When you pilot an airplane, if you bank to one side your plane begins to turn. Duh. When you do this, the wings lose some of their vertical lift. If you don't adjust anything, this process accelerates. The angle of the bank will increase, your turn gets sharper, and your plane starts to dive toward the ground in an ever-narrowing corkscrew. Presumably, after impact, your friends and neighbors will place your body in a graveyard.

So you're in a graveyard spiral. What should you do? Well, instinct might tell you to pull back on the stick to raise the nose of the plane. Instinct would be wrong, making things worse by tightening the spiral. First things first: Level your wings.

Why would you even fail to notice the graveyard spiral? In times of low visibility (at night, for example, where you can't see an external horizon) keeping your wings level can be difficult. In a spiral dive, the effect of the plane's G-force on your inner ear means that you feel perfectly level even if your plane is not. That's why you have instruments: the gyroscope to make sure you're level, and the altimeter to check your elevation.

John F. Kennedy, Jr. is arguably the most famous victim of a graveyard spiral, who piloted his Piper Saratoga in the darkness of July 16, 1999, into the Atlantic Ocean en route to Martha's Vineyard.

Everything I learned about the graveyard spiral came from Malcom Gladwell in The New Yorker.

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