The Power of Training
"The one thing I wish I had been given when I was learning to fly was spin training . . . .at the very, very first! And upset training as well. I knew that unless I could fly the airplane in all attitudes I would never master flight. I learn fast and soloed in six hours in the Tomahawk." Jim Teachey
The year was 1980, and that was about the time the FAA no longer required spin training. I was fortunate to have had an instructor who said, "Do you want to learn how to spin, even though it's not required?" My response, "Absolutely!" The same year, Jim Teachey had another experience.
"It was December 1980. I had just gotten my license on December 1. I had elected to take my buddy down the street flying. He too was taking lessons, but now I could fly him myself! We boarded the Tomahawk, buckled in, ran the checklists, and taxied to the active. The air was as clear as glass, with 40 + visibility and no clouds. It was about 4:30 pm and a wonderful orange-red glow bathed Smith Reynolds Airport.
Being a college freshman I was short on cash, and only had enough money to fly for 30 minutes in the pattern. So we did touch and goes. The wind favored runway 21 and into the sky we went. One notch of flaps on downwind, carb heat, 1800 rpm, and 500 fpm descent. Base turn, then final. Touchdown, and around we went for a second. But this time I goofed up.
My downwind to base leg was off, and I overshot base to final. It was the classic set up for a stall-spin event. I had stalled the airplane numerous times up at the practice area, turning stalls, power on and off stalls, and my first instructor Chip said I had good stall recognition abilities. I could hear that fuselage oilcan, as well as feel it in the yoke. All my instructors since have repeated the same admonishment . . . “Jim, you really feel the airplane well.”
So, I found myself overshooting runway 21, and began to tighten up my turn. Well, of course the nose dropped, so I kicked some right rudder to bring it back up and pulled back on the yoke. With the nose pointed right I added some left aileron. Then BAM!!!! All of a sudden the airframe shuttered, the nose pitched down, and the left wing dropped. I was entering a spin.
What did I do? We were about 600 feet agl so I slammed the yoke forward to the firewall and aimed towards the ground, entirely opposite of what you would think to do. I was able to recover at about 300 feet, and I cross the threshold with both legs shaking uncontrollably on the rudder pedals.
But you know why I survived?
Because the week before I had read a book on spins. I believe it was Wolfgang Langewiesche's book “Stick and Rudder.” I want to make darn sure I knew what to do in case I got into a spin by accident. At the time I did not know that the FAA had removed spin training from flight training. Only later would my blood begin to boil about this egregious omission in basic flight training.
During this time I was introduced to Richard Bach and his book “A Gift of Wings” where I read “Found at Pharisee” and “School of Perfection.”
This became the foundation upon which I built my flying upon. Of course, as fate would have it, I was not destined to be a professional pilot. I would later learn that I suffer from ADHD (attention deficit) since first grade. Yet even so, I managed to be a safe, and responsible pilot. I never took chances. Twice, I was in doubt over the health of my Lycoming engine, and taxied back to the FBO, frustrated but alive.
Several times weather was the factor, and I refused to fly even after being pressured to do so by friends. I’m as cautious as they come. Why? Because there is no magic button that you can push to interrupt the laws of nature and physics. Flying will kill you faster than anything, and the world’s graveyards sadly prove so.
Last year, I was doing research online and ran across the story of a pilot not unlike myself, similar age, who was flying a Piper Tomahawk. He ran out of fuel, lost power, and spun in. It was a fatal accident. Below is a photo of his airplane. He leaves behind grieving parents and relatives. I began to wonder if this pilot also knew nothing about spins, or had had any spin training. Most likely not . . .
According to FAA records, Michael Joseph Hughes. age 21, the student pilot held a third class medical with student pilot certificate issued on August 24, 2015. Review of pilot records indicated that prior to the accident flight, he had accumulated 13.5 total hours of flight experience, 1.3 hours of which, were in solo flight."
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Enjoy every moment!