Anyhow, it's a chilly, windy 65 this morning and spitting a little rain with an overcast deck at about 1500' or so. So, not really a spectacular Spring day. You know, the ones where you spring outta bed, full of vigah! (That would be vigor for those of us not in the Northeast). The ones where you race outside to work on the lawn, or play golf or go for a walk, the ones that demand that you be outside.
No, today is a stay inside, search the internet, try to find a movie on Netflix, write a blogpost, do anything to keep you occupied as time drifts slowly by. Which got me to thinking about Sarge's post from last Saturday, the one where he wrote about "leaving on a jet plane".
Now, in this day and age, it would require somebody like this to get me to put up with TSA.
But, he's made of sturdier stock than I, so more power to him. He did post some neat pictures from inside his G-5, financed by the abundant ad revenue from this site.
|Gulfstream By Phil Vabre|
In any case, I was reading the post and looking at the pictures and realised that those pictures reminded me of one of the best aspects of my flying career.
No, not flying in weather. That means bumping around, not being able to see, constantly fighting vertigo. Trusting your instruments, or your flight lead's instruments. Hoping that the dark spot you can see coming from your peripheral vision won't be so thick that you have to go lost wingman (let's see, we're straight and level, and I'm on the left wing. If I lose sight of lead, I need to roll to 15 degrees left bank for 15 seconds then correct back to heading.) Yeah, don't want to do that.
No, it's that feeling of euphoria when you bust out on top, the sun is shining, all the clouds are below you and you and your flight are the only humans on earth that get to see the sun today!
Now, that may not actually be true, but that's the feeling. And every pilot I know has experienced that and describes it almost exactly the same. Just pure exihileration!
The first time I experienced this sensation was on one of my first rides in the Mighty Tweet. It was pre-solo for sure, and IIRC, it was very early in the program. We were on early weeks. Wakeup was at 0300 with report time of 0400. I was in the first line of the day, not only for our flight, but the entire wing. As I was driving from my apartment out to the base, I remember it raining. Not Flash Flood Warning rain, just a steady drizzle that forced the windshield wipers to be on. I'm pretty excited that I'm gonna be flying. (I was still at the point where I was pinching myself to make sure I was actually in pilot training and wasn't dreaming. There would come a time in the not to distant future where I'd be pinching myself to stay awake after too many 0300 wakeups, but that's another story.)
But since it's raining, I'm a little worried that the sortie may be weather cancelled. We're not really in the instrument instruction phase. Yes, I've flown several Link simulators which, unlike modern simulators with visual effects, were flown solely on instruments. So, even though those sorties were emergency procedure training, you had to fly the simulator in order to get to practice the emergency procedure for engine fire on takeoff. In other words, I can fly some instruments, but am not proficient....yet.
A weather cancel is a definite possibility, at least from the vantage point of my 76 Vega, in the dark and rain, at 0345 in the morning.
0400 Sharp, the Flight Commander's office door opens and he and the other IPs come walking out. The room is called to attention, and we all pop to at our tables. Our IP, I share him with three students, stops at the table, we all salute and report in to him. Buncha ROTC grads playing soldier I guess. In any case, the student tasked with getting the weather proceeds to brief it, then is asked questions about the weather and its effects on the flying schedule. What are the divert bases (typically Randolph, or Bergstrom) and what is the weather at them? This lasts about 5-10 minutes and is fairly intense for the student involved. If he does well enough, he is invited to "take a seat", otherwise, it's "sit down!" The latter means the flying schedule just got changed and he will be briefing the weather again tomorrow with an uninterrupted chance to prepare. Uninterrupted by a pesky flight that is.
One way or another, the Flight Commander then calls out another Student's name. That guy pops to and the Flight Commander then begins to describe a situation with an aircraft, a malfunction, weather problem, emergency, some situation. The student begins the response with, "Sir, I would maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation, and land as soon as conditions permit. Sir, I would look at the attitude indicator, altimeter, and airspeed. What do I see?. When answered, the student would then state what he would do to make sure the aircraft remains flying, unless the correct response would be to eject immediately. This goes on for forever, if you're the lucky student (and you will be several times). As long as you are doing well, they will continue to describe the situation. At sometime, you may be asked to "take a seat". That might be upon successfully landing and shutting down or taxiing back. It may just be to allow another student the opportunity to shine. Again, "sit down" is not something you want to hear.
Once all that has been accomplished, and assuming you're still on the flying schedule, you find your scheduled IP, who might be your assigned IP, or one of the wing guys who get their flying time with your flight. My assigned IP was a guy we called "Iron Man". Never within earshot, mind you, but between us students. Iron Man had an interesting method of teaching his student how to recover from "unusual attitudes". Other IPs would have you close your eyes, then maneuver the aircraft into some unusual flight maneuver at which point, they'd tell you to "recover". You'd then execute the appropriate recovery, from the high speed dive, or nose high stall, or whatever position they had put you in. Iron Man wouldn't do that. He'd take the stick, whip it into a High (relatively) G turn and hold that until you blacked out, then put it into the unusual attitude and tell you to recover. At the time, we thought he was nuts. Later in life I recognized the reality of the training. Recovery from a High G nap takes time and the unusual attitude recovery won't wait. The analysis of the situation and implementation of the recovery procedures has to be instinct (or more likely as someone once commented, "muscle memory").
Back to my scheduled flight, I'm going to be flying with an old (he was probably 35 at the time) Major who was the chief of Stan Eval. His guys were the guys that gave the Check Rides, the ones who would be the final arbiters if you were good enough to wear wings... or not. As he walks in the room, and I walk up and introduce myself to him, I notice he's wearing a slightly different patch than most of the FAIPs in the flight.
Now, I didn't fully appreciate that patch, but I did recognize that he'd done something as a pilot that few others in the wing had done, so I was somewhat awed, and maybe, just maybe, a little intimidated.
We find a table and he starts looking at my grade book reading through my half dozen grade sheets or so. Then asks me what I wanted to fly. "Fighters, sir." "Ok, then, let's see what we can do to make you a Fighter Pilot."
We brief the mission. It's supposed to be an acro mission. We'd go out to the area and do what later in life would be called Advanced Handling. Practice Stalls, Acrobatic maneuvers and such. Not Spins yet, I'm still dreading the approach of that ride. Then we'll come back to the base and practice touch and go's until we run out of gas.
However, since we're the first guys to launch and the weather is "el crappo", we're going to be the weather ship. The SOF is going to hold engine start for the wing until we report back whether or not the weather is good enough to conduct training. We'll have the entire airspace to ourselves for about a half hour after we make our report.
I ask the Major if he's going to fly the departure, since I've never actually flown instruments before. He looks at me a little askance. "Fighter Pilots never voluntarily give up the flight controls."
Walk out to the jet, in the rain, water dripping down the neck of my flight suit. (I still hate that sensation, I don't mind getting wet, just that shock of cold as it goes down your spine.) Preflight, start it up and taxi out. Go through the arming check and lower the canopy. Contact the tower, get cleared for takeoff and told to contact departure before rolling. We're taking off to the south and departure tells us to maintaing runway heading and climb to 20K. I run up the throttles, release the brakes and trundle down the runway. Lift off, gear and flaps up, head down and eyes on the panel as we enter the overcast. I remember to glance at the altimeter as we enter the clouds and make a note on my lineup card. Keep my cross check going as we continue the climb. I get a small amount of instrument Pilot Induced Oscillation (PIO, if a pilot makes too big of a correction, he'll need to make another one in the opposite direction and this can set up a series of overcorrections that if not handled can destroy the jet). The Major points that out and tells me to freeze the stick until the oscillations dampen out, then correct from there. That works! I add that technique to my woefully empty clue bag.
We seem to be climbing like a Rocket, because we are rapidly passing about 6K'. I mean we just took off 2 minutes ago! (I remembered that thinking 8 years later when I got my first Eagle ride, You know the one with the AB takeoff).
Anyhow, as we pass through 6K, we bust out of the overcast. It's blindingly bright, which is my first clue that I no longer have to be on instruments.
|Couldn't find a Light Grey and clouds, so had to make do|
The Major let's out a sigh, and says, "It doesn't get any better than this."
I look at him. "Sir?"
"Flying. A jet, a full tank of gas, clear blue sky and nobody else in the air. We're going to delay a bit calling in the weather report, and enjoy the moment."
We begin a few of the maneuvers and he does that IP thing. I repeat attempting to emulate what he'd demo'd or described. It was exhilarating.
As we're re-positioning between maneuvers, (The T-37 wasn't well powered, you very easily could arrive at the bottom of the area without much altitude or airspeed. It could take a while to get back both) he asks me if I want to do a spin.
I've been with him long enough to realize that while the honest answer was "No!", it was not the correct one.
"OK, what's the boldface?"
"Throttles – Idle
Rudder and Ailerons – Neutral
Stick – Abruptly full aft and hold
Rudder – Abruptly apply full rudder opposite spin direction (opposite turn needle) and hold
Stick – Abruptly full forward one turn after applying rudder
Controls – Neutral after spinning stops and recover from dive"
"Ok, pull the nose up set the throttle to about 80%, and when you feel her stall, push and hold left rudder. Hold the rudder in for one turn then recover."
I do that and the nose starts shaking, just as it starts flopping over, I stomp left rudder, and the whole jet starts flopping around. The horizon is spinning around me like a high speed carousal and all the instruments are going haywire. I'm trying to figure out when we've gone round once when I realize the sun when we started was off to my left. Once it gets back over there, I slap the throttles to Idle, center the stick and rudder, then plant the stick in my lap. (I don't remember why that was in there, I think it was in case you were in an inverted spin. I think that action would get you out of it.) I then stomp on the right rudder and hold it. Wait for the sun to get back to the left, slam the stick full forward. Magically, the airplane noses over into a dive and accelerates. I ease the throttles forward and recover from the dive.
The Major says "Not bad, you want to try another one?"
I'm about to answer when the radio sounds. It's the Supervisor of Flying (SOF) on guard asking us to contact him. The Major looks at me and says, "OH Crap! I forgot about the weather report! Did you get the cloud altitudes?"
I tell him the numbers. We switch over to the SOF frequency and he says, "Let me handle, this." He contacts the SOF and says, "Sorry, the weather is 1500 overcast, tops at 6K, CAVU above. Launch the fleet. It's so beautiful, we forgot to call, sorry."
We're at Bingo fuel, so I'm spared another spin, but on the way back, I ask him how I did in the spin. He said the recovery was fine, but asked why I held it for 4 turns.
"I wanted to make sure we were fully in the spin, sir."
"Riiightttt...Spoken like a true Fighter Pilot."
* Title quote attributed to Paul F. Davis.