Incipient Spin, SAA & The Piss Cat

While training for my PPL in 2009 my instructors were a tough bunch demanding that I learn all about how to recover an aircraft from an unusual attitude.  That usually entailed two options 3000 feet above the ground.  Spinning and the horror show called an incipient spin.  Because I began the training during the period in what’s known as pre-JAR, this was normal.  But modern FAA and JAR training has eschewed this delicate procedure. I began doing these sort-of radical aviation thingymajobs on board something called a Rapid Sabre light sport aircraft and the well-known Cessna 172.   By far the most fun was in the Rapid Sabre which is basically a converted glider with a Rotax (small petrol) engine.  The incipient spin was known to cause even experienced pilots a few seconds of shock.   The technique to get in trouble is also fairly simple.   Stall the plane,  then hit the left or right rudder.  Because of three brilliant things called Newton’s laws,  the aircraft actually spins in the opposite direction.  And the Rapid Sabre spins rapidly.  The speed at which the plane would flip a wing then point straight down at the ground whizzing like a top really has to be experienced to be appreciated.

ZU EUT – the Rapid Sabre with the inimitable Russell Donaldson hanging onto the canopy (during summer this plane is like a greenhouse!)

But all of this madness was for a reason.  Recovering the plane if you ever got yourself into a bad situation.   This is where we chat a bit about the JAR versus the American training methodology. The JAR or European training is heavy on theory and lighter on practical.  I know instructors will argue about this,  but it blatantly true.  And the Europeans, for whatever reason,  presumed that the recovery from an incipient spin was deemed an unnecessary skill.  I must say at the time I found this completely incomprehensible.  Imagine flying for thousands of hours and never having the exercise included in your training?  It’s just asking for trouble and finally folks have woken up to this reality.

The good news is that certain airlines including SAA are re-introducing the need for pilots of these behemoths to strap on a small light plane again,  and do some spinning.  Delta Airlines and a host of others have come to the conclusion that their pilots need to be proper pilots, not just bus drivers.  And not only spin and incipient spin,  but recovering during night or instrument flight.   What’s really interesting is that the pilots are not doing this in a simulator,  they’re actually being made to clamber aboard what are called “piss cats”  or little prop driven planes.  Yes, piss cats is an insult used to denote four seater light planes and you’ll hear some of the older Boeing and Airbus pilots disparagingly refer to these little planes in that way.

The spin.  Not for a doctor..
The spin. Not for a doctor..

Well swallow your pride, old men and women.  Tough if one of these former smirkers are now having to don a light plane and flip around the airways learning how to correct a plane that’s going out of control.  And not in the happy soft comfy chair of a simulator,  but up there where the air is thinner and there’s always something new – and if you get it wrong the granite cloud awaits.

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