Is it possible to recover from a flat spin?

  • Is it possible to recover from a flat spin? flyingfisch

    In Top Gun, Maverick's F-14 enters a flat spin after flying through another F-14's jetwash, forcing him to eject and causing the death of Goose.

    Is this scenario possible or was it only created for theatrical purposes?

    If not, how does it happen, and how can it be avoided, especially for other types of aircraft such as the B-2?

  • The key to recovering from a flat spin is partly in the aircraft's design (aerobatic aircraft are built to handle "flatter" spins than normal aircraft and recover more readily), partly in the loading (specifically the location of the center of gravity), and partly in how "flat" the spin actually is.
    There is going to be a point for any aircraft where you simply don't have the control authority to recover though (absent something extreme like mounting JATO bottles to the wing and firing them opposite the direction of the spin to stop the rotation).

    There are definitely instances where pilots have been able to recover from a flat spin though - one example being is the Piper Owner story Jay Carr pointed out. Aircraft can sometimes even recover on their own, such as the "cornfield bomber" which actually recovered itself after the pilot ejected.

    I can't locate the article, but I recall early in my training reading a story about an instructor and student who entered an inadvertent spin while practicing stalls. The spin went flat, and they were only able to recover by literally climbing forward onto the glare shield to move the center of gravity far enough forward that the nose dropped and normal spin recovery procedures were effective.

    As for avoiding flat spins, they're best avoided by avoiding spins entirely, and by applying prompt and correct recovery inputs if a spin is inadvertently entered (spins tend to "go flat" as they progress, so recovering early minimizes the risk of a "regular" spin going flat).
    How easy that recovery is depends on the aircraft's loading (center of gravity) - as illustrated by the "climb onto the glare shield" example above.

  • Every airplane type has his unique way of spinning. It can happen to have also an irregular spin path with a partial flat spin. In a flat spin you almost have no authority on the controls, but the center of gravity in a forward position (all planes are usually designed in that way) will convert the flat spin into a dive spin, and so by gaining again authority on the rudder you can exit from the spin sooner.

    It's the higher weight in the forward position together with gravity the main cause of converting a flat spin into a dive spin. Also most modern light planes are designed to automatically exit very soon from a spin even without any action from the pilot. It is also quite simple to exit a spin but also this vary from plane to plane, usually full rudder against the spin direction, stick slowly forwards a bit, and wait. Aerobatic planes enjoy doing spins without any extra risks compared to a normal flight.

    The real problem is the high loss of altitude while waiting to exit from the spin, a high vertical speed, so it becomes dangerous if there isn't enough altitude. Also this depends on the kind of plane. A spin while landing is usually deadly. With unlimited altitude every plane mathematically would exit sooner or later from any kind of spin simply due to air friction, but this is theory since altitude is always quite limited. Another problem for spins is that you may don't realize that you are spinning at all and so you are taking wrong actions.

    Military Jets are different they are build to be dynamically unstable for better reactivity. Don't know much about them. Still with a center of gravity in a forward position they too should convert a flat spin into a dive spin, the problem again is that you need enough altitude. Few rotations are enough to reach the ground.

    To enter a spin you need low speed, it's a stall condition of only one wing, which will drop, start an autorotation and then convert to a spin. All this can be easily avoided with enough speed, even if the engines are dead you can always glide to the ground at the speed you wish.

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