I love spins. I do them just for fun. I also teach them to all my students. I was out flying with one of those students not long ago. He was one of those big broad-shouldered southern boys that football coaches go crazy over. I was giving him instruction from the back seat of a Super Cub. His shoulders obscured the panel so completely it was necessary for me to ask him for the details on the headings, frequencies and airspeeds. I estimated the altitude by the size of the cows below us. He was a good student and fun to fly with.
We were preparing for the Private Pilot check ride, reviewing slow flight and stalls, and, of course, spins. I teach spins, not just because I like them, but because I think every pilot should know how to get out of a spin. For Private Pilots, we do the spin entry, one turn, then the recovery. For the Commercial, we do three-turn spins. For the C.F.I.'s, we do three-turn spins to a specific heading.
I also enjoy stalls. "Climb to thirty-five hundred feet," I said through the intercom, "go to the practice area over near the mountains." It doesn't take long to get to thirty-five hundred feet in a 150 horsepower Super Cub. "Now do a couple of clearing turns and look around real good," I continued, "when you're doing stalls, the last thing you want is for some Bonanza pilot to run over you while he's playing with his radios." I always say that. A little humor helps a student relax.
I watched and coached as the student did approach stalls, departure stalls, power on and power off stalls, accelerated stalls and some others that were hard to classify. He recovered from them well enough. He had done his spins months before, but I asked him to show me one anyway. He recovered before the spin was fully developed, just the way I had taught him. I had noticed that the cows on the farm below were getting really small. We had gained altitude during the full power stalls.
I hate to see good altitude go to waste, so after he had demonstrated his spin, I said, "Here, let me show you a real spin." Five words a flight instructor should never say are, "HERE LET ME SHOW YOU." I knew that, but I just forgot.
I've done hundreds of spins in dozens of airplanes. I ease the nose up into a full stall, hold the stick back, and push down the rudder pedal in the direction I want to spin. The airplane snaps over, and after one turn, the nose is pointed toward a farm that is going around and around and around. I push the opposite rudder all the way to the floor, ease the stick forward a little, the turn stops and the airplane smoothly flies out of its screaming dive toward the farm. That's just the way it's described in the books. I've done this hundreds of times. It's always worked out just like the books says.
Of course I know that there are some airplanes that you should never spin. Those usually have a placard right up on the panel that says something like, "DO NOT SPIN" or words to that effect. I couldn't actually see the panel of the Super Cub because of the big guy up front, but I would never have suspected that Bill Piper would have let a Cub go out the door with a placard like that in it. We have a J-3 Cub at home and it has a placard that says, "Aw please, come on and spin me. I love it!!" So, after saying the forbidden words, "Here let me show you," I did clearing turns to look for that Bonanza pilot, then entered a spin to the left.
I didn't like this spin right from the start. It didn't enter as briskly as I like and by the end of the second turn, I wasn't looking at a farm going around and around and around, I was looking at a mountain then a valley then a mountain then a valley then a mountain. I attributed this to the fact that my forward view was limited and maybe this is what spins look like when you are sitting behind a football player.
Not only did the spin look wrong, it also felt wrong. There was a dizzying, centrifugal feel to it that reminded me of the time I got sick on a merry-go- round. For a second, I remembered sitting in my third grade classroom thinking that I was going to throw up. I gave full right rudder and eased the stick forward. Absolutely nothing happened, except that the spin got faster and flatter. As I watched the mountain-valley-mountain-valley-mountain go by, I realized that we were in a flat spin.
A wonderful thing always happens when I get into situations like this. The whole world and everything in it slows down, so that I have plenty of time to think things over and make the best possible decision. Other people on the planet don't notice the change because it happens to everything at once. The cows below chew their cud and swish their tails a hundred times slower and never notice it. Above them, I carefully analyze the situation, review all of the literature I had read and all of the instruction I've received. I even have time to think about how foolish it is for a fifty-year-old man with a family to be in this situation.
I have a book on flight instruction, printed in 1927, that has a chapter on the subject of spins. It says that a flat spin is caused by having the center of gravity too far aft. It recommends a possible recovery by climbing out of the cockpit, onto the lower wing, and walking toward the engine as far as possible to shift the weight forward. I considered that for a second as the mountain-valley-mountain-valley went past the nose. I looked down to see that the cows were getting larger.
I reviewed a film about spins that I had seen at a flight instructor seminar. The test airplane had lead shot in the tail that could be released. No help there. A drag chute on the tail would be helpful. Too late to think of that. There was a section in the film where the test pilot could not recover and had to bail out. That wasn't such a bad idea ... if only we had parachutes.
I moved the rudders and the stick back and forth. There was no response. Rudders need air moving past them to make them work. Since the Cub was falling feet first, there was not enough air moving past the rudder. And, since the nose wasn't going to come down, the only source of air was from the propeller. I slowly opened the throttle ... this was not the time to choke the engine by shoving the gas to it ... and held full right rudder and full forward stick.
The power came up smoothly and the Cub slooooowly stopped its spin and responded. We recovered nicely, over a herd of Holsteins just beginning to graze in real time, just as if nothing had happened. And I guess nothing had.
Later, over a cup of coffee and a Big Mac, we reviewed the Super Cub Owner's Manual and learned, of course, that spins are only approved in the Normal Category section of the loading chart. With my 200 pound butt in the rear seat, we were in the Utility Category where, due to the aft center of gravity, spins are prohibited.
My student was impressed with the spin, but said he would stick to the one- turn or less version. And then never with anyone in the back seat. He had been aware of the loading situation, but had figured that since I was the flight instructor, I knew what I was doing. After all, I had said, "HERE, LET ME SHOW YOU."