Spencer Suderman doesn’t just break aerobatic records. He smashes them. The inverted flat spin is his forte. “Not dying” is his art. Suderman started flying as a kid. It quickly became his passion. Then a one-off safety course in how to recover from mid-flight tailspins led the pilot down a path of daredevil aerobatics. Fear became his fuel. The airplane became his medium.
Suderman operates on a different plane of existence than your average pilot, hell, your average person. One record isn’t good enough for him. If he can do it, someone else can break it. If someone else can break it, it’s not a good enough record for Suderman to set in the first place. So he needs to push his limits as a human and find the boundary between legend and madman. He’s pushing his own mettle to set the bar as high possible. Hopefully, without going down in a blaze of aeronautic glory in the process.
Most days, Arizona’s flat desert expanses serve as the stark backdrop to Suderman’s exploits. His bill-paying gig is as a data center strategist. When he’s not crunching business data, he’s crunching his own flight data. His hobby is the adrenaline found in the lean parts of aerodynamic maths. He applies that to a life lived in negative Gs as his plane does a maneuver that almost every other pilot on earth dreads — the inverted flat spin. Which, on paper, sounds… just… Crazy with a capital C.
For Suderman the flat spin is innate. It’s what his mind and body find pure passion in. So he’s embraced it to the point of zen like mastery.
“Something inside my brain said, ‘dude, do more of that,'” Suderman says with an excited comfort. And there’s the rub. When most of us are presented with danger — even in a simulation — we recognize it, master it, and move on, hoping we never have to deal with that situation again. Not Suderman. He was hooked on the minutiae of a single move an airplane makes when it’s disastrously plummeting towards the hard earth. Instead of fearing the situation he sought to master it in ways that defy reason and even gravity.
Suderman has succeeded because he’s failed so much through practice. After those failures, he works hard to figure out what went wrong — analyzing data and video from cameras mounted throughout his plane. He creates algorithms down to the half second for how he moves and how his plane moves.
“Some would look at this and say, ‘this is the sign of a madman,'” Suderman laments. “But I’ve found success in it because I’ve sought to understand it.” It’s in this exacting exploration of the science and math of his favorite aerial move that allows him to reach new heights.