The flat-spin is a very uncomfortable and hard-to-enter spin while in a fixed-wing aircraft
. The inverted
flat-spin is quite possibly one of the most dangerous states an aircraft can enter... Depending, of course, on the pilot
, the aircraft
, and the weight and balance
of the aircraft.
A normal aircraft spin has the aircraft's nose pointed roughly towards the ground, wing
s rolling continously in one direction and losing approximately 500 feet every 3 seconds (or 1000 feet per rotation).
Recovery is generally accomplished by pressing on the opposite rudder
(cancelling out the rotation) and pressing forward on the control column
(cancelling out the stall
). You will then be flying straight towards the ground - you just pull back on the control column and you are flying straight and level
(albeit travelling a little fast).
The flat-spin, however, has the aircraft's nose pointed at the horizon while spinning downwards, much like a frisbee
. Because there is no airflow over the elevator
s of the aircraft, pressing forwards on the control column does not break you out of the stall
. In addition, there is no forward airflow over the rudder
, so pressing on that is very ineffective. The aircraft's wings are spinning through the air, so the aileron
s have a small effect, but it is usually not enough to correct your attitude...
Basically, a formula for disaster.
Certain stunt aircraft
are designed to be able to recover from these spins, but the design does not guarantee
safety. A spin that works perfectly on your own may have drastic changes by simply adding something to the aircraft - such as sitting your friend in the co-pilot seat and showing him how the spin works. The added weight in the aircraft throws off the spin's balance and you can be thrown out of control. Another common problem is practicing flat spins with an instructor, and then trying one without the instructor. The plane is now 150lbs lighter and heavier on the pilot's side of things... More trouble!
During the filming of the movie "Top Gun
," a stunt pilot
by the name of Art Scholl
had a camera in his small propeller driven stunt plane (the footage was then taken and used in the fighter-jet scenes). To get the spinning water-and-sky shot you see in the movie (about where Goose dies), Scholl had to do a vertical flat spin - that is, a flat spin but started while heading straight up in the air. The aircraft tumbled like a ninja-star
towards the ground, and Scholl easily recovered from it - after all, he is a very well known and respected stunt pilot who knows every trick in the book. The second shot the producers needed was a proper, horizontal flat spin. He climbed back up to a safe altitude of 5,000 feet and entered the spin inverted (upside down).
As the aircraft approached the end of the spin, the producers were shocked to see the plane continue tumbling.
"I've got a problem" came over the radio at an altitude of 3,000 feet.
The crew started to panic but there was nothing they could do.
"I've really got a problem" were Art Scholl's last words ever spoken, said at an altitude of 1,500 feet.
The post-crash report indicates that the added weight of the studio-quality cameras mounted in and on the aircraft threw off the balance of the aircraft's spin, and made it literally impossible to recover from. Right in the credits to Top Gun
, you can see that the movie is dedicated to him.
In a helicopter
, on the other hand, the flat spin is easily entered by stomping on the right rudder and spinning about your vertical axis. Recovery is easy (stepping on opposite rudder), given that your tail rotor is still in one piece. In many movies, helicopter crashes are almost always preceeded by a brief flat spin. The difference is that when a helicopter is in a flat spin, it can usually maintain its altitude... and is therefore much less dangerous.