The Dead Man's Spiral, by Harry Stege

Contributed by Harry W. Stege of Laredo, Texas.

I too have done lots of stupid things. Some weren't related to age or airplanes; some were. My only Vne excursion was a long time ago.

Back in 1953, I was a new student with probably 30 hours total time. At Long Beach airport, I spotted a really neat looking single place airplane and asked the FBO operator about it.

"Mooney Mite," he replied. $6.00 an hour wet. But I didn't have any $6.00 then.

But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to fly such a neat looking airplane, so he checked me out in it. He stood in front of the wing and I sat in the cockpit while he explained the retractable gear and how I couldn't fail to remember to put the gear down, because the "wig wag" warning would begin to fly in front of my face. (The wig wag looked remarkably like a vacuum operated windshield wiper motor...but it worked.)

That little airplane was a blast, and I was in love.

At that time there was a thing called, "The Navy Triangle," three concrete runways formed into an equilateral triangle, with a carrier deck painted on each of them. It was great fun to pretend to be a fighter jock and try to land on the simulated deck.

One of the required maneuvers for a Private ticket was 720° turns around a point. I'd read about them, but had never experience one nor been instructed about them. But, hey, a guy who could land on a carrier deck surely didn't need an instructor to show him how to turn an airplane, did he?

I'd never heard the term, "dead man's spiral" until some years later. I think did one that day.

I can't tell you exactly what happened, but I kept pulling tighter and tighter into that 720° turn, until the airplane stalled. I know that I was 600 feet AGL and 20 MPH over the redline still headed straight down the last time I looked.

Pulled the power, (shock cooling? never heard of it) leveled the wings and eased back on the stick. I have no idea what my altitude was when I leveled out, but I know I was frightened.

Straight back to the airport, land, taxi to the FBO. the Instructor was in the office when I walked in. I guess I was pale and shaking. He asked me what happened, I told him and he made me get back in and fly three touch and goes.

I was still in love, and flew the Mite several times after that, but it took several years before I could buy my very own Mooney, and it isn't a Mite. I still lust for one.


August 1999