient stalls and spins are common as acrobatic pilots practice their maneuvers. However, their recoveries are so instant and automatic that the incipient stalls and spins are scarcely recognizable. All the conditions may exist for a spin, but a touch of rudder and a flick of the wrist prevent even a small bobble in an attempted maneuver.


The aerodynamic buffeting that is experienced during stall practice will probably not exist during an inadvertent spin entry. During a ball-centered stall, most wings will stall at the root section first. Because the tail of the airplane is directly behind the root section of the wing, the pilot can feel this disturbance, which results when the turbulent air strikes the tail. However, when the ball is not centered and the nose of the airplane is yawed one way or another, a spanwise flow of air causes the wing to stall in a different manner and the initial stall occurs at or near the wing tip. When the stall is excited at one of the wing tips, a quick spin entry without the benefit of stall buffet warning may occur. There is nothing behind the wing tip for the disturbed air to buffet against. A stall from yawed flight usually results in at least the start of a spin.

As I was writing this portion of the book, I began to wonder whether it was possible to enter a spin without sounding the stall warning. I selected a Cessna Aerobat in which the stall warning was set to go off very close to the stall. Sure enough, after a little experimentation, I was able to enter a spin without actuating the warning. The stall warning port was located on the left wing. By spinning to the right I avoided actuating the warning.

It is evident that in the absence of buffet or audible warning or through unawareness of warnings because of distractions, the first indication of trouble may be the spin itself. How well the pilot flies the airplane at this moment may mean the difference between life and death.

The stall that results in instant-spin aerodynamics also produces instant- spin dynamics. In other words, the yaw and roll that are common to spins are present at the onset.

The more pilots are exposed to these dynamics and correct for them, the better they will be able to recognize and react to them. The full dynamics of a spin can only be experienced when the spin is fully developed.


Flying involves mental and physical skills that must be exercised simultaneously. The flight instructor is the coach who should encourage the exercises that develop these abilities.

Race drivers who have never experienced spinouts endanger themselves and other drivers on the track. Going into the first turn in a competitive pack of cars, they can be the catalyst that activates a massive pileup.

Drivers who have practiced recovering from fully developed spinouts on slick pans have developed the reflexes that cause them to react instantly and skillfully when they sense an incipient spinout while rounding a curve within inches of other cars.

Flying skills are best developed when we practice maneuvers that stretch our ability. Our goal should be a proficiency adequate to any situation that we might face while pilot in command. I recognize that on rare occasions pilots are faced with impossible situations which are beyond human skills. However, this isn't the reason for most accidents. Most accidents are preventable. They are usually the result of a pilot's inability to think and fly the airplane at the same time. Often, simple distractions result in serious accidents.

I recommend not only spin training, but also a course in basic aerobatics. An airplane is an all-attitude vehicle, and pilots should be able to recover from any attitude. The elimination of unnecessary fears and the confidence gained will add to the pleasure of flying.


The first step in flying safely is to have a thorough understanding of the hazards involved. You should know from the outset that most conventional airplanes are capable of spinning under the right circumstances. You should also know that most airplanes are not approved for intentional spins. The placards that read "Intentional spins prohibited" mean one of two things: either the airplane has not been spin-tested, or its spin characteristics have been observed only in their very early stages of development.

An airplane is an expression of freedom. It permits humans to ascend heavenward before they permanently leave their earthly station behind. However, a lack of training and knowledge can expedite their permanent departure.

Flying might be compared to a bug in a bun. It's perfectly safe until it's exposed to the teeth of the unexpected. The unexpected might be expressed as the sinister shadow that is reflected by complacent familiarity. The feel of controls that always respond, the soothing sound of an engine that has never failed, and the accumulated hours of uneventful flying that magnify each moment of deceptive intimacy provide a very fickle fortress against any deviation from characteristic routine.
If we spend enough time in a rocking chair, we become incapable of reacting property to even the minor disturbances of life. Vital living demands a constant expansion of the abilities of mind and body. So it is with flying. Real flying skills are developed through exercises that constantly stretch our abilities.

Even the simplest of flying tasks can be performed better if we have been involved in more complex exercises. For example, those who have been exposed to aerobatics feel perfectly comfortable in turbulence that might unnerve the pilot who never exceeds 30° of bank.

You never know when extra flying skills will come in handy. A friend of mine, Johnny Miller, suddenly found himself with a jammed elevator control after a midair collision. As the nose of the airplane pitched upwards, he rolled the airplane into a steep bank and, by the use of top rudder, entered a severe sideslip. He was able to control the nose attitude by the use of top and bottom rudder. When he hit the ground in a dry riverbed, the low wing absorbed most of the shock, and he walked away from the wreckage. I wonder how many pilots know that you can control nose attitude by rolling into a slip and using the rudder in place of the elevators? Johnny exhibited a really slick bit of flying, but he was ready for the unexpected because he had exercised his skills beyond that which is normally expected.

Just practicing stalls and spins will not provide all of the immunization you may need against abnormal flight behavior. A course in basic aerobatics is an excellent insurance policy against unusual and unexpected attitudes.
Flying is fun, but many pilots miss out on the greatest satisfaction of flying, and that is accepting the challenge of increasing and maintaining flying skills. Those who maintain only limited skills will be constantly haunted by the knowledge that they may suddenly and unexpectedly be called upon to do more than they are capable of. This fear is an unnecessary burden for pilots to bear. It can be eliminated with a little effort.

Why not resolve to enter into a flying fitness program today?

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