Much of our flight training simulates hazardous situations, so students can learn how to recognize the onset of these potential threats and take corrective action to escape their danger. Some of the things we train for are stall and spin encounters, engine failures, hazardous weather management, missed approaches and go-arounds, and rejected takeoffs. Upset recovery training is currently fashionable (and fun), but it’s also important to prevent the “upset” from ever happening in the first place.
Breaking the accident chain is one of the instructor’s responsibilities, a primary reason for his or her being there. An inexperienced instructor, not quite sure how far to let the student go, may step in too early for effective training, while an instructor with more years of teaching might wait a bit before taking action, for added emphasis. But an older, experienced CFI might also take charge of a deteriorating situation early on, having seen the consequences of going too far and not wanting a repeat. Between these two applications of proper caution, perhaps, are where the instructional failures are likely to occur, resulting in a bent aircraft or worse. Bad things happen when the instructor tries a little too hard to provide “realistic training” without realizing the risk.
Quite often, I have a primary student bring up the subject of spin training; “Do you teach spins?” No, I respond, I teach NOT SPINNING. If a student is fully backgrounded in recovering from stalls encountered from all normally encountered phases of flight, a spin will never occur, because recovery will be made at the onset of loss of control. Lowering pitch attitude to reduce angle of attack always works, so long as the pilot is trained to take action.
On the other hand, approaches to stalls that are terminated with the first stall warning teach very little about the aircraft’s behavior if recovery is delayed. At some point, students need to see a complete, breaking stall, manifested by a loss of elevator control or the dropping of a wing. Is this totally safe? No, but neither is having pilots flying around who’ve never seen what loss-of-control looks like and the panic that can result. The instructor’s responsibility is to manage the risk by initiating stalls only at a safe altitude and preventing a prolonged recovery.
I recently had to coach a young man on spin recovery technique as he pursued his CFI certification. He had read the manual and watched the videos, so he thought he knew what to do. The first time he did a spin recovery on his own, he stomped opposite rudder and shoved the stick forward, into about a 1-G negative vertical dive. The airspeed approached redline before I sorted things out for him, and we discussed the need for less-aggressive, by-the-book procedure on the next try.