Meet Spencer Suderman. Spencer is not only one of the most exciting air show performers on the planet, he is also a Guinness World Record holder for successfully entering an inverted flat spin from altitude of 24,500′ on March 20, 2016. His website is full of videos showcasing the extraordinary capabilities of his aerobatics maneuvers.
1. How did you get into aviation aerobatics ?
I was regular general aviation private pilot renting Cessna's on the weekends to chase $100 hamburgers at local airports. I knew there was so much more to learn about flying and wanted to take an unusual attitude/spin training course to expand my skills. These courses are not designed to make you an aerobatic pilot; however, they use mild aerobatics to put you into unusual attitudes such as inverted flight to teach how to recover. The first time the instructor rolled the airplane completly around something inside my brain said to me: "dude, do more of this!"
2. What is "inverted flat spin" and what kind of challenges it presents ?
The inverted flat spin is a type of advanced aggravated spin where the plane is upside down spinning and the engine is running at full power. It is not something that could happen accidently so it's taught to expand the experience envelope as pilots progress through aerobatic training. It's a complete assault on the pilot's mental and physical state! You are hanging upside down from the seatbelt harness, the plane is spinning at a high rate and the engine is at full throttle making noise and vibration. The recovery is no different from any other spin; however, with all of the physical and mental stimulus it challenges your ability to think and act; that's what you are being trained to overcome.
3. Tell us about your most memorable performance/flight/air show.
My most memorable flight occurred on Thursday March 13, 2014 at the Naval Air Facility, El Centro, CA. I was there officially for the air show that weekend; however, this flight was an extra activity to make an attempt to break the inverted flat spin world record which was 78 turns and held by another pilot. This was my third attempt having failed on the first two tries. The plane had a new type of electronic ignition system that gave it more power in the higher altitudes which should enable a higher climb and faster spin rate. Four cameras on the plane were rolling to record the flight and I was convinced by my calculations that If I could reach 23,000', enter the spin then recover at 2000' I would break the record by a few turns.
I executed my flight plan perfectly and as I headed back to the airport was getting anxious about whether or not I had set a new record. After landing the Guinness judges took the SD cards from the cameras to load them up in a waiting laptop computer and the counting began with my crew and friends gathered around. As the count got into the 70's everyone was counting out loud 77, 78, 79, 80, 81! I will never forget how it felt to finally break that record!
4. What is the most important thing to remember when trying to get into aerobatics?
Find a qualified instructor with experience and access to the proper type of aircraft. Spin training and aerobatic flying are a specialty of the instructors that teach it. Most flight instructors are not aerobatic pilots so find a flight school that specializes in this type of training.
5. Do you have any tips for aviation/aerobatics enthusiasts who are just starting out?
You will be uncomfortable at first and may get air sick! This is normal and you will get over it as your comfort and skills in the plane improve. Stay with the training.
6. Are there any exciting projects coming up that you'd like to tell us about?
I'm currently working to break the Inverted Flat Spin record for the third time. I have specially prepared a Pitts Special S-1c for this next attempt. With all that I have learned pursuing the last two records and what it takes to climb higher and spin faster, I have put together the smallest, lightest and most powerful plane possible that should crush the current record of 98 turns that I set in 2016. As of the end of 2018 I'm test flying and tuning it to perfection. My new goal is 120 spins from well over 26,000'.
* * *