“Comfort Zone” and “Pathetic” Spin Training!

The amazing lack of understanding of slip/skid/spin aerodynamics demonstrated by many applicants on flight tests is almost criminal. A simple rote recitation of “P-A-R-E” with no real understanding or experience is not going to save a pilot in an upset situation. Yet Loss of Control-Inflight (LOC-I) is the #1 fatal accident causal factor in aviation. Pilots who have not experienced flight in this area of the flight envelope will suffer from “startle” and lock-up on the controls when they are forced out of their “comfort zone” by surprise circumstances.

The SAFE Extended Envelope Training moves a pilot sequentially (and comfortably) into the corners of the flight envelope and creates greater skill, confidence, and safety.  This training is accomplished in a normal category airplane at your local airport. It builds great skills and is a preliminary step toward full UPRT  courses like APS utilizing aerobatic airplanes.

LOC-I is generally defined as an adverse flight condition that has placed an airplane outside of the normal flight envelope with a potential inability of the pilot to control the airplane using traditional pilot skills. Aviation Performance Solutions

It is not just new pilots that demonstrate this deficit in skill and knowledge. The “comfort zone” can be reinforced over years of flying. Most experienced aviators have not done a comprehensive stall series in years, avoiding any full-control maneuvers with great fear (failure in Flight Review). Consequently, these skills will be unavailable when required for upset survival. It takes a skillful and compassionate aviation educator to move a fearful pilot to the edges of the flight envelope. There must be trust and motivation on the part of the pilot to make this training successful.

Equipped with only the skills gained from normal licensing training, a pilot may be unable to cope in this environment. Delayed reaction, fear, panic, combined with an inability to correctly interpret foreign visual and other sensory cues, and a lack of the skill set required to correctly apply counterintuitive control inputs for safe recovery within this critical window, may all prevent an ill-prepared pilot from surviving an upset. Aviation Performance Solutions

Currently, most applicants on flight tests can barely accomplish a full stall without trembling (and they have been recently trained). Since LOC-I is the #1 cause of fatal accidents that usually end up in a stall/spin descent to a crash, more training is necessary here for *ALL* pilots to assure comfort, competence, and safety.

Much of this fear and timidity can be traced back to FAA SAFO 16010 and “watered-down” flight training. This document guides the ACS and requires flight test applicants to be evaluated at speeds above the stall warning activation. Since minimum controllable airspeed is no longer tested, most aviation educators are no longer *teaching*  this area of the flight envelope either. COnsequently, many new pilots are terrified of full stalls and have never seen a turning stall or a ballistic recovery. This failure in flight training is killing pilots every day through increased timidity and lack of basic skills.

SAFE has long advocated “Extended Envelope Training” for all pilots to develop comfort and competence beyond the everyday “comfort zone” of daily flying. Pilots without surplus skill and knowledge capability will be the victims of LOC-I when forced out of their smaller world by turbulence, weather or other precipitators of upset. The SAFE EET training syllabus can be used as a single training event for more proficient pilots or sequentially for less confident and competent pilots to increase their skills. EET is also an excellent “bridge” between commercial pilot competence and aerobatic aspirations. Learn to use the controls to their full operating limits and coordinate the rudder in all flight attitudes.

Another training intended to create full-envelope comfort and competence is the training performed to satisfy the initial CFI spin endorsement. Unfortunately, most of these endorsements are perfunctory, with very little substantive ground or flight training. AC 61.67C (Chg 2) provides very detailed and specific guidance on what should be accomplished during an initial CFI spin endorsement. CFI spin training is seldom done completely or correctly. We need CFIs who are both well-trained and comfortable in full-envelope training and also compassionate enough to lead other pilots successfully into full-envelope competency or we will never make a real dent in our accident statistics.

We recently had a grieving father of a young CFI contact us. His daughter died while teaching stalls in a large flight academy. A SAFE poll of CFIs revealed that a shocking 65% of CFIs, at some point, had to physically take control from a student who “locked up” on the flight controls. That is an astonishing frequency of student “fear paralysis” during training. Techniques to counter this kind of (avoidable) fear are seldom taught to flight instructors.

Fear, startle and lock-up do not only affect pilots, it is a threat to instructors who may not be fully prepared to handle these situations. Every flight training professional should take a quality upset training course, and every pilot should train fully in the slow flight/stall area to be comfortable and capable. That is what a flight review should include (at a minimum) Train the killers… Fly safely out there (and often)!

SAFE members (and friends) are invited to our Gala Dinner at AirVenture, Thursday, July 27th. Join us on campus at the EAA Partner Resource Center. Enjoy tenderloin medallions or broiled salmon (with a veggie option available). Included in one price is a choice of dessert and two drinks from the bar. Tickets are online now. Barry Knuttila (CEO/CFI/ATP) from King Schools will be speaking on challenges in modern flight training.

Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

9 thoughts on ““Comfort Zone” and “Pathetic” Spin Training!”

  1. Hey David; This is what we have been saying for years. You know my good friend Rod M always says he’s not anti FAA, he’s Anti Bad ideas. Well, at some point I think one has to firm up the stance and say – The FAA IS the Problem. The FAA guiding the training process IS responsible for these needless accidents. I wish I had more hope for improvement. It’s going take a fundamental shift in how and what we teach student pilots, not in the sim at FSI, but pre Solo. Until we BEGIN the training with the concept that aircraft control is achieved through attitude control, and energy is a product of available thrust plus aircraft attitude, we are not likely to see improvement. And of course, we need to train through the entire envelope of flight – all the way through the stall – and through the spin. The FAA is the obstacle.

    1. There is a recent push-back from pilots in training every time I mention more realistic performance standards for pilot certification. (Read the recent FB comments on commercial “participation trophy”) Public pressure and comment drives the FAA standards and regs. Major “alphabets” always faster, cheaper, easier…more members.

      I think Comm. is the current poster child for bad FAA action creating an unsafe training. First, remove +/-50 standard, then remove “real complex” (retract/more power), then remove any meaningful solo “Performing The Duties of PIC” The result is a comm. “test” that is really PPL 2.0 (fly it in a C-152 to same standards…). THis was just an erosion of standards due to public pressure. Hard to put the Genie back in the bottle.

  2. Good afternoon David. Another good blog. Good to see it.

    One of the mainstays of my little one-man flight school is spin training. My spin program is 2-2.5 hours of ground school followed by an hour of flight training.

    The sad and disturbing thing is the general lack of understanding of how airplanes fly, why they get upset, and how to deal when they do. How it is possible to advance to the point where someone is going to be a CFI, with such a gross lack of understanding and awareness, is mind-boggling. Much of the lesson is spent covering what I consider to be remedial training in material that should have been covered in initial primary training.

    I continue to do this but I am only one CFI. How do we get the standards changed?

    1. One of my favorite questions for pilots testing (private through CFI); “If an airplane can stall at any airspeed, why is ‘stall speed’ marked on the airspeed indicator?” Boy do those answers get interesting. Immediately you know if applicant has even a clue (usually NOT🤮)

  3. I forgot to add that I laugh when I read AC 61-67C and it talks about stall recognition. There is nothing in that section that actually addresses stall recognition, only reduction in airspeed, as if a stall was a function of low airspeed. (It’s not.) As far as I can tell, many (most?)l stall-based LOC-I accidents happen at higher airspeeds due to maneuvering flight and commanding G-loading that exceeds the available lift from the wing, something that AC 62-67C seems to ignore.

  4. I believe that a bare minimum of 2 hours of ground and 2 flights should be part of the minimum for a spin endorsement (with many spins practiced on each flight). Two flights gives the pilot in training a chance to absorb what they did on the first flight and then they can practice teaching on the second flight. Doing this, I see an incredible increase in the pilot’s ability with spins and spin recoveries.

  5. Hello Mike. I agree, spin training should be expanded well beyond going up in a C172, doing a post-stall gyration that barely makes it into an incipient spin, and then call that spin training. My spin training program begins with 2+ hours of ground instruction on basic aerodynamics, scenarios that lead to LOC-I, exercises that the CFI candidate can take home with them to practice that will at least give them a modicum of continued spin and LOC-I avoidance, and hints on stupid student tricks.

    HOWEVER … It not about the spin.

    One thing I emphasize is that, if you need your spin training you have long passed the point where you SHOULD have recovered. If the aircraft is spinning you have already botched your upset recovery. Don’t get me wrong, everyone should spin and recover an aircraft from a spin, but that should be something you do for fun and education, not necessity.

    Your point about needing two flights is a good one. Most people can’t absorb enough in one flight to do them much good down-the-road. Heck, most CFI candidates I get don’t get anything from that initial spin hop. They are too startled and fearful to absorb much of anything at all. Sometimes I get lucky and I get one who really enjoys it and our airborne session may stretch to over an hour. I can show them a lot and even reach the point of recovering from a fully-developed spin. But even that is the limit for a single hop. Once your body is tired and your brain is full, no more learning takes place. It really does need additional hops.

    What this really says is that this training for CFIs needs to be recurring. If I were king of the world, or maybe the Director of the FAA, I would require spin and upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) to be a part of a CFI’s recertification, preferably every year but at least every two years. I would make a spin/UPRT/aerobatic hop count as a flight review for a pilot too. The idea being to get people used to REAL unusual attitudes and to break the startle response.

    So, why am I so emphatic about this? I am because I have needed my UPRT several times in my flying career. A couple of times I have had students surprise me and upset the airplane. I have had both fast and slow student-induced upsets. (Hint: it is almost always the good ones, you know, the ones that lull you into a sense of security so you let your guard down.) I have even recovered from a weather-induced upset in IMC where I got caught in a shear zone in a freshly-mature embedded thunderstorm. It works.

    If we are ever going to make progress on reducing LOC-I accidents, we need to change what we do. Hey! FAA! Are you listening?

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