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The Hands-off Beggs/Mueller Emergency Spin Recovery Procedure

Don’t forget the power and rudder!

By Gordon Penner, MCFI-A

People cycle in and out of our sport of aerobatics. This can cause our institutional and collective memories to start dying with time. People leave the sport and take their knowledge with them, as most people stay in a hobby for about five to seven years, then move on to something else. Sometimes, life gets in the way. The way to combat this erosion is to regularly revisit hard lessons learned and to make sure that they get correctly reprocessed in our gray matter and passed on. These lessons must also get passed on correctly. Bad information can be as dangerous as no information.

Over time pilots have gotten in the habit of calling the Beggs/Mueller emergency spin recovery the hands-off spin recovery. This slang title is not completely inaccurate, but it can lead to a dangerous misunderstanding on how to correctly perform the procedure. Some people mistakenly believe that letting go of all controls, meaning the throttle and rudder as well as the stick or yoke, is the only positive action they must perform. This mistaken belief can result in what we in the airline industry call “improper ground contact.”

Here is the actual Beggs/Mueller emergency spin recovery procedure straight out of Gene Beggs book, Spins in the Pitts Special, page 2:

1.1. Power – Off.
2.2. Remove your hand from the stick.
3.3. Apply full opposite rudder until rotation stops.
4.4. Neutralize rudder and recover to level flight.

Gene Beggs is a member of the Aerobatic Hall of Fame. The above-mentioned book was first printed in 2001. Mr. Beggs wrote the book because the problem of pilots being killed during spins in Pitts Specials was starting to come back. It was even happening to the experienced ones. The problem was showing up in other aerobatic airplanes as well.

Pilot confusion is a big part of the problem. Looking in the wrong place can cause a pilot to misidentify the spin direction and misidentify whether the spin is upright or inverted. The pilot in the spin must look directly over the top of the cowling and nowhere else to determine spin direction. In Pitts-type aircraft this means looking through the cabane struts, not over the top of the wing. Also, letting go of the stick and doing the rudder first keeps pilots from inadvertently pushing the stick enough to transition the airplane from an upright into an inverted spin. Remember, once you go inverted anti-spin rudder becomes pro-spin rudder.

Gene wrote some articles about spins in the Pitts Special starting in 1984 where he first advanced the Beggs/Mueller spin recovery. Eric Mueller was the Swiss National Champion who first wrote about this procedure with Annette Carson prior to 1981. Gene thought Eric Mueller’s article was a revelation. According to Gene, “At the time, I regarded the discovery as something new; however, I later learned it was not new at all. The hands-off opposite rudder method of spin recovery was first used back in 1912 by Lt. Wilfred Parke, of the British Royal Navy, who made history by recording the first recovery from an accidental spin in an Avro biplane. The incident became known as “Parke’s dive” and is included in Annette Carson’s book.” (Spins in the Pitts Special, pages 12-13).

Gene adopted the power-off, hands-off, opposite-rudder method in Eric Mueller’s article after testing it thoroughly. He then began teaching it in his school in Texas. It was controversial at first, but eventually the procedure took hold. It was also tested and championed by such aerobatic greats as Bob Herendeen and Clint McHenry. The number of spin accidents in the Pitts and later the Eagle went down.

After Gene went to Southwest Airlines he dropped out of the aerobatic scene. Later on, in conversation with friend and Pitts dealer K.D. Johnson of Santa Paula, California, Mr. Johnson asked, “Gene, are you aware of what is happening recently in the world of aerobatics?”

“No, I have been completely out of touch,” Gene remarked.

“Well, we have a new group of people in aerobatics today,” continued Johnson, “who seem to be repeating history with all the spin accidents that are occurring. These newcomers have not had the benefit of reading your spin articles” (page 18).

That conversation gave the world the book Spins in the Pitts Special. I feel this book should be a requirement for any Pitts or Eagle driver; it is one of the best books on spins in general. It is easy reading, and every certificated flight instructor (CFI) should have it. The Beggs/Mueller emergency spin recovery works in the majority of cases, but there are rare exceptions. However, it always works in Pitts and Eagles (page 32).

Another book I think should be required on every CFI’s bookshelf is Anatomy of a Spin by John Lowery. This book contains a lot of the information from the NASA General Aviation Spin Test Program performed in the 1970s and 1980s. The updated version includes more information on multiengine spin characteristics. Master Instructor-Aerobatic and 2006 CFI of the Year Rich Stowell’s book and video Emergency Maneuver Training is one of the definitive works on spins and upset training. His EMT program is based heavily on the NASA program and test pilot input from luminaries like Lockheed test pilot Sammy Mason and the head of the NASA program itself, Jim Patton. His trademarked PARE procedure (Power – Idle, Ailerons – Neutral, Rudder – Full Opposite, Elevator – Through Neutral) also works whether in an upright or inverted spin.

As you see, the above books all substantially agree and form a big part of the information database that should never be forgotten. You can also see how this article illustrates one cycle of almost forgetting this life-saving information. We must endeavor to remember, to remember accurately, and to pass it on. Fly safely!

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