Together with winch launch related accidents and mid air collisions, loss of control through inadvertent stalling and spinning accounts for approximately 80% of all fatal accidents in gliding. The safe winching initiative is having a positive effect. But pilots still have accidents due to loss of control.
The statistics describe how there have been 165 fatal stall/spin accidents since 1974. Only one (perhaps two) were from pilots practicing spinning. Read on to find out why carefully managed stall and spin training will help to keep you safe.
A key issue that comes from studying each individual stall/spin accident is that in almost all cases it appeared that the pilot was concentrating on something other than flying the glider at the time of the accident. In other words, in the majority of stall/spin accidents the pilot appears to have been distracted. Recognition of stall/spin symptoms and the correct reaction to them needs to be almost automatic. That can only come from practice.
So what should you do to avoid becoming the next stall/spin statistic?
- You need to immediately recognise what it looks, feels and sounds like when a glider is stalled and about to spin and how to stop the glider departing into a spin, with minimum height loss.
- And you need to recognise a developed spin and be able to recover from it using the correct recovery action.
The training is primarily about spin avoidance and should cover airmanship considerations, how to recognise a stall, a wing drop, and, ultimately, a spin – and in each case how to recover with minimum height loss.
All glider pilots must have stall and wing drop recognition and recovery training prior to solo and spin recognition and recovery training prior to reaching Bronze standard.
Spin recognition and recovery practice
Practicing spin recognition and recovery in a two seat glider with an instructor and then practicing in your single seat glider is a great investment. Once you and your instructor are confident in your ability, you are encouraged to re-read your flight manual and providing it’s permitted (very few gliders are not permitted to spin for safety training purposes), spin your own glider. If not permitted to spin, taking it to the point of wing drop gives you lots of information on its behaviour.
In the majority of spinning accidents, the pilot appears to have been distracted such that they missed vital warning signs of an imminent stall/spin scenario. Read this S&G article on the subject of defensive flying.
Advice to instructors
TEM. Teach and require HASELL checks before carrying out stalling or spinning.
Keep it fun. As with all gliding instruction, this training should be fun, easy to understand and informative.
Realism. The aircraft should never enter an attitude in which the P2 could not imagine themselves in ‘real life’. Using creative scenarios can be useful as long as they don’t result in a hazardous training situation, eg running out of height.
Stalling. Use a building block approach, making sure pre-stall then stall symptoms recognition and recovery are compared to normal flight, practiced, and that the important teaching points are well understood, eg moving the stick centrally forward results in a recovery. Stalling with wing drop is a great way to ensure recognition of what is essentially the transition from stall to spin and thus instilling ‘about-to-spin’ recognition and avoidance. Ensuring that exercise is practiced – including both entry and recovery – is important as that instills understanding of how the glider departs from controlled flight and confidence in a pilots ability to recognise and recover the situation..
Spinning. Spin training is required before qualifying for the Bronze Endorsement. Spin avoidance is clearly the priority – the actual spin is almost ‘fire-fighting’; “if you have got to this point, Bloggs, this is what you need to do to save the situation”. The key here is the recovery. Whilst the priority is recognition and correct recovery, it is very useful for a student pilot to feel what it is like to enter the spin as well as recover from the spin.
Anxiety and adverse sensation. It is vital that everything possible be done to make this a positive learning experience. Lots of pilots are not comfortable with practicing spinning, even though statistics show that it’s actually very safe. If you as an instructor are not confident, neither will be your student pilot; please get some training yourself before attempting to teach the exercise. Recognise that some pilots are prone to air sickness that does not prevent them enjoying gliding but manifests itself when carrying out ‘extreme’ manoeuvres; please deliver the flight exercises with awareness of individual student pilot needs.
If your student pilot is frightened of spinning, eg because of an anxiety built up through listening to other pilots exaggerations, it will be difficult to get the student pilot to focus. The statistics demonstrate that spin training is safe. Emphasis on pre-spinning TEM helps with reassurance and is in any case very important, including agreeing a minimum height and what the student pilot should do if the instructor doesn’t prompt a recovery. Do not attempt to spin low down to demonstrate ground rush or any other non-standard exercises, regardless of your skill, experience and knowledge.
Over-ruddered turns (skidding). One common fault that is thought to lead to spinning off turns is the over-ruddered turn. Pilots under pressure, probably looking anywhere other than over the nose, can find themselves over-ruddering along with poor speed control. A possible cause of this fault is the visual effect of the lower wing which describes a forward track over the ground as we get lower, instead of backwards. This effect starts to occur around 200 feet, depending on all sorts of factors. Pilots looking into the turn may automatically apply more rudder to try to remedy the apparent problem. This leads to the nose being lower on the horizon (due to yaw) than normal for the speed, which may be why speed control also suffers. A slow, over-ruddered with apparently normal pitch attitude can result. In this case, the string is of course deflected well into the turn pointing out that the glider is out of balance. Looking over the nose during the final turn to monitor attitude, indicated airspeed and balance helps pilots avoid these potential handling faults. High pressure situations can provide great training opportunities with an instructor on board. An example is practice launch failures where a pilot might tempt themselves to look anywhere other than over the nose during a low turn. Its crucial that the instructor pays close attention and takes control if there’s any doubt about the outcome.
Conclusion. There is no unifying phase of flight or technique that predisposes a pilot to a stall/spin accident. The only common element appears to be distraction from flying the glider. Practicing stalling and spinning is safe if carried out within normal bounds. As instructors, we can encourage our pilots to stay in practice with the sensations and symptoms that occur prior to the stall and spin, and encourage them to apply sensible margins and to fly smoothly and accurately.