I do not want to speak for civilian training here, and I do know that each aircraft has its own set of emergency procedures. Those procedures will depend upon the instrumentation that you have available to you. In my case I had full IFR instrumentation with a state of the art inertial navigation system. Spin recovery should be in the set of immediate action emergency procedures that you have memorized, and you should be able to perform them in your sleep. Can you recover from a spin while in IMC? Most definitely, and I speak from experience.
I flew high performance tactical jets for the US Navy. This included the T2, the A4, and the A7E. We only did spin recovery training in the T2. It was a lot of fun. High performance jets are often flying on the edge of their performance envelope. Consider air combat maneuvering where you can easily find yourself in uncontrolled flight, departing the aircraft in a high-g turn, or even nose high at 0 airspeed. I was told it was quite difficult to spin the A7E, which is what I flew in the fleet.
In the Navy we were trained never to look out the cockpit if we thought we were in a spin. There was unusual attitude recovery training under the hood, as well as learning how to recover from departed flight (approach turn stall), and spins. It was drilled into us from day one to come in to your instruments for spin recovery. It would not have mattered to me whether I was IFR or VFR, the decision on recovery was strictly based on instruments. We were told if you look outside the cockpit during a spin you might misinterpret the visual cues, and while not actually in a spin, place the aircraft in one by applying spin recovery techniques. The procedures were something like:
- Altitude: below 10,000 feet eject
- Angle of attack: oscillating above 23 units of attack
- Airspeed: oscillating between 110-140 knots
- Turn needle: pegged
- All four conditions met: apply spin recovery procedures
I flew over 30 years ago and I still remember these procedures. You might enjoy how I came to appreciate the seriousness of spin recovery. I had a decorated Skipper who had flown all through Vietnam in the A4 as an attack pilot. He stood up one day in the ready room and told us young'uns, "I don't care what you do out there, just make sure you brief it before you do it. Too many of us die because we impulsively decide to do something without thinking it through completely. Know your emergency procedures."
One night I was out at 25,000 feet tooling around after completing my mission, waiting to recover at the ship. A bit bored I had the thought, "I do loops in the simulator where it is blacker then this back home all the time. I have plenty of altitude to get the airspeed I need ... Why not?" And down I went. Unloading the aircraft to negative 1 or 2 G's I picked up airspeed well above what I needed and started pulling back up into the loop. It was dark out, no moon, with a solid cloud layer at 5,000 feet. I remember having an uncomfortable, anxious feeling at some point. Something wasn't right. I started paying attention. It was quiet. There wasn't the usual engine and wind noise! I came into the cockpit and the first thing that caught my eye was the full white of my rather large attitude indicator located in the middle of the instrument cluster. I had relaxed back pressure on the stick at some point. Oh my God. Not what you wanted to see in an A7: nose pointed straight up. Quickly glanced at my airspeed indicator to the left and watched it drop like a rock to the peg at 0 knots. Then the aircraft dropped backwards pushing the tail, and then entering a roll. I was along for the ride though. I wasn't thinking. I wasn't present. Spin recovery didn't enter my thoughts. Never checked my altitude. The aircraft dropped like a leaf for a bit and then settled in a descending roll. I put in opposite aileron and came out of it. Whew! Of course my gyros were toast and the inertial navigation system useless. I ended up coming through the solid overcast and doing my instrument approach to the ship on pressure instruments. I always followed my Skippers advice after that.
Eventually we came ashore and I found myself doing regular emergency procedure training in our simulators. Towards the end of one of these sessions I decided to practice spin recovery. I knew we couldn't get the simulator into a spin, but I thought it might be useful nonetheless. So every time I got to the simulator I made sure I practiced.
The next time I found myself at sea I had finished my flight, and was getting together with a section to practice air combat maneuvering: 1-v-2. We had agreed to meet at a point over the ocean, at a given time, with an altitude separation between flights. I had everything below 15,000 with 5,000 as the hard deck. they had 16,000 an above. You could get there early, or late depending on how you wanted to try to set up the fight. Eventually we set up radio comms. The rule was that we had to talk to one another until one of the flights had gained sight and could then maintain separation.
As I came in to the fight I decided to make a gamble. I unloaded the aircraft with 2 negative G's and descended quick to 5,000 feet. They wouldn't be looking for me that low and so I would be outside their scan for bogies. The top of my aircraft was painted this dull off gray and it blended in with the haze and blue-gray of the ocean underneath. The sky above was clear blue. The tactic payed off and I saw the flight at around 18,000 feet. They knew they were in trouble when I stopped answering their radio calls. I pulled up into an Immellman, but had bled off a lot of airspeed from the dive as I was level at 5,000 feet in the denser atmosphere. As I got to 18,000 feet I was directly behind the two airplanes and I saw my airspeed hit the peg. I quickly called 2 Aim-9 missile shots to win the fight. Then on my back at zero airspeed the automatic flight control kicked the rudder inadvertently, and the A7 entered a spin. How do I know? Well, the AOA was above 23, the airspeed was between 110-140, and the turn indicator was pegged. It was second nature and I was in full control of the situation. As I was assessing the situation I got a call from the other flight lead asking, "Hey where are you?" I replied calmly, "I am a bit busy hold on ..." After recovering from the spin we headed home.