|A Word from our Strike Leader|
Appointment with the Spin Doctor
by Stephen Siedel
Are you the type of person who hates to admit that you may need to seek professional help? You have that nagging pain in the backside, the embarrassing rash that crops up at the most inopportune moment, or perhaps you are too self-conscious to ask your doctor for that trendy new prescription to guarantee personal vitality and virility. Does this sound painfully familiar? Well, you are in good company. Many of your own chapter members have fallen into this category but they overcame their shyness and reluctance to seek treatment and made that call to their favorite practitioner; The King of Spin, Doctor Bill Finigan.
Those of us that made the call this spring were Larry Willson, Ron Chadwick, Harley Carnes and myself. I can speak for all of us that not only were we cured of our hesitancy towards spins but after our sessions we actually looked forward to flying back home and doing it all again solo.
Let me give you a brief rundown on how our aerial consultations played out so you can make an informed decision on booking your own session. First of all, plan weeks in advance. When you are as good as Bill Finigan, the calendar fills up very quickly. Training is performed at his home airport in Lee, Maryland just South of Annapolis. The aircraft he uses is either a Pitts S2B or his new S2C. Although Harley and I tried to convince him to fly with us in his two place Giles 202, we settled for a factory new smelling Pitts C model. Harley and I traveled in style with Ron Chadwick’s impeccably polished S2a that he was kind enough to let us borrow for the trip down. The weather was barely marginal and we had a somewhat disorienting crossing of the Chesapeake. Fortunately, superior navigational skills and 2 Gps units on board allowed us to arrive at the doctor’s waiting room with time to spare.
The purpose of the office visit was to experience virtually every manner of spin from an individual that specializes in just that type of training. It was our intent to then take our acquired knowledge and impart it to as many people who were willing to learn in our flying and aerobatic community in the name of flight safety
Harley and I tossed a coin to fly first and I lost. Subsequently, I got to fly first. As an aside, it’s amazing how a relatively competent Pitts pilot with over 600 hours in the aircraft can strap into the front seat on a cool, brisk Saturday morning and emerge an hour or so later, a sopping sweaty portrait of a Arid Extra Dry commercial.
The briefing was short and to the point. Hop in, strap down, and get ready to fly. I waved a weak farewell to Harley and the other waiting students and in no time we were rocketing skyward to the practice area just south of where Elian Gonzales was luxuriating on a 600 acre compound with his family at government expense. Throughout the 15 minute flight, Bill maintained a nonstop monolog describing the anticipated results of flying on the downside of the C/L max curve, the physiology pertaining to spins, not to mention the entry and recovery techniques of every spin in his inventory. During all of this it was my task to fly the airplane, circumnavigate building columns of cumulus, listen to his recitation and his gentle prompts for me to maintain a 100kt climb and try not to fall behind the airplane. Yeah right....
In no time the plane was cruising at 7,000 ft agl. Unfortunately for me, I was still somewhere near sea level. We leveled out long enough for him to announce that I would initiate a power off upright spin to the left with a target recovery altitude of 3000 ft. With that he chopped the throttle and ready or not I started my trip down. Do you have any idea of how many turns you make in 4000 feet? That’s Ok, I still don’t know and I guess it’s not important. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate how after completing at least 12 spins that your spatial orientation is no longer reliable at the time of recovery and that the mind undergoes an unusual phenomenon that Bill referred to as time stretching and compression. The recovery technique was reliable and predictable. Maintaining a wing level attitude with severe vertigo, however, was a little more challenging. After a few cleansing breaths that I learned at a Lamaze class years ago, I found myself pulling the stick aft for our return trip to 7k..
In the course of the lesson we performed upright left and right spins. We applied in spin aileron and out spin aileron to demonstrate speeding up or flattening out the spin. Next were accelerated spins both upright and inverted, Flat spins, upright and inverted. Before we called it a day, we performed what Bill referred to as "Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride". For any of you that ever used your E Ticket at Disney World, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you who have not, we performed the dreaded crossover from an upright accelerated spin entry. This cannot be appreciated by reading this text, watching a video or discussing it in the hanger on a rainy day. You have to fly it to experience how insidious and how disorientating this spin can be. However, before attempting it in your single seater, seek out some qualified pilot to introduce you to it in a dual aircraft. Both Harley and I are available to chapter members who would rather not go it alone. We have demonstrated these many times in our aircraft for students and welcome any of you the opportunity to experience it and the proper recovery techniques.
The session was over as abruptly as it began. None of you have lived until you have experienced an overhead carrier approach to landing at the hands of Bill Finigan. Pure exhilaration and grace in motion. I guess that’s why the Navy lets him be an Admiral as well as an incredibly skilled and competent instructor pilot.
I unstrapped the harness and armed with my "G" induced grin, climbed out of the airplane to a large audience of onlookers. Harley, with his familiar throaty southern voice exclaimed, "Son, You need a shower." I couldn’t understand it. Perhaps it was the proximity to the throbbing IO540 or the sudden increase in air temperature resulting from the descent from altitude due to the ambient lapse rate. Of course all of these theories...aagh excuses were shot down when Bill emerged from the rear cockpit dry, calm, collected and with the faint hint of starched creases still in his shirt and trousers.
Without fanfare Bill ushered Harley into the plane and repeated the evolution for probably his 5,000th time. When Harley returned, not entirely dry I may add, we departed for a comfortable ride back home.
Some months ago Ron Saglimbene spearheaded a spin awareness initiative to the IAC and with the chapter’s support and that of our regional director Ray Rose, his efforts are starting to bear fruit. The main theme was to encourage some manner of spin training at all levels of aerobatic ability with the emphasis of entry level proficiency demonstration.
During our annual chapter meeting in February many of the assembled members made a promise to go forth and set an example to follow by obtaining advanced spin training before they entered their next competition. I’m here to say that four of us, maybe more by now, have made good by that promise. I challenge you all to do the same. You have very little to lose and much to gain by remedial training and exposure to flight attitudes found just outside your comfort envelope.
Fly Safe and Be "Spin Aware"