Monday, May 16, 2016

“The sun always shines above the clouds.” *

It's been a pretty damp spring so far at Rancho Juvat. I think we're about 8 inches ahead of the average year to date.  Which is good, except my Stockpond still doesn't have water in it.  It's just a big mud pit, even the Horses don't want to go in and eat the lush green grass growing in it.  I'm not sure if it's the mud or my cutting the cockleburrs out of their manes and tails that has disuadded them from feeding there.  In any case, we've got our first cutting of hay done.  If the rain keeps up, we may even get three cuttings this year.  That's only happened once in my time on station and that was about 10 years ago.



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 


Oh, wait....nevermind!

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!
Source

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."

"Yes, sir."

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
Source
  

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.

"Sure, Sir"

"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.

30 comments:

  1. My buddy in college was in the flight program. I went along as "cargo master" every chance I could. His IP was Todd. Todd was heading for the AF, and was a good pilot. I saw him one friday in a restaurant. I popped off about doing spins some day. He said, what are you doing tomorrow morning? Oh baby. Tandem seat Citabria, and an overcast day. We never broke out on top, but 3 spins and a chance to hold a heading were too much fun for me. I always wanted to fly, and still have a tiny spark of a dream left, but I doubt I'll ever have the chance. Thanks for the memories..... a bit bittersweet, but pleasant nontheless.

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    1. It's never too late for dreams. I'll bet the Citabria was fun. There's a guy here that torments me on Sundays. Flies a Pitts special and does Acro right over my place. I think I hear him laughing every time I run outside.

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  2. I just had to read this on Monday.

    Back at work. At my desk in the lab. (At least it ain't a cubicle.)

    Great post Juvat!

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    1. Thanks.
      Yeah, paying those Gulfstream fuel bills can be painful. ;-)

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  3. That was an excellent post Juvat. So funny and interesting reading about the transition from a beginner flyer into a seasoned fighter pilot. What an adventure. V/R

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  4. So Chris got rid of the F7F that Grumman restored for him? He still had the De Havilland Mosquito, right? When you mow the ranch, what kind of tractor do you have? I have seen a CAT Challenger doing 35 down the road, pulling a huge minimum tillage springtooth plow. That sounds like a fighter pilots tractor, over powered and too fast.

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    1. I've got a Mahindra (and thanks for the story idea). Great little tractor, emphasis on little. It's a little too little for working the hay, so I've got a guy that comes in and cuts and bails. I do the fertilizing and we split the bails 50/50. He's got a large John Deer with a cab (and AC, so I don't feel too sorry for him). That arrangement works for both of us.

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  5. Delightful!

    Weather's delta sierra here, 40 degrees, low overcast, miserable light mist. Been that way for days. Thanks for the reminder of the beauty lurking above.

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    1. Thanks.

      Yeah, every time there after that I took off through an overcast, I could feel my blood pressure drop when I broke out on top. There was just something about that.

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  6. Replies
    1. In doing the prep for the post, I came across a youtube video of an Eagle flying through and above the clouds. It was from '79 and had William Conrad narrating "High Flight". I decided the cheesy-ness rating was too high. I only pull out the "Off we go" vid to get the groan from the non-AF reading population. Can't use it too much as it would lose its value! ;-)

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  7. Awesome story, sounds like it was quite an instructive flight.

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    1. Thanks.

      Fortunately, I got to fly with the Major several more times while in the Tweet phase. Learned a lot from him, some of it even about flying. As we got towards the end of UPT and assignment night was getting close, I heard rumblings that the Tweet squadron wanted me. So, as I heard my name called and came to attention, I was pretty sure I was going to be a FAIP. When I heard F-4, it took a moment to register. Later, in the bar, the Tweet Flt Commander came up to me, congratulated me on the Phantom, and told me that the Major had spoken out for it instead of the Tweet. That had turned the tide. He asked me to keep that to myself. I did, but I bought the Major a beer, just because...

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  8. Spinning the "tweet" not a lot of fun.
    Spinning the Phantom, even less.
    "Please keep the stick centered, Colonel" I used to say as IP for the Wing D.O. "Please use the rudders, sir". No matter, he was back in his '86. We flipped a couple of times, but never had to use the drag chute to recover. Good days for us who were once skinny and young.

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    1. Most WSO's I knew had autocorrecting Knees. The higher the AOA tone frequency, the closer the knees were together, thereby reducing the amount of Aileron available. Never departed an F-4, but didn't enjoy the Hi-AOA rolls either.

      Good days for us who were once skinny and young." And had hair, don't forget!

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  9. Must be fun the spin in a jet. Have only done spins in a Super Cub, C-150 Aerobat, and a Citabria. Always wanted to do an accelerated spin but none of the instructors were up for it and didn't want to try it solo.

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    1. I'm not sure I ever got to the point where I'd call spins "fun", "exciting" yes. I had a couple of guys adjust their mirrors so they could see the tail. According to them, when it came time for "Rudder full with Spin (Turn Needle)", if you watched the mirrors you could see the tail twist. Never felt the need to see that. Besides, I was always watching for the one full turn so I could unload and let the jet do that flying (vice falling) thing.

      One of the many reasons I'm glad I got a fighter instead of a Tweet was at Instructor upgrade, you had to perform ALL the spins. IIRC there were 4 variants. I only recall three, upright which I described in the post, Inverted (yes spinning while upside down ) and accelerated.

      Not a fan of spins.

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  10. An especially good one Juvat! And, I bet that "100 trip" patch was big ju-ju at lovely Del Rio by the Sea, as well it shoul have been. Not much I miss about corp aviation but busting out on top with tons of thrust remaining is one of them. regards, Alemaster

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    1. Thanks, as an AF Brat, I knew it meant that he'd done 100 trips downtown. What I didn't realize was how many tried and didn't succeed at that accomplishment. Took a long time in the Squadron bar with Ras to fully appreciate that.

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  11. Spins aren't fun, but NEED to be taught... Sadly, some of the acft today won't recover from a flat spin.

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    1. Agreed. High AOA in the Phantom was always exciting. Doing a tail slide in an Eagle was no big deal, all it took was a knot or two over the control surfaces and you could point where you wanted to go. Assuming somebody hadn't put a glop of glue on the nose cone of course.

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  12. Nice indeed. Still never fully spun a Cessna because none of the instructors that I've flown with for training or check rides would let me do one deliberately and I didn't want to try it for the first time alone in my own bird, which was built two years before I was born.

    Being on top of a cloud deck like that is truly fantastic though. Descending blind back down through one...not so much.

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    1. I didn't know Cessna was making airplanes back then. Just kidding. Would have been true had Old NFO said the same thing though!

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    2. Well, at least I didn't accuse him of fighting in the Battle of New Orleans!

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  13. My instructor "way back when" insisted that I experience spins. I was training in a Piper Colt (Tri-Pacer sans flaps and 40 less HP) which would give you about a quarter turn before developing into a spiral. His solution was to go to the FBO's Cherokee 140. We spent a whole hour spinning, climbing back up, and doing another. After that I felt no apprehension practicing stalls because I knew a departure didn't necessarily mean instant death. I did an aerobatics course later in a Citabria and spins were as much fun as everything else.
    I have a young neighbor who has done well in his HVAC business and bought himself a Piper Lance. While he was doing his flight training in a Cessna I asked if he was being taught spins? "NO WAY!" sez he. He was deathly afraid of the maneuver and wanted no part of it. I often wonder how he would fare if he ever departs his Lance.

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    1. Well, I've been told that the requirement in Civil Aviation is that if the airplane enters a stall and/or spin, if the pilot releases the controls, it will recover by itself. Altitude permitting, of course. I would hope that is true and that your friend is aware of that.
      I'd think there's two parts to the lack of spin training. One is the liability costs which drives the number of qualified instructors down. And the lack of qualified instructors means less and less people who would be instructors are trained. A death spiral (which is not unlike a spin, if you don't take action to break the stall.)

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  14. Hey, I have about an hour of stick time (well, okay, not stick, but "funny D-shaped yoke time" doesn't have the same ring to it) in a 1941-vintage Taylorcraft, so I'm envious of all you guys :)

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  15. The perfect post to start a beautiful Saturday.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)