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#66 To Spin Or Not To Spin!

I’ve been noodling about my policy regarding spin training.  As many who’ve flown with me know, I divide spin training into two parts.  Intentional spins with a recovery on a heading are taught as a proficiency maneuver, but at no time is it ever offered as a method for recognizing the onset of an unintentional spin.  For that, we have a procedure where we re-create the elements that commonly lead up to such a spin and help the student to learn recognition of it before it bites him.Spin 1

I’ve always allowed the student to decide if he wants to spin.  I’ve never required it.  I haven’t changed my policy, but I am thinking about it.  My “Goofys” are arguing about it as well.  You don’t know about my Goofys? They are imaginary cartoon-characters who help me make almost all difficult decisions.  The somewhat hardnosed, no-nonsense Goofy who normally perches on my left shoulder says, “Hey, if they’re scared to do a spin while you’re sittin’ right there to protect them, tuh Hell with ‘em.  Let ‘em find another flight instructor; preferably a Pansy!”

“Left Shoulder Goofy” continues to splutter with his angry rant as I clap my hand over his muzzle and turn to my other shoulder.

The Goofy who perches on my right shoulder is far more sensitive and understanding.  “People have to proceed at their own rate,” he says, soothingly.  “If they feel uncomfortable undergoing spin training, they should be allowed to avoid it in the interest of continuing to improve their proficiency.  Maybe they’ll come back to it”.

Without realizing it, the Goofy on my right shoulder may have inadvertently nailed it with his use of the word “uncomfortable”.

Years ago, I became familiar with a philosophy that was essential to the outdoor training offered by “Outward Bound”.  That organization maintained that it was necessary to get out of your “comfort zone” in order to learn certain skills and, indeed, to learn more about yourself.  Time and again, I have seen that philosophy proven to be correct.  It certainly applies to spin training.

The practice of spins can lead to wooziness, regardless of your level of desire to learn about this maneuver.  That’s why it’s best to introduce the spins at the very tail end of a flight.  I normally do spins within a mile or so of the home airport.  I keep a close eye on the student and we swoop into a landing right after a couple of rotations.

If we were to follow this routine at the end of every lesson, we’d have a pretty well-trained pilot at the end of a six hour Tailwheel Endorsement course.

So I guess I have some deciding to do:  Should I listen to “Left Shoulder Goofy” and insist on spin training as a part of my course?  Or should I adopt the philosophy of “Right Shoulder Goofy” and opt to give all my students the benefit of what I believe is good training without withholding that opportunity from those who don’t want to spin?

As is often the case, simply writing about the subject has helped me to form opinions about it.  I’ll continue to offer spins as an option for some time.  But the fact that I’ve dithered about it on these pages should indicate how important I believe spin training to be.  I’ll allow “Left Shoulder Goofy” to have the last word on the subject.

“Get outta yore comfort zone!  Cowboy up and ask Brian to run you through a little spin training.  It might scare ya a little at first, but remember what Ol’ Bill used to say:  ‘No guts, no air medal!’ “.

Happy Swooping (and spinning),



9 comments to #66 To Spin Or Not To Spin!

  • Mark Still

    Left shoulder Goofy is right. Intentional spins rarely result in a crash. Unintentional spins — which usually begin with an unintentional stall — all too often do. Knowing how to recover from unintentional spins could saves lives.

    One cannot expand their comfort zone if they are unwilling to stretch, observe and learn.

    Thanks for yet another thought provoking article!

  • Robert

    Great question, and will declare a bias towards right shoulder Goofy – because spin recovery technique is very aircraft specific (for example see I am for the formal, long brief approach – and leaving recovery from a fully developed spin as an option requested by the student. Obviously do teach and practice incipient spins (and the C152 is a good teaching resource for this with nice ‘departures’). Brian you are fortunate to have plenty of uncontrolled airspace, at our airport we have a nice schlepp of 30 miles to get sufficient ceiling under the TMA to practice fully developed spins.

    • brian

      In my opinion (and isn’t EVERYTHING I write my opinion?) the subject of spins takes on a different complexion when it comes to aerobatic practice or training. I didn’t get into it in this article and if I get into all the ramifications of the subjects I cover, my articles would be more than twice as long. My area of concern is the average recreational pilot and making him resistant to the factors which result in the inadvertent spin at low altitude. Thanks to Robert and many others who have contributed to this subject.

  • Jim Gentry

    Here is a different scenario. Let us say you are flying along with a buddy he wants to practice stalls. Great. Not being an instructor I just sat there and was talking him through. He was not proficient in stalls as I kept telling him to ‘use the rudders’ as he was ‘driving’ with the control wheel for results. Well, you know the rest of the rest of the story he got this Cessna 150 in a dandy violent spin as one wing stalled before the other and we went the opposite way. Wasting no time reduced power and opposite rudder, etc. and leveled out. Looking at him he seemed dazed and the back of his hair looked like a rooster tail. I asked him if he was all right he answered yes. What happened to your hair? He said you hit me! WHAT? My left hand arm was behind and on the top of his seat. When the stall went ugly my arm wasted no time in coming through his head to pull off the power. Do I believe in spin training, YES. Practicing with an instructor is the best way just for the reasons above until one gets in their comfort zone………….if nothing else to protect those that are out with you for a joy ride for safety.

    • brian

      As a sidebar, this little story points out the importance of rudder and how it is so often ignored. Virtually every student who comes to tailwheel town is given the opportunity to fly the “Falling Leaf” and, with elevator locked back and ailerons locked neutral, turn the ship back and forth to headings using rudder alone. Thanks for sharing, Jim.

  • Jerry Groendyke

    Hello Brian, Recognition of how situations develop and lead to an inadvertant spin should be taught. Know how to avoid. But know WHY to avoid too to make that training effective. One has to see what happens when you fail to avoid. For that you may be able to develop an instructor generated distraction to show how things can go wrong quickly when you least expect it. As for spins at the end of every lesson, for those who are nervous about spins, knowing that every flight lesson will include spins might distract them during the entire lesson. Maybe you should wait until the end to mention it.

  • Barry Jacobsen


    I worked at Skysailing Airport in Fremont, CA for 15 years as a flight instructor (Glider), tow pilot and Designated examiner. I totaly agree that spin training should be required.

    I was flying in mountain wave one morning in a 2-32 glider. I got up to 16,000 feet MSL and decided I needed to get down fast. I had never spun a 2-32 and thought that might be a good way to get lower. I got into a spin and after three revolutions I used the standard spin recovery techniques. Nothing happened and we just kept going round and round. I tried several more times with no results and decided that this was not good! I let go of the stick to see what happened and found that the stick just parked itself all the way back in the right corner of the cockpit. It would take about 10 pounds of effort to move the stick out of the corner. I also opened the dive brakes to see if that would help, finally I just put in full opposite rudder and held the stick full forward and waited. Finally after four or five revolutions of spinning the old gal finally stopped spinning, I was at 4,000 MSL. I figured I was going to make a good hole in the ground!

    What probably contributed to my problem for recovery was that my weight was right at the minimum weight for solo in this glider. I now have great respect for spinning in the 2-32. I have done it since with two people on board and had no problem recovering from spins.

    No longer flying gliders and sold a Taylorcraft BC 12D-85 that I had.

    Barry Jacobsen
    Lake Havasu City, AZ

    • brian

      Most readers of the Tailwheeler’s Journal will not know who Barry is. When Larry and I made “Dawn Flight” many years ago, we needed some superb fliers with a lot of formation skill. Barry was one of those fliers and participated in almost all of the formation scenes in that motion picture. He also helped me build many of the camera mounts that were used in the picture. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Barry and I’m delighted that he chose to contribute this comment. “Dawn Flight” is still offered in the Tailwheeler’s Mercantile on this website and still provides its viewers with an amazing view of some incredible flying.

  • Barry Jacobsen

    thanks Brian

    The making of Dawn Flight was the most exciting flying I have ever done and will remember it for the rest of my life. I always wanted to make it exciting for people who would watch the film.

    Barry Jacobsen

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