Curve Ball for the Kaiser: The Unsung Spin Doctor

Back in aviation’s formative years, spins were widely accepted as being non-habit forming — once caught in a spin, there was no known way out — until… The first known spin recovery, made in 1912 by a Royal Navy test pilot, Ensign Wilfred Parke, was a major breakthrough. His entry was precipitated by his having kept the application of back pressure while still in a steep turn. When he applied opposite rudder he found he only had a dive to contend with and returned to tell the tale. Unfortunately, his good fortune didn’t last long. Parke was killed a few months later, trying to return to the runway after an engine failure on climb-out. For your sake, remember that.

Perhaps the real unsung hero is someone else. Frederick A. Lindemann, a bespectacled theoretician, smitten with flying — who was initially rejected from the Royal Flying Corps due to poor vision — succeeded in getting a pilot’s license by memorizing the eye chart. He later used his family’s influence to join the scientific staff at the Royal Aircraft Factory. This was no charlatan, however.

He initiated a study of the instrument indications and pilot actions that appeared to cause spin entries during turns, and with little flying skill of his own, successfully determined the causes of stall/spin occurrences, and the control movements needed to counteract them.

His theoretical conclusion was the correct one: that a pilot’s instinctive responses to spinning were the WRONG responses. One must, he reasoned, apply and maintain full opposite rudder while the nose was pointed at the ground. Furthermore, one should not pull back until the spin stopped. Ah, but how to test the theory? Here is where Lindemann’s stature ascends to prominence, because he tested his theory with himself as the test pilot. With observers from the Farnborough Aerodrome paying close attention, he took a spindly B.E.2 up to its service ceiling (near 14,000 feet), deliberately entered a fully established spin and put his theory to the ultimate test of accountability. Not only did he come out of it, but, after doing so, he then climbed back up and recovered from a spin in the opposite direction! The year was 1914.

For a while, the British kept this military secret, and used it to their advantage. Whenever a British pilot was outnumbered and needed to escape he would commit suicide — from the perspective of his German opponents, anyway. He would spin away and down, only to recover close to the ground and speed safely away. Pilots talk though, and soon the secret was out … to benefit all who followed.