Tuesday, March 7, 2017

With enough bananas, a Monkey can be taught to fly!

One of the bloggers on Sarge's sidebar is always a source of a good read.  That would be Aaron at "The Shekel - Coins, Law and Commentary".

Course, with no disrespect intended, every time I hear his name (or anyone named Aaron), I am reminded of this video.

Back on subject, juvat! (Sorry Aaron! Guess ya got to work in a school district to appreciate.)

In any case, his blog is difficult to stereotype.  He blogs about lawyering, scuba diving, antique coining, his family, and life in his home town of Detroitabul, Michiganistan.  Each post is highly informative and entertaining.  You should read him....often!

Lately, he's been blogging on his new way to turn a large fortune into a small one adventure, earning his private pilot's license.

OK, I'll confess, I've been living vicariously through these posts.

As I've read his posts, I was transported back in time to my days as a neophyte pilot and encountered some of the exact same teaching techniques.  While Aaron is a bit more eloquent than me (he IS a lawyer), I recognized some of the same thoughts.

Why in the h**l is my IP covering over some of the instrument panel?  Doesn't he know I need those instruments?

Why is he making me navigate via dead reckoning  to a divert base?  Isn't that why we've got navaids?

In lovely Del Rio-by-the-sea, the weather is usually quite nice, so instrument practice is somewhat contrived.  In the T-38, you sat in the back and had a smelly canvas cover that was suspended from the canopy and slid over your head.  These were manufactured when Jimmy Doolittle was in pilot training.  
No significant difference between General Doolittle's day and mine.

Old would be an understatement.  Because of that age, they had cracks and holes that let in light from all sorts of angles.  This would tend to induce vertigo.  A by product of that vertigo was the tendency to get nauseous.  Very nauseous.

Yes, they stunk also.

Fortunately, I had learned very early not to fly on either a full nor an empty stomach and never got airsick.  (Well, there was that time in the back of a 141 returning from RED FLAG in Las Vegas, but I think there were other factors involved.)

Where was I?

Oh yeah, instrument flying and partial panels.  The T-37 was a side by side configuration, so the IP would usually slip a 4 x 6 note card under the visor to block the student's view outside.  You could steal a glance, but the IP would know because you had to lift your head WAY up.  
Tweet over Lake Amistad (on the American side!)

Another technique was to bring masking tape and cover over a few of the instruments.

Flying instruments without the attitude indicator was always fun (not!).  However, since the T-37, at the time quite literally, had WWII era attitude gyros, failure was a common occurrence.  So, one would learn to achieve level flight by very small corrections until the Vertical Velocity Indicator (VVI - it told you what your climb/descent rate was a couple of seconds ago) and the Altimeter (told you how high you were above sea level which is not the same as above the ground, also a couple of seconds ago) were steady.  You would also control the bank angle of the wings by watching your heading indicator and the turn and slip indicator.  

As long as all those instruments were steady, you were straight and level.  IPs that really hated you a lot, would take the aircraft with the attitude indicator taped over.  Put the aircraft into an unusual attitude such as a steep climb or dive, steep turn etc. then have you recover. My IP, affectionately called "Ironman", at one point actually put it into a spin and told me to recover. I eventually did, but it took a while, meaning a lot of altitude. Have I mentioned I disliked spins?

All to get you to the point where you could fly the aircraft no matter what the circumstances.  As
Ironman once told me, "juvat, I can teach a monkey to fly a fully functioning aircraft given enough bananas.  I'm going to teach you to fly a screwed up aircraft.  Here, have a banana." Or something like that.

So, it's kinda the Pistol analogy.  "You don't need a pistol, until you need a pistol, then you need it bad."  You don't need to know how to fly instruments with a partial panel until you've got a partial panel and then.....

So....There I was*   (C'mon, you had to know that was coming by now, dincha?)

I'm flying solo in an AT-38 on the wing of a Student in the front seat and the Chief of Stan Eval (we called them Stanley Evil, they're job was to wash good pilots out.) in the pit.  The student is not doing well in the program. In fact, if he doesn't meet standards on this sortie, he will be washed out of LIFT and he will be transferred to another type aircraft.  

My role on the sortie is to fly the target profile as precisely as possible, so the student has nothing complicating his flying the offensive tactics.  In short, I'm to fly a perfectly level 4g turn while the student tries to achieve weapons parameters.

BORRRRINGG!  But, hey, it's flying time.

We're on our third and final engagement, and the student is not doing well.  My (unofficial) assessment is he should practice saying "Ready to start #8, Sir! .  As he overshoots again, I hear a recall call from the SOF.  The other IP calls the knock it off and directs a rejoin as he points back at the base.  

We're in the airspace east of the base with the mountains between us and it.  We're plenty high and we can see the Tularosa Basin.  
OK, we were higher than this!

The wind has picked up significantly and all that fine gypsum dust is blowing in the air, up to the mid-20s.  

We contact the SOF and he advises us that visibility is less than a mile and the crosswinds are out of limits for the normal north-south runway.  We'll have to shoot an ILS to runway 22.
That beige and brown area to the right of the line?  Mountains.  You don't want to be low.

None of the pilots in our flight have shot that approach, but it's just an instrument approach.  I'm flying a loose formation as we head back, so I pull out the instrument approach book, note the final approach heading, dial the frequency and final approach course into the ILS, and note the minimum altitudes along the route.  The IP tells me that we'll enter the holding pattern together and then he'll clear me off as he starts his approach.  (Pretty standard, that's what I was expecting.)

As we're approaching the initial approach point (the start point for the approach), we're in the weather (dust actually) so I'm in close formation.  Quick glances at the instruments indicate that we're not really flying good instruments.  Airspeeds and altitudes are varying quite a bit as we're getting close to holding.  

I'm thinking the IP is letting the student fly.

After a bit of this, the IP calls and asks me what our airspeed and altitude is.  I tell him.


Then he comes back and tells me I have the lead.  I acknowledge and as he tucks in on my wing, I ask him what the problem is. 

He says he's apparently got failure of the pitot-static system.

The Pitot-Static system measures air pressures and uses them to tell altitude, airspeed, vertical velocity.  In more modern aircraft than we were flying, it also provides input to the flight control computer and the engine and fuel controls.  Failure of this system is "Bad".

The chances of him successfully flying this instrument approach, letting down over the mountains where altitude control is critical, in low visibility with severe turbulence, are minimal.

We discuss the process, come up with our game plan and contact the SOF.  He agrees, although he has Approach clear out the holding pattern of all the other recovering aircraft before he tells them to bring us in.  

Having not been a SOF yet at that point in my career, I think "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Buddy".  Later, I'd do the same thing.

In any case, the plan is to fly the approach with him on my wing all the way down until I would begin the flare.  At that point, I'd tell him I was going around and do so.  All he should have to do is hold the stick, pull the throttles to idle and land. 

Once he was on the ground, I would get vectored around for a short pattern and I'd land myself.

Fortunately, all went as planned.  I went around when I was about a foot in the air.  He landed.  My approach was short and sweet and I landed.  By the time I got to the end of the runway, the Sirocco had past and the wind was calming down.  The overhead pattern reopened shortly thereafter and operations returned to normal.

Love the Retro feel of this video from 1980 at Willy

Just another day in aviation.

While the student got one more "last chance" because of the circumstances on this ride, he didn't do any better that time and was washed out.


  1. I remember seeing that vista! I was raised in Tularosa, between 1954 and 1968--ages 2 to 16. Lovely view, good times.

    1. Yeah, we lived right at the base of that mountain in Alamogordo. Our favorite restaurant in the region was Rebecca's at the Lodge. Had basically that same view. Alamogordo and the Tularosa Basin had a lot going for it. Sandstorms were not one of them though.

  2. One oft gets the impression that flying isn't exactly for the faint of heart.

    Great story Juvat.

    1. Thanks. There is the old adage that flying "...is hours of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror." I would say give that statement a "probably true". However, I wouldn't give up even a minute of it.

  3. You appear to be honing your craft, Juvat. Very well told story. Put a smile on my face it did.

    Love the sound of the projector in that second video. Really nice piece of film.

    1. Thanks.

      Yeah, Had a fan on in my room and when I first started previewing it, kept looking around for the piece of paper that was fluttering somewhere. Hard to believe that was 1980, though. I can just imagine the guy in the front with a 25LB videocamera on his shoulder, banging it off the canopy as he turned to film something to the side. Ahhh, how life has progressed.

  4. Yep, hours of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror... Especially at 200 feet when the autopilot kicks DOWN!!! Surprised he was the only one that lost pitot static system in the dust. I remember GW1 an F-15 went in out of KKK due to pitot static system failure on takeoff. We were 'paranoid' about keeping our covers on until engine start, having learned that back in the 70s in that part of the world. At least Navy birds had AOA indicators that were on a separate system! :-)

    1. The Eagle had an AOA system too. But on takeoff of course, recognition of the problem, transition to an alternate system and recovery from the unusual attitude might require more altitude than was available.

  5. Thanks for the post juvat. A very good read.

    Paul L. Quandt

  6. I started reading that but suddenly found I couldn't stop. Great tale well told

  7. Great story--as usual--but do you know how long I've specifically NOT used the monkey and banana analogy with Aaron? I was trying to be tactful, but if I'd known you were going to do it anyway, I'd have at least asked for first dibs.

  8. Early training was in a Piper J-4. Airspeed, altimeter, rate needle and ball. No VSI. Payed off big time when I later took my Instrument check ride. Sadistic examiner thought he could fail me by covering the artificial horizon and VSI. Something to remember if you have an old style compass floating in liquid. The compass card makes a crude but useful artificial horizon.

    1. All good points, and I did have a VERY seasoned IP in the F-4 who'd flown WWII era prop planes in Vietnam tell me about the back up compass trick. Fortunately, I never had to resort to that. Evidently, he did though and since he lived to tell me about it, it must have worked.

  9. I can remember during my training the instructor would make me lower my head with eyes closed - then put it into an "unusual attitude". Usually I was at a 60 degree bank going up or down. Not trusting the instruments has killed people.

    Then, as you noted, you have to know when the instruments aren't working. I was thinking of Air France 447. All killed because of the pitot frozen, and a pilot not used to flying without a computer.

    1. Ironman used to do a sustained high g turn to get the student into an unusual attitude. If he got you to black out, that was even better (in his eyes). The recognition of the attitude and the application via muscle memory were what were going to save you.

      Ironman was the living proof of my saying "Not everyone who smiles at you is your friend, nor everyone who yells at you your enemy."

      Air France 447's crew would have been well served having him as an IP. RIP.

  10. Juvat: Great story, and thanks. I've seen that particular video many a time. There's even a boat under Union Lake with A-Aaron marked on it by my dive buddies.

    In regards to flying it seems I may be suffering from an ongoing potassium deficiency then? I shall endeavor to eat more bananas forthwith.

    1. Actually I think the two funniest parts are Dee-Nice!, Denice? and Pree-Zent!

      Sounds like your new IPs have a larger supply of bananas than your previous school. I think you'll be just fine.

  11. Replies
    1. And.....How do YOU address them? Now....After viewing the skit.....

  12. Separating at 1' AGL? I'd have thought you'd break off your wingman once the landing environment was visible, or are you his six-pack for transitioning from approach to flare attitude? I was wondering if the IPs had to have 0/0 instrument ratings.

    Bruce Jones

    1. He didn't have a functioning airspeed indicator by that time, so yeah, I'm Airspeed, altimeter and all that for him. He could have probably made it down once the landing environment was there, but, if for whatever reason, he needed to go around, I wanted to be close enough that he wouldn't have had any issues rejoining with me.
      As to 0/0 clearances, not in fighters. The equipment on board was usually only good to 100' and 1/4 mile. Peacetime minimums were 300' and 1 mile (IIRC). That may not be the case any longer, I don't know. Regrettably, it's been a while since I've flown.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.