Pilot Journal
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You Spin Me Round!

Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety takes the unusual out of unusual attitudes

Spins With Ben Freelove

When I was a student pilot and my instructor would send me on solo flights to practice maneuvers, stalls were always last on my list.

If I botched the recovery, I reasoned, I might inadvertently enter a spin—something I knew nothing about, other than the obvious fact that it would instantly and viciously send my aircraft out of control, and I’d burn a large hole into the Malibu shoreline. So, I’d do a clearing turn, bring power to idle and pull back on the controls, and when in a nose-high attitude…well, that was “close enough.” Steep turns were so much more fun, anyway.

“It’s a shame that we don’t teach people how not to crash,” remarks Ben Freelove, an instructor at the Sean D. Tucker Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety (www.tutimaacademy.com) in King City, Calif. “But most flight schools only teach a small portion of the full repertoire of flight attitudes. There has been little evolution in stick-and-rudder training, and as result, misconceptions are passed down.

“Many flight instructors are scared of stalls,” the competition and air show pilot adds. “My instructor would get visibly nervous. I became scared of stalls because my instructor was. But now I know that it’s no big deal! Stalling isn’t losing control; it’s just a different way to control the airplane.”

On The Edge
When pilots are pushed to the edge of their comfort zone, they become stressed. And when pilots are stressed, they don’t fly well. Tutima offers a Pilot Awareness Training (PAT) course that covers spin recovery, unusual attitudes and basic aerobatics in a Pitts or Extra. It gives students a chance to expand their skills by pushing boundaries and gaining confidence in a safe and controlled environment. “You can let things go way past where you’d go in a normal airplane,” says Freelove. “You can’t test your Bonanza like you can test an aerobatic plane. Our Pitts is super strong—you can’t break it!”

The course typically entails six to eight hours of ground school and five hours of flight time, spread out over three days. A large portion of the ground instruction focuses on the psychological aspects of upset recovery; this makes Tutima’s program unique. To get comfortable in the aircraft and work on stick-and-rudder skills, Freelove and I start off with Dutch rolls, an aileron-rudder coordination exercise, followed by a “shapes” exercise (using the nose of the Pitts to trace squares, diamonds and circles on the horizon). “Students can’t put us into something that we can’t recover from,” the 3,000-hour instructor tells me. “You can try whatever you want, but you can’t scare instructors here!”


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