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Getting Out of a Spin

In response to:

Making It from the November 5, 1987 issue

To the Editors:

I appreciate the approval expressed in Sir Rudolf Peierls’ review of my The Making of the Atomic Bomb [NYR, November 5, 1987]. In the matter of Frederick Lindemann’s Great War spinning studies, however, I’m afraid it is Sir Rudolf who has misunderstood. His version of the story repeats the popular myth, mine the facts. An unpublished Royal Aircraft Establishment report by H. Glauert dated May 1919 (which follows a briefer March 1918 report which Lindemann, Glauert, and one other contributor coauthored) includes a contemporary and authoritative account:

It is believed that the method of getting out of a spin was evolved first by Mr. H.G. Hawker on a Sopwith aeroplane, but the manoeuvre was not generally known until Major E.W. Goodden carried out some spins on an F.E. 8. The report of these experiments (dated August 24th 1916) is contained in Appendix I below. About this period also the spin became a recognized manoeuvre in air fighting, and had a considerable value as a method of losing height rapidly or shaking off an opponent who had gained an advantageous position.

The first scientific experiments on the behaviour of an aeroplane in a spin were carried out in the following year by Dr. F.A. Lindemann on a B.E. 2e aeroplane.

Goodden was the chief test pilot of the Royal Aircraft Factory.

G.P. Thomson’s brief biography of Viscount Cherwell in Volume 4 of Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society supplies this information on pp. 52–53.

Richard Rhodes

Kansas City, Missouri

Rudolf Peierls replies:

Evidently Richard Rhodes was right about Lindemann and the spinning aircraft, and I was wrong, relying on “plausible” sources. So I have learned something from this correspondence, in addition to the many things I learned from the book.

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