Aircraft Spins (Part One)

Spin Awareness

A spin is an aggravated stall that typically occurs from a full stall occurring with the airplane in a yawed state and results in the airplane following a downward corkscrew path. As the airplane rotates around a vertical axis, the outboard wing is less stalled than the inboard wing, which creates a rolling, yawing, and pitching motion. The airplane is basically descending due to gravity, rolling, yawing, and pitching in a spiral path. [Figure 4-11] The rotation results from an unequal AOA on the airplane’s wings. The less-stalled rising wing has a decreasing AOA, where the relative lift increases and the drag decreases. Meanwhile, the descending wing has an increasing AOA, which results in decreasing relative lift and increasing drag.

Figure 4-11. Spin—an aggravated stall and autorotation.

Figure 4-11. Spin—an aggravated stall and autorotation.

A spin occurs when the airplane’s wings exceed their critical AOA (stall) with a sideslip or yaw acting on the airplane at, or beyond, the actual stall. An airplane will yaw not only because of incorrect rudder application but because of adverse yaw created by aileron deflection; engine/prop effects, including p-factor, torque, spiraling slipstream, and gyroscopic precession; and wind shear, including wake turbulence. If the yaw had been created by the pilot because of incorrect rudder use, the pilot may not be aware that a critical AOA has been exceeded until the airplane yaws out of control toward the lowering wing. A stall that occurs while the airplane is in a slipping or skidding turn can result in a spin entry and rotation in the direction of rudder application, regardless of which wingtip is raised. If the pilot does not immediately initiate stall recovery, the airplane may enter a spin.


Maintaining directional control and not allowing the nose to yaw before stall recovery is initiated is key to averting a spin. The pilot must apply the correct amount of rudder to keep the nose from yawing and the wings from banking.

Modern airplanes tend to be more reluctant to spin compared to older designs, however it is not impossible for them to spin. Mishandling the controls in turns, stalls, and flight at minimum controllable airspeeds can put even the most reluctant airplanes into an accidental spin. Proficiency in avoiding conditions that could lead to an accidental stall/spin situation, and in promptly taking the correct actions to recover to normal flight, is essential. An airplane must be stalled and yawed in order to enter a spin; therefore, continued practice in stall recognition and recovery helps the pilot develop a more instinctive and prompt reaction in recognizing an approaching spin. Upon recognition of a spin or approaching spin, the pilot should immediately execute spin recovery procedures.

Spin Procedures

The first rule for spin demonstration is to ensure that the airplane is approved for spins. Please note that this discussion addresses generic spin procedures; it does not cover special spin procedures or techniques required for a particular airplane. Safety dictates careful review of the AFM/POH and regulations before attempting spins in any airplane. The review should include the following items:

  • The airplane’s AFM/POH limitations section, placards, or type certification data to determine if the airplane is approved for spins
  • Weight and balance limitations
  • Recommended entry and recovery procedures
  • The current 14 CFR Part 91 parachute requirements

Also essential is a thorough airplane preflight inspection, with special emphasis on excess or loose items that may affect the weight, center of gravity, and controllability of the airplane. It is also important to ensure that the airplane is within any CG limitations as determined by the manufacturer. Slack or loose control cables (particularly rudder and elevator) could prevent full anti-spin control deflections and delay or preclude recovery in some airplanes.

Prior to beginning spin training, clear the flight area above and below the airplane for other traffic. This task may be accomplished while slowing the airplane for the spin entry. In addition, all spin training should be initiated at an altitude high enough to complete recovery at or above 1,500 feet AGL.

It may be appropriate to introduce spin training by first practicing both power-on and power-off stalls in a clean configuration. This practice helps familiarize the pilot with the airplane’s specific stall and recovery characteristics. In all phases of training, the pilot should take care with handling of the power (throttle), and apply carburetor heat, if equipped, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

There are four phases of a spin: entry, incipient, developed, and recovery. [Figure 4-12]

Figure 4-12. Spin entry and recovery.

Figure 4-12. Spin entry and recovery. [click image to enlarge]

Entry Phase

In the entry phase, the pilot intentionally or accidentally provides the necessary elements for the spin. The entry procedure for demonstrating a spin is similar to a power-off stall. During the entry, the pilot should slowly reduce power to idle, while simultaneously raising the nose to a pitch attitude that ensures a stall. As the airplane approaches a stall, smoothly apply full rudder in the direction of the desired spin rotation while applying full back (up) elevator to the limit of travel. Always maintain the ailerons in the neutral position during the spin procedure unless AFM/POH specifies otherwise.


Incipient Phase

The incipient phase occurs from the time the airplane stalls and starts rotating until the spin has fully developed. This phase may take two to four turns for most airplanes. In this phase, the aerodynamic and inertial forces have not achieved a balance. As the incipient phase develops, the indicated airspeed will generally stabilize at a low and constant airspeed and the symbolic airplane of the turn indicator should indicate the direction of the spin. The slip/skid ball is unreliable when spinning.

The pilot should initiate incipient spin recovery procedures prior to completing 360° of rotation. The pilot should apply full rudder opposite the direction of rotation. The turn indicator shows a deflection in the direction of rotation if disoriented.

Incipient spins that are not allowed to develop into a steady-state spin are the most commonly used maneuver in initial spin training and recovery techniques.

Developed Phase

The developed phase occurs when the airplane’s angular rotation rate, airspeed, and vertical speed are stabilized in a flightpath that is nearly vertical. In the developed phase, aerodynamic forces and inertial forces are in balance, and the airplane’s attitude, angles, and self-sustaining motions about the vertical axis are constant or repetitive, or nearly so. The spin is in equilibrium. It is important to note that some training airplanes will not enter into the developed phase but could transition unexpectedly from the incipient phase into a spiral dive. In a spiral dive the airplane will not be in equilibrium but instead will be accelerating and G load can rapidly increase as a result.