Video: Pitts Emergency Recovery training

Spin diagram from FAA's Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge

Spin diagram

Part of my journey into aerobatics includes Spin Training. Spins are the downward spiraling flight airplanes go into when the wing stalls (i.e. stops producing lift) without coordinated rudder input to keep them level. Spins are a required part of aerobatic competition. Accidental spins are associated with a great many aviation accidents. One would think they’d be integral to pilot training. And they are…sort of. We’re taught about them including the aerodynamics involved, recognition & avoidance, and the control actions to recover. But actually doing spins is no longer required by the U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations to be a certified pilot. We talk about them, get tested on them, but don’t actually do them. We’re required to perform stalls (the wings must be stalled before a spin can occur) but only just the onset of the stall, before recovering to normal flight.

I won’t go into the great debate here but the teaching of spins is the aviation equivalent of religion or politics (or even worse: the pc-mac debate!): everyone has an opinion and they are mostly strong and very likely to run the entire gamut. There are those for whom the spin is the modern equivalent of the flat earth: a fear born of uncertainty and a place best left unexplored. It takes all kinds but in their defense, spins are perhaps the least understood of basic aerodynamic phenomena and have been for over a hundred years.

For aerobatics, spins are required in all their flavors. But for the moment I don’t want to talk about spins; I want to talk about ’emergency recovery’ from accidental spins.

Image of an airshow performer in a flat spin.

Whee

Part of trying new things is the certainty we will fail regularly and often. In trying new aerobatic maneuvers, one likely outcome of failure is simply falling out of the maneuver and into a spin. We practice with lots of altitude so recovery is easy, until we can perform the maneuver perfectly every time. This mastery is what allows airshow performers to dazzle us safely and consistently. Every second of their performance is only made possible by thousands of hours of preparation.

During the journey toward that mastery, we need to prepare to fail. That’s where emergency recovery training is worth its weight in gold-wrapped diamonds set in Californium-252.

Bill Finagin teaches a variation of the Mueller-Beggs recovery.

It goes like this:

  1. Rip the power off
  2. Forcefully neutralize (center) stick and rudder
  3. Wait for 100mph (in the Pitts)
  4. Pull out of the dive

The main points are:

  • Recognizing when we’re out of control
  • Performing the steps in order, with authority, while saying them aloud

The main advantages:

  • Does not burn a lot of extra altitude compared to traditional recovery techniques
  • No need for the pilot to know the direction of spin
  • No possibility of making the spin worse (e.g. recovery inputs held too long inducing a crossover spin to/from inverted)

My primary flight instructor did a good job of making me not fear the spin 20 years ago, but I never knew how fun they (and emergency recovery training) can be. My understanding at this point is basic and growing. My confidence is growing by leaps and bounds!



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