Spin – Part 2: Should We Teach Them?

Private Pilot applicants once were required to perform a one-turn spin and recover within 10 degrees of original heading to pass the checkride — things have changed. Commercial Pilot applicants had to complete a three-turn spin and recover on heading to pass. That was before 1949. Since then, spins have only been required for the Flight Instructor Certificate and the actual spin is not required on the checkride.

The reason the spin requirement changed had less to do with safety and more to do with business. Post WWII aircraft manufacturers were very interested in turning their wartime business into a peacetime venture. They envisioned a country where everyone had two cars and one airplane in their garage, but there was one problem. The spin training requirement was viewed as a threat that would scare off potential customers. They lobbied to have the law changed. Since then, the FAA has promoted spin ‘prevention’ over actual spin training.

The debate has gone back and forth for 50 years now. In the 1970s it was even the subject of a hearing in the United States Congress. After hearing testimony in favor of reinstating required spin training from several branches of the military, NASA, and several industry groups, the house committee recommended to the FAA that some form of spin requirement be brought back. The FAA ignored the committee. Spin training is still not part of any Practical Test Standard or training requirement — except for the CFI.

The debate is over ‘required’ spin training … but there is no law against ‘optional’ spin training. So what really is best: to spin or not to spin?

The case for spin training is based on the idea that first hand experience is best. If you ever find yourself in a spin someday you might do a better job of recovery if you have already experienced a spin. In a spin everything happens very fast. The speed can rob a pilot of the ability to recognize what is happening. Spin recognition could take place faster if the pilot had seen one before. The job of an instructor is to take a student to the edge of safety and let them look out over that edge. Every other maneuver and procedure that we teach we do so by allowing the student to see it first hand, to experiment, and to become familiar. Why should spins be any different?
Translation: Pilots have a better chance of recovering from a spin if they have practiced spin recovery with an experienced instructor.

The first problem is access to an airplane that is approved for spins, insured for spin training and available for spin training. The airplane’s gyros are exposed to additional wear and tear from spins; therefore many airplane owners do not want spins taught in their airplane. Flight schools sometimes will designate one airplane to be the ‘spinplane,’ therefore any ill effects on gyros are not spread out across the entire fleet. But what if the training fleet is only one airplane – you see it can be hard to find an airplane to do spin training in. Next argument: even the quickest spin recovery will still lose approximately 600 to 1000 feet of altitude. The spin threat is greatest when an airplane is slow and near stall speed. These speeds are common when low in the traffic pattern. All the spin training in the world will still not prevent an accident if a pilot enters a spin while in the traffic pattern.
Translation: If spin training will not ultimately save your life and will beat up the aircraft, why take on the additional risk of spin training in the first place?

The debate goes on. For 17 years I have taught pilots to become Flight Instructors. That means that I am routinely giving spin training to my CFI applicants. I think that optional spin training for Recreational, Private, and Commercial Pilots can be safe and beneficial to the student – but with one big reservation. There are not many CFIs working today who are truly qualified and proficient to give spin training, so finding someone to do the job can be difficult. Access to ‘spin-able’ airplanes is also a problem in some places. Although extremely unlikely, if the FAA changed the regulations and made spin training a requirement starting tomorrow – we would be in trouble.

My Spin On Spins
I am definitely opposed to ‘recreational’ spinning. The thought of a new private pilot going up with a spouse, or friend, to conduct some ‘show-off’ spins scares me to death. Intentional spins should never be conducted without a qualified flight instructor on board. Also, parachutes are required when performing spins except in one case: when the training is required for a pilot certificate. The only pilot certificate that requires spins is the Flight Instructor Certificate. I train CFI applicants without parachutes, but this regulation was written so vaguely that Recreational, Private, and Commercial applicants can also be taught spins without parachutes if you make the assumption that these people are working to be a Flight Instructor someday.

If you are a pilot who wants to take some spin training, do some research. You will need to find a CFI who is not a rookie and has experience spinning in the very airplane that the spin training will be conducted.