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From the Logbook: Stalls and Spins . . . a Mistake and a Maneuver

© Jim Trusty 2008

The name and contact information of an instructor that teaches spins in my area is at the bottom of this article. I hope that you have one close to your airport.

Before you take your next lesson, Flight Review, or acquire your next certificate or rating, why not have a talk with an instructor about doing some real stalls and spins.

Not knowing how to do them does not keep them from happening !!!!!!!

I still spin every student who flies with me, if they ask, no matter the certificate or rating, and I still teach exactly what a stall really is and how little reaction it takes to change the outcome. We still call them "landings at altitude."

First, let me remind you that the airplane already knows how to fly and dearly wants to do so if left alone without a sudden input from you. So, if the airplane is intentionally put into a mistake (I do not believe in inadvertent flight into anything), it rejects what you are trying to do and it simply quits flying. It sounds all its bells and whistles to let you know it cannot proceed in this particular maneuver with this exact power setting or configuration, and it demands immediate response from you as the pilot.

I still teach both maneuvers on the ground and in the air, and by the time a student has successfully done a stall that intentionally led to a spin and recovered from that maneuver, they can now converse intelligently about the subject. It is not something they saw on tape, read about, or that frightens them. A stall is a mistake on the part of a pilot that CAN lead to a spin which is a maneuver that a pilot, with proper training, can fly out of.

I still teach both procedures at altitude so that if a mistake is allowed to magnify itself, the pilot can get out of it. I sincerely believe that knowledge is king, or queen, when it comes to aviation. Seeing it done will never replace doing it. I do not hold myself out to be an aerobatics instructor nor do I consider either maneuver to be particularly aerobatic if you simply go right into it and get right out of it.

The actuality of doing both maneuvers, more than once if required, is that nothing I have ever used before makes a greater impression on the student when it comes to pattern work, standard rate turns, cross controlling, steep turns, power and pitch management, and a half dozen other simple every day maneuvers. Nothing gets and holds their attention more than a simple stall and an even simpler spin. Private pilots end up doing three complete turns to the left and three complete turns to the right and have the knowledge to tell you what is going on at any time before, during, and immediately after the spin. I really think it makes for a better and more complete package when used in primary training.

I have always done this for every student who asked because of the total lack of knowledge displayed by some instructor candidates when I get them. Most have never done them, they are scared to death of them, and they know 20 pilots who have died from doing them (although they can't remember any names). Why can't we just sign them off? Other instructors don't do them (again, no names), and a multitude of other equally great excuses why we should not stall and spin.

It makes for a great ground school session or two or three, and teaches more about aerodynamics than any other two maneuvers I can think of. What does an airplane do when it stops flying? Why does it want to fall to the right or left; which one it does favor and why? What causes flat spins? Another discussion of weight and balance comes into being about now--what can't spin, what shouldn't spin, can yours spin. Watch the tape again, and get prepared for the real thing--mentally, physically, and, more importantly, aerodynamically.

Don't give me that stuff that they are not required because they are unsafe. It just shows how little you really know about the flying capabilities of your own aircraft. Don't dare say they are scary or unsafe in front of a real pilot. They were never meant to be a test of any kind of the pilot's courage. It is a maneuver and it is programmable as to what the outcome will be. If you are not doing actual stalls and intentional spins, it may be because you have forgotten, if you were ever actually taught.

The stall now and the spin now are both as beautiful a maneuver as the lazy eight because someone has finally published a book to show when an aircraft stalls, when it spins, what causes it, how to prevent it, and, if not, how to recover from it. No, it wasn't Rod Machado. It's called the PTS (Practical Test Standards). And, incidentally, I still teach spirals, too, if I want to or feel they are something that will benefit my student. Just because something is no longer a requirement does not mean it has no further benefit.

If we want to get into a discussion about safe and unsafe maneuvers, we should spend a day or two talking about takeoffs and landings. Are they the most unsafe maneuvers we do? Well, according to the safety statistics, they are still responsible for almost 90% of the accidents we have in trainers. Now, admit it. Landings still bother you, don't they? I've never heard pilots say they were going out to practice stalls and spins; it's always takeoffs and landings. I guess this means they feel they are already proficient in stalls and spins but they can always use a little work on takeoffs and landings.

I feel that most of us just give up completely on the recurrency and training part of the program as soon as possible after being declared a pilot. Don't fall for this if you want to live long and be an accomplished pilot. It takes continuous, intensive practice on your part each and every time you fly. Try something new each flight and always be willing to go back and stay current in those maneuvers seldom performed. Slow flight, stalls and spins will extend your life as a pilot. Not knowing how to do them does not keep them from happening.

Before you take your next lesson, Flight Review, or acquire your next certificate or rating, why not have a talk with an instructor about doing some real stalls and spins. It never hurts to become more knowledgeable. Keep asking until you find what you are looking for, an instructor who can teach the fundamentals of these maneuvers. They are out there.

In closing, think about the following. Clearing turns are the most important maneuvers we do on a daily basis and the most often forgotten. How many degrees to the left and what to the right, or is it the other way around? And what about the traffic behind you? LOOK AND THEN MANEUVER. And here's a little tip for you'anything will spin but not everything will recover! Will yours?

I'll see you at the airport! Always remember, pilots who don't fly have no advantage over people who can't fly. What's your excuse?

Written permission from the author required to reprint this copyrighted article. (2008)

JAMES E. (Jim) TRUSTY, ATP~CFI~IGI was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the first ever FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year in 1995 and then again in 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate 135 Pilot~ "Gold Seal" Flight & Ground Instructor~ FAA Safety Team Program Lead Representative~ National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide. If you have comments, questions, complaints, or compliments, please e-mail them directly to him, and he will certainly respond. Thanks. (Lrn2Fly@Bellsouth.Net)

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If I have peaked your interest in this subject matter and you are fortunate enough to have an instructor close by, as we do, then you can get some extra training, or at least ask some intelligent questions'At nearby Sewanee Tennessee (UOS) Ms Catherine Cavagnaro teaches SPINS and all that goes with these aerodynamics. She has the background, the knowledge, and the equipment to do a great job. You can reach her at 931 636-8678, e-mail her at or take a look at her website. It is

I hope you enjoy the training and appreciate her efforts. It will make you a better pilot and certainly a more proficient and knowledgeable instructor.