Close Calls: Surviving a Flat Spin PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anthony Nalli   
Thursday, 24 February 2011 09:43

Up until the afternoon of Aug. 13, 2007, our pilot in Great Britain had thought that the flat spin was the province of much more thoroughbred aircraft than his Tipsy Nipper. He also believed it was a maneuver that required positive actions to enter. On both counts, he was quite wrong.

Our aerobatic pilot entered the spin from a wings-level, fully-stalled condition. Throttle closed at the stall, he sharply applied full right rudder, full left aileron and full back stick. Within half a turn, he noted the higher nose attitude and rate of rotation. Within a full turn, he knew the spin had gone flat.

The application of full opposite rudder, centered ailerons and progressive full forward stick did nothing. After a couple of turns, our pilot centered the controls, checked the throttle was fully closed, and reapplied spin recovery. This too had no effect. During these inputs, there was little or no control load.

He recalled reading that the flat spin was entered by application of power with opposite aileron and progressive back stick, so he really did not want to use power. However, locked into a maneuver he didn’t know how to recover from, he was game to try anything.

Tentative applications of power against anti-spin rudder seemed to have no effect. When he tried giving longer bursts of power, the engine stopped! With no starter motor installed in the aircraft, our pilot considered losing his engine to be “the least of [his] problems” as he continued hurling toward the ground at 3,000 feet per minute, completely out of control and still in a flat spin.

It was then that our pilot grimly uttered to himself, “Well, this is it.” But human nature being what it is, he was not prepared to give up.

The rate of rotation was quite high and the only controls with any aerodynamic load that he could perceive were the ailerons. Our pilot desperately formulated that if he applied full right rudder, full right aileron and forward stick, he might just be able to tip the aircraft into a steeper spin from which he could hopefully recover.

Finally, the control inputs started to take effect and as he had predicted (and hoped), he recovered into level flight.

“After 26 turns, you would not believe the level of disorientation,” shares our pilot. “Unable to read the instruments, struggling to maintain straight and level flight, heading away from friendly soil, I recovered enough to consider a forced landing and the wind direction. With no altitude to air-start the engine, the landing area was quickly diminishing. Turning into wind, I could see an area that looked survivable, but as I pitched up for the soft field landing, the main gear caught the top wires of a barbed wire fence that I was unable to see.”

The wires flipped the plane onto its nose and it settled inverted in a small marshy hollow. There was no fire and although the port wing tip was underwater, there was no risk of drowning. Since the canopy opened outward and the grass was against it, our pilot would have to try to break the Perspex and crawl out through the water and mud in order to egress.

“This didn’t seem necessary as I was in no immediate danger,” he assessed. “The inverted fuel system was not leaking and the tide wasn’t coming in. A call on 121.5 went unanswered, so I tried Essex Radar as I knew commercial traffic above me would be on that frequency. A Ryanair eventually relayed my mayday and only 20 minutes later, the police support air unit arrived. Two of the crew lifted the tail to enable my escape. A full turnout of fire brigade and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter, and once it was established that I was completely unhurt, we carried the Nipper to the grass track that I might have made had the fence not intervened!”

Our pilot reflects, “What have I learned from the experience? Never assume the maneuver you are about to perform will end the same way … and a lot about flat spinning!”

On this day, our pilot’s maneuver-entry altitude was 3,500 feet, 500 feet higher than usual since he was trying something slightly different. He concludes, “I judged that I recovered at a height of 500 to 700 feet … I will leave the math to you! Remember: altitude or airspeed, preferably both.”

Fly safe(r).

From the April 2010 issue of Cessna Owner