Spinning- a non event in a Cessna 152? Rubbish!

“Spinning is a non event in a Cessna 152”. This is a comment an instructor and engineer made to me once and it is typical of the sort of misleading information that ‘commentary instructors’ dine out on. There are many factors that can influence the spin characteristics of an aircraft and its ability to recover safely. Mass, configuration, C of G, power setting and entry speed can all change spin characteristics and delay, or even prevent recovery.

I’ve had two spin frights in my career, one aircraft had long range tanks and they were near to full making it outside the C of G and weight limit for spinning, another was later found to have reduced rudder travel. Both incidents resulted in delayed recovery and increased heart rate.

The most startling incident I remember was a Cherokee 180 in which the front seat passenger decided to show the pilot and the two rear seat passengers how to spin the aircraft. The Cherokee PA28 isn’t approved for spinning with rear seat passengers and on that evening 4 people learned a very valuable lesson about C of G position and spin recovery which would be later recounted in the Leominster Magistrates Court. It would seem from the accounts that recovery was only made possible by  one of the rear seat passengers (a club instructor) leaning forward as a last resort to try juggling the throttle and in doing so caused a C of G change which allowed a very late recovery extremely close to the ground. In fact recovery was so late and violent that the subsequent pull out deformed both wings to such an extent that they had to be replaced! All this is an aircraft I’ve heard many instructors say has docile stall/spin characteristics!

There is of course another reason that recovery may not be effected-the student freezes on the controls. I’ve only had it happen once when a student froze on the brakes on landing on runway 06 at Birmingham, apparently I hold the record for the shortest landing of a Cessna 150 ever at Birmingham! It certainly woke me up and taught me a lesson and it’s why I now always say to early students on the approach-HEELS ON THE FLOOR-dont ride the brakes!

What do you do if a student freezes at a crucial moment? Unfortunately the only thing you can really do in a life threatening situation is to punch him or her in the face very hard after of course challenging twice with, ” I have control”. Think that’s a bit harsh? Read the following below from a FAA magazine and you may change your mind!

(By the way, for instructors-dont forget to write up clearly in the students record if there is any tendency to freeze on the controls, or not to respond correctly to, “I have control”.  Also write up students that are not becoming progressively more relaxed as their training progresses. This information is very important for the next instructor)

Death grip: Spin training turns tragic

In aviation, a little fear can be a good thing. A wary appreciation for what could go wrong makes for a safer pilot than brash cockiness in the cockpit. The key is not to let healthy fear become debilitating panic in the face of stress. Seized by overpowering fright, an impulsive pilot may overpower the one thing that could avert disaster—the more experienced pilot beside him.

On June 8, 2006, a CFI-in-training and his instructor were killed when they failed to recover from an intentional spin. The accident airplane, a Cessna 152, showed no sign of mechanical failure and had been used earlier that day for spin training without incident. The student reportedly had a history of impulsive and panicked behavior during stressful situations, including locking his grip on the yoke and refusing to give up control of the airplane.

The flight departed Phoenix Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., at about 2:45 p.m. The airplane proceeded northwest toward the local practice area, climbing to 6,100 feet msl. The 200-hour pilot, who held a commercial certificate, was enrolled in a multiengine CFI course that required spin training as part of the curriculum. The purpose of the instructional flight was to introduce the pilot to spins and practice spin-recovery procedures.

Radar returns showed the aircraft completing several maneuvers that included short climbs followed by quick, 1,000-foot altitude losses, consistent with the instructor demonstrating spin entry and recovery for the student. At approximately 3:30 p.m., the Cessna climbed to 5,500 feet msl. Returns then showed the airplane plunging 2,100 feet in 20 seconds before disappearing completely from radar.

The wreckage was discovered on the side of a hill near a golf course. Airframe deformation and ground scarring were consistent with the airplane striking the ground in a spin. Amid the debris, accident investigators discovered a kneeboard with a piece of notebook paper secured in its clip. A handwritten note on the paper included a list: “[1] aileron neutral; [2] throttle idle; [3] opposite rudder; [4] pitch down.” Investigators found no evidence of mechanical failure or other anomalies that would have contributed to the accident or prevented spin recovery.

Interviews with students and instructors at the flight school helped piece together a probable cause for the accident. One instructor, who had flown with the accident pilot about 10 or 12 times, described the pilot’s skills as good within the training environment but lacking in situations “outside the box.” He recalled the student pilot acting impulsively on numerous occasions when a stressful situation was simulated, such as failing an engine or stalling the airplane. The student would stiffen on the controls, “seizing the yoke as if petrified.” During one flight, the instructor had to physically jab the student in the leg to get him to relinquish the controls. Another instructor described a similar experience with the same student.

If the 230-pound male student had panicked during his first experience with spin recovery, it would have been next to impossible for the 100-pound female instructor to override his control inputs. The NTSB blamed the crash on the failure of both the flight instructor and student pilot to regain control of the airplane in a timely manner during an intentional spin maneuver, resulting in a collision with terrain.

While only required for the CFI ticket, spin training can be a worthwhile experience for any pilot. Spin-training mishaps are extremely rare, and the Cessna 152’s safety record is among the best of any spin-certified aircraft, according to data in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s special report on stall/spin accidents. The report further notes that recognition and prevention are the most important aspects of spin training, given that more than 80 percent of stall/spin accidents occur when the aircraft is maneuvering less than 1,000 feet above the ground—an altitude that makes spin recovery unlikely.

This accident also demonstrates the importance of a relaxed approach to flying. Stressful situations are inevitable. The key is to remain focused and calm when faced with the unexpected. That may be easier said than done, but pilots who survive in-flight emergencies consistently cite level-headedness and reliance on checklists or proven safety routines as critical to their success. Unfortunately, those who succumb to panic and seize at the controls frequently encounter tragedy—the literal implications of a death grip.


Spin recovery is no longer required for the EASA PPL.  PPL Flight Instructor candidates must be able to teach spin recovery. Before attempting to spin any aircraft you should read the manufacturers limitations and recovery technique and pay special attention to C of G position. A pre flight mass and balance calculation is essential. Some training aircraft are not cleared for spinning under any circumstances. Some aircraft, such as the PA28, can be flown within the Normal Category or Utility Category. See  http://www.flightsimaviation.com/data/FARS/part_23-3.html

FLY SAFE  – Remember Orville Wright taught himself to fly and that is what you will be doing if you don’t receive competent professional instruction – good luck!

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