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Darwin and the Base-to-Final Spin

Ever since the airplane was invented, we have observed the ways in which pilots have figured out how to kill themselves.  Then we’ve trained against those ways.

140 from rearThe base-to-final inadvertent spin is certainly toward the top of the list.  We train pilots to be coordinated because we know that an airplane which is both skidding and stalling is the most likely to spin.  I teach spins in two ways and I take care to make sure that everyone who flies with me understands the difference.  We spin with attention to the proper entry and a recovery on the same heading we had when we started.  That’s an intentional spin and it’s taught as a proficiency maneuver.  That is, it increases flying proficiency and is fun to boot. It doesn’t teach a pilot to recognize or avoid an unintentional spin.  But we also teach the inadvertent spin.  We try to re-create the situation that results in a spin during the turn from base to final.  We want the student to recognize the skid and the high angle of attack and to be able to avoid the coming spin into the ground.  But I’ve noticed that once I’ve demonstrated that maneuver and had my students perform it, they almost all say the same thing:  “I just don’t see how you could get in that situation without realizing it!”

I agree and I’m beginning to think that this may just be a case of aviation Darwinism.  We’ve created an environment where no one washes out of pilot training.  If you’ve got enough money, you can eventually get a pilot’s certificate and you’re off to join the gaggle.  You can also continue to reproduce, ensuring that the same inability to fly will be inherited by your offspring so that they, too, can do something stupid.  That’s where the Darwinism comes in.  I’m beginning to wonder if the predisposition for the base-to-final spin isn’t maybe an event that is somehow concocted in the big unknown and cosmic-karmic spirit-world to weed out the unfit-to-fly.  Maybe all my students are right.  Maybe no one who has any ability to fly safely would ever get themselves into that situation.  Maybe the base-to-final spin is nature’s way of weeding out those who would otherwise pass on the bad-flying gene to their offspring.  If that’s true, it’s just a tragic shame that so many of those fliers will take some innocent person with them and deprive their loved ones of their own existence (Our responsibility to protect those who put their lives in our hands is an entirely different, and important, subject).

That the base-to-final spin is “Aviation Darwinism” is a scary thought, isn’t it?  I haven’t totally made up my mind on it, but I’m starting to lean in that direction.  It gives me hope to know that my students, all of whom are pretty good fliers will not fall prey to it and will continue with their…

Happy Swooping!


6 comments to Darwin and the Base-to-Final Spin

  • Geoffrey Rishman

    Aviation Darwinism? Or voluntary exit from the gene pool… Great magazine Brian – I love reading it!
    Geoff R (UK)

  • The Pumper

    I had a FedEx pilot tell me one time that all of their approaches were taught as missed approaches mantra. You were to set yourself up with the missed being the primary thought. What would happen is that a successful landing VFR or IFR was the secondary potential. I have always thought that this was a very safe method and might answer your thoughts on the go around. Maybe we should look at it as setting yourself up for a go around and if everything is perfect abort and land.

  • Terry

    I believe you have it right when you mention the poor initial training many pilots receive.
    I remember years ago flying right seat with a friend to Independence. When we arrived, there was a moderate crosswind and he wanted to just go back home. I was stunned. I asked if he would mind if I landed his Warrior, and he said okay. I did the simplest slip to landing with a wing lowered.
    Now he was stunned, and told me that he never was taught crosswind landings, and didn’t realize they are so easy.
    I believe he has lots of company.

  • I don’t know nuth’n bout the self extinction idea but I have noticed that people who have a proper inadvertent spin demonstrated all say the same thing, “how could I not recognize this coming?” I said it too.


    In the real world they don’t arrive in the nose high condition one sees most often during the demonstration. These demonstrations are usually initiated from a cruise condition. It takes a lot of nose up to get it slowed down.

    Try this. Climb to a safe altitude, ten or twelve thousand should do, assuming you’re not over a tall mountain, (you’re about to do a really stupid thing, on purpose, I’m a little concerned you might follow my directions without looking out the window) reduce power gradually until the airplane is gliding just above the stall speed, then, stop look’n at the airspeed indicator. Look out the window and see how far down the nose is. Surprise!

    The big hunk of iron on the front, combined with gasoline will usually make enough airspeed to save your but and still see the horizon. When the iron is deprived of gasoline it still makes the airplane fly, only now it conspires with gravity to create airspeed.

    Now slow it gradually some more, (depriving the equasion of airspeed which gravity will try to replace) like you might if you’re not paying attention to flying the plane but talking on the radio or watching the Aeronca Champ on downwind in front of you, getting close enough to read the logo on the tail.

    Power off, the nose will be pointed at the ground creating a strong desire to pull when you wake up from whatever has distracted you. You’re turning, “maybe” not stepping on the rudder and viola, the world goes round and round. Actually, the one I watched at Oshkosh only made a one quarter turn before he arrived in the top of tall trees where the fire department came and retrieved his lucky self.

    By the way, gravity doesn’t take time off. The fire department hired it to get that plane down. A little tip and their buddy gravity went to work until the earth interfered. Unpleasant, thud noise.

    Airplanes stall. Even with the nose pointed at the earth!

    The Acme School of Airplane Operating is another story.

    Sorry, you know me, put in a nickel and get five dollars worth.


    • brian

      As he often does, ol’ Mike is hitting this nail on the head. Thanks, Mike, and all of you who have addressed the issue of the spin from base to final. The next article about the Go-Around will probably be next. I’ll move up the posting date!!

  • Rick

    Hey Mike….and Brian. This is great reading. Thanks for helping us fly safer.

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