Safety Article

Spin At Your Own Risk

Why the FAA Spin Endorsement requirements aren’t enough.

by Barry Hancock

In Utah alone we have lost too many people and planes recently due to spins. While the causes

vary, the statistics consistently demonstrate that Loss of Control - Inflight (LOC-I) is the #1 killer

of GA accidents by a factor of 10:1. Remember that flight schools are included in this category

and, frankly, many flight schools are a part of the problem. A recent study by the AOPA Air

Safety Foundation found that the vast majority of stall/spin accidents occurred with an instructor

on board.

    Before we dive into the reasons for the problems and some potential solutions, here are a

couple of questions to consider:

1) How many spin types are there?

2) How many spin modes are covered in the CFI Spin Endorsement requirements? (AC


I’ll give you the answers later, but I want to first talk about the problems created by the answers

to these questions.

Let me ask another question: when was the last time you, as a CFI, executed an intentional

spin? My guess is that if you are like most CFIs, it was when you got your spin endorsement. 2

years ago? 5 years ago? 10? 20? Like all skills, recovery techniques are perishable and

require consistent practice to maintain. I liken this to the mentality of driving without a seat belt

40 years ago. Unfortunately, there are no requirements for spin currency, just like there was no

requirement for seat belts in the 70’s. Heck, my wife and her siblings sat in the back of a pick

up truck on a mattress for a 2000 mile road trip and thought nothing of it! Her dad now admits it

was crazy, but says that’s just the way things were back then. Hopefully we don’t take 40 years

to change our thinking in aviation.

The real question is why are we not being more proactive? Why are we as pilots, and the FAA

as our governing authority, so complacent about something that is clearly both a matter of life

and death, and a statistically significant problem? I have a couple of theories that to explore

briefly before getting on to the more productive matter of what we can do to change things for

the better.

First, advances in aircraft design to make planes more “spin resistant,” combined with the FAA’s

guidance to be “aware” of indications and “avoid” spins is proving to be a fatal concoction. The

term “spin resistant,” I believe, gives us a false sense of security that spins in these airplanes

are unlikely. Yet, we all know “spin resistant” airplanes that have spun into the ground, in this

state, in the last 10 years, speak nothing of these types of fatal accidents nationally. Teaching

our students through “awareness and avoidance” is all well and good, except for the fact that

despite a pilot's best efforts, all too often they find themselves in the unknown without solid fundamentals, previous exposure or trained responses to properly recover, and they end up dead.

The second problem is a seemingly growing sentiment that spins are dangerous. It is only

human nature for us to vilify something we don’t well understand that has seemingly negative

outcomes. I often hear, or hear of, students talking about spins with great hyperbole and little

understanding with the false conclusion that spins are simply something to be avoided. After all,

that is what the FAA tells us to tell them. It also infers that, among other things, spins are only to

be taught to experienced pilots. This is the wrong message.

So, we have a real problem (LOC-I, of which spins are a factor) created by regulatory guidance,

and a cultural problem (i.e. spins = bad) created by lack of experience, understanding, and bad


Now let’s go back to answer the original questions. First, in GA piston powered airplanes there

are eight types of spins. Yep, eight. Power off yoke/stick neutral, outboard stick/yoke, inboard

stick/yoke, and then power on for all of the above, and then inverted for all of those. Even if you

take away all the inverted spins (not likely to be encountered in non-aerobatic flight) that still

leaves you with 4 basic spins, and we haven’t even distinguished between Incipient and Fully

Developed phases. Four modes with each requiring different corrections to recover in a timely

fashion. Second, the CFI Spin Endorsement in AC 61-67C requires us only to recover from an

incipient spin and “should” be done in “both directions.” The disconnect here is substantial. We

are required to experience and perform only 25% of possible normal upright spins that our

students might put themselves, or us, into.

So why do we take this risk? For the most part, it is because our knowledge is lacking and the

opportunities to get more comprehensive training are limited or nonexistent. This is a bit of a

chicken and egg question at this point, but the conclusion is the same. We are willingly

accepting unnecessary risk.

When we boil it all down, what is lacking in our current training culture is an understanding of,

and focus on, true stick and rudder skills - the ones that keep you and your students/passengers

alive when, despite our best efforts we don’t recognize and/or avoid Loss of Control. The box we

train in is too small and the FAA, while suggesting a more scenario based “on aircraft” mandate

is coming, has so far simply ignored the problem from a regulatory standpoint. Any mandate for

even Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) seems elusive. But that does not mean

that we cannot or should not change the culture of substituting technology and knowledge for

real world training and experience.

Culture change is a difficult thing to accomplish, but like my first mentor Micheal Church (MCFI-

A) told me, “we change aviation one student at a time.” I submit the time is now to begin

implementing change. I commend institutions and schools that are taking the initiative to

incorporate more tailwheel, spin, and upset training into their curricula—it will save lives—but

only if accomplished by instructors with substantial spin instruction and aerobatic experience

using appropriate techniques. Right now, the options are limited, but it doesn’t need to stay that

way. Over time we can develop more and more instructors who specialize in advanced

maneuver instruction. We all either are, or know someone who would love this type of flying

and instructing. We just need to be more encouraging. And that starts by becoming an

advocate. For our part, we are going to start a scholarship next year to help train the next

generation of instructors in these crucial areas.

No one should be doing spin training without the proper training and experience. Spin training

should not be undertaken lightly--simply added to an existing curriculum without the necessary

preparations. But, good spin training should be a part of every aviators educational journey, and

be experienced sooner as opposed to later in their careers.

It is up to all of us as the major influencers of student pilots, many of whom will become career

aviators responsible for the lives of dozens, or hundreds, of unsuspecting passengers at a time.

Some of your students will encounter a life or death upset event in their careers. The evidence

is clear. The solutions are available. So, it is now just a matter of determination to be a part of

that change not only in word, but in deed. If you haven’t spun an airplane in a while, get with a

well qualified and current instructor in an appropriate aircraft and get not just current, but

expand your skills set and knowledge base. It’s fun. It’s safe. And it’s the path to a better

culture in our industry.

About the Author: Barry Hancock is the founder and owner of Pilot Makers Advanced Flight Academy in

Heber City, UT. Barry has been flying and instructing in high-performance aircraft for over 15 years. With

nearly 4000 hours to his credit he is an active CFI teaching UPRT, Spins, Tailwheel, and aerobatics every

day. He is also an air show aerobatic pilot flying a North American T-6 WWII trainer and flies competition

aerobatics in a Pitts S2C, with several trophies to his credit. He is also a Check Airman with the

Commemorative Air Force and holds several warbird type ratings. For more see