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What Is a Flat Spin? And How to Recover from a Spin




You might admire flat spins at the airshow, but you never want to find yourself in one—outside of perhaps a planned aerobatics lesson.

Flat spins result from several things going very wrong, and they are potentially unrecoverable. 

Here’s a look at what constitutes a flat spin and how one could happen.

We’ll also look at basic spin recovery techniques and why they might prove ineffective when trying to get out of a flat spin.

First, What Are Spins?

A spin is an aggravated stall and autorotation. Let’s break down what that means.

Spins occur when both wings of an airplane are stalled, but one is more deeply stalled than the other. The resulting rotation causes the aircraft to lose altitude in a downward corkscrew path, spiraling toward the ground.

Getting into a spin requires stalling the plane while it is also yawing. This could be due to inappropriate rudder use, asymmetrical power (as in a  multiengine aircraft after an engine failure), power-induced turning tendencies in a single-engine plane, or wind shear and turbulence.

Normal-category single-engine airplanes must prove they can be recovered from a one-turn spin as part of the certification process. But they do not always have to prove they can recover from fully developed spins. 

Spin Recovery

If they can’t be recovered under certain conditions, they may carry a prohibition in the POH/AFM and be placarded in the cockpit “Not Approved for Spins.” If your plane has a placard like this, there is no assurance that the plane can recover from a fully developed spin.

Spins should not be confused with the spiral dive, a flight maneuver that does not involve stalling the wings. 

What Happens During a Flat Spin?

During most spins, the nose of the aircraft is pointed down toward the ground. The wings are still stalled since the actual flight path is almost vertical (downward). In this case, the angle of attack may be between 20 and 45 degrees.

But if the nose of the aircraft remains almost level with the horizon, then the aircraft is said to be in a flat spin. In this case, the wings are very deeply stalled, between 45 and 90 degrees. 

Of course, besides the wings being stalled, the other flight controls on the aircraft are also stalled. If the plane falls straight down in a 90-degree flat spin, no air may flow over the elevator surface. If this is the case, there is no way for the pilot to control the angle of attack and no way for them to get out of the spin.

Luckily, modern aircraft are designed to resist getting into a flat spin. There’s only one way it can happen—by loading the aircraft incorrectly. 

If the pilot has completed their weight and balance before the flight and ensured that the plane is loaded within its CG limits, entering a flat spin will not be possible. 

However, if the plane’s CG is beyond its aft limit, the nose will not point down as it stalls and spins. Without this pitching motion, a flat spin is possible. 

Spin Recovery Basics

Modern aircraft are built to be very stable and spin-resistant.

Still, without proper stick and rudder control during flight, it’s possible to enter a spin accidentally. You should know how to get out of one should it ever occur.

Always refer to your aircraft’s POH for detailed spin recovery procedures. The following recommendations, and those found in the Airplane Flying Handbook, are general. Remember, some aircraft are not approved for spins at all. 

When spins occur, they often happen suddenly and with little warning beyond the typical approach to a stall.

Altitude loss is more dramatic and disorienting than in a typical stall. For these reasons, focusing on preventing a spin situation is always critical. Maintain shallow, coordinated turns at low altitudes and in the traffic pattern.

The basic steps of recovering from a spin are as follows. You can use the PARE mnemonic to help you remember them.

Spin Recovery PARE mnemonic

Once the rotation is stopped, the pilot can neutralize the rudder and apply back pressure on the elevator to gently recover from the dive.

Lastly, power is added to return to normal flight.

You can read more about spins and recoveries in the Airplane Flying Handbook.

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