An aircraft in a spin is terribly disorienting and occasionally a little scary. The plane is out of control and falling like a rock at nearly 3 miles a minute. Picture a model airplane with a pencil stuck vertically through one of the wing tips, spinning around the pencil and headed down fast, making a complete rotation about once a second. Somehow this day my aircraft also ended up inverted (upside down) while it was falling. Let me tell you about it.
Teaching students how to enter and safely recover from a spin in a T-37 jet trainer is actually a rather simple procedure – as long as there is enough altitude. For that reason, the instructor pilot makes sure he is at least 18,000 feet (over 3 miles) above the ground to teach spin recovery procedures. To enter a spin you reduce the power and raise the nose of the aircraft about 60º. This creates a stall condition where there is no longer have enough airspeed to create adequate lift to keep flying. When the control stick is all the way back and the aircraft begins to stall the pilot extends his leg to put in full rudder (the control surface on the tail that moves the nose left or right) and when the nose of the aircraft drops the aircraft also begins to spin.
A normal spin recovery is initiated by fully depressing the opposite rudder control to stop the spinning. Then the pilot puts the control stick full forward to put the aircraft into a dive. The airspeed increases and breaks the stall condition so that you can then recover from the dive. At least that is the way it is supposed to work.
This particular day I was flying with a student who was a former NCAA heavyweight wrestler. He was so big the aircraft always seemed to lean to the left when I flew with Larry. After practicing other aerobatic maneuvers I asked him to set up for a spin entry and recovery. Everything initially went very well. We entered the spin at about 20,000 feet. When the aircraft stalled Larry put in full left rudder and the nose fell below the horizon and began to rotate. It takes a while to get used to the fact that half of what you can see through the canopy is the earth quickly coming up at you in a wildly spinning manner. Part of the value of spin training is the confidence it creates for the student to handle the aircraft without fear in any situation. However, my fear factor was about to go up!
With the spin established I told Larry to initiate the recovery. He slammed in the right rudder to break the rotation and one full rotation later put the control stick full forward. The nose dropped into a dive. As the airspeed approached 250 mph I told him to pull out of the dive. No response. When we were almost headed straight down I told him that I was taking control of the aircraft, again no response. He was frozen with fear and had a powerful death grip on the control stick. With both hands, I could not wrestle it from him.
The airplane passed through a vertical dive and became inverted. Because he was also locked in on full right rudder we reentered a stall and began to spin the opposite direction, now completely upside down. There was no way to eject from the aircraft in this position. I was quickly running out of options. I could not overpower him and in such a panicked state he no longer heard me. What would you do?
I reached over, grabbed his oxygen hose and gripped it as tightly as I could with my left hand. With no more oxygen reaching him, his instinctive response was to grab at his mask with both hands. I reverse the controls and the aircraft went into a steep dive as it regained enough airspeed to begin flying again. We were well below the 10,000-foot ejection altitude suggested for a jet aircraft that was out of control, but at least I could bring us back to level flight. I decided that we had done enough spinning for the day and told the student to head back to base and practice some landings – safe ones.
For a pilot operating at higher altitudes, oxygen is his lifeline. Without it there is a slow and subtle loss of ability to think and perform well. We check our oxygen supply and equipment before we take off and regularly while in flight. This day, my ability to momentarily cut off my student’s oxygen became a lifesaver. Are you ready to do a little oxygen check yourself?
Oxygen. While reading this story you probably didn’t even stop to think about your need for oxygen. The natural process of inhaling and exhaling automatically provided all that you required. Our souls need “spiritual oxygen” just as much as our lungs need the air we breathe.
What is spiritual oxygen for the Christian? What provides life for our souls?
Have you ever been at a place where you felt something was keeping you from getting what your soul needed to survive in a healthy way?
In the same way that I cut off my student’s oxygen to save our lives, what can the enemy of our souls do to cut off our spiritual oxygen and weaken our walk with God?
Dad, was there a time that you were low on spiritual oxygen? What did you do to get control of the situation and recover from your spin?
Take a minute to read these verses and pray about any steps that you can both take to keep flying higher.
Lessons For Flying Higher:
Psalm 1:2,3 “His delight is in the Law of the Lord and in His Law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
Luke 18:1 “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.”
Heb. 3:13 “Therefore encourage one another day after day while it is still called today lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”