My Introduction to Flying an Aircraft
A CBS 60 Minutes segment aired this past Sunday about the US Military’s latest fighter aircraft. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, multi-role fighters under development to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense missions with stealth capability. The F-35 has three main models; the F-35A is a conventional takeoff and landing variant, the F-35B is a short take-off and vertical-landing variant, and the F-35C is a carrier-based variant. According to the 60 Minutes segment the aircraft, developed and built by Lockheed-Martin, is 7 years past due for delivery and I forget how many hundreds if billions of dollars over budget. WOW! The DOD civilian and military persons who were interviewed by the reporter all said that this aircraft is the cats meow, it can do everything and would replace all the fighters currently in service for many years come. The F-35 sounds like it is going to be the Swiss Army Knife of fighter aircraft. Hopefully it won’t be like the knife-can do a lot of things but none very well. The Military/Industrial Complex is thriving in this country. President Eisenhower warned about the pitfalls of a huge military industrial complex in existence after WWII. I’d say it is still alive and well today.
This got me to thinking about the aircraft that I flew when serving in the US Navy. They are all museum pieces today. The very first plane I flew in was a DC-3. I was a passenger on my way from College Station, Texas to NAS Dallas, Texas to take a physical and a battery of test to see if I qualified to enlist in the Navy. I sat in a seat where I had a clear view of the number 1 engine. I could see what appeared to be oil streaming back on the cowling of the engine. When the pilot started the engine and the engine and wing disappeared in a huge cloud of smoke, I got to thinking this can’t be good! Well,we made it to Dallas and back home OK. The Navy thought I had all the qualifications to become a pilot.
My Introduction to an Aircraft
After enlisting I was sent to Pensacola, Florida and entered the Aviation Officer Candidate program. After sixteen weeks of boot camp type training, lots of math and engineering type ground school and physical fitness, I graduated from the AOC program and received a commission as an Ensign in the US Navy.
I then went to NAF Saufley Field, Pensacola, Fl. and began flight training. When a student pilot checked in to one of the Navy’s training squadrons he was first assigned to a ground school class. For two weeks we sat in a classroom learning all about the aircraft we were going to fly and the maneuvers that we would perform. After that ground school continued but only for a half day. The other half of the day was spent flying.
Each student was assigned an instructor. For the first flight the instructor issued the student a barf bag and for the first couple of flight we had to verify that we had it handy before take off. I never had to use mine but some guys did. Much later when I was a flight instructor, I learned that instructors would make bets amongst themselves as to how soon they could make a new student air sick. The winner was on the flight line walking to the aircraft, so the story goes.
The T-34 was a single engine tandem seat trainer. The version I flew had a piston engine, however later versions were turbo-prop. The student sat in the front seat and instructor in the rear seat. My instructor had a habit slamming his knee board (a clipboard normally strapped to his leg on which he took notes) on the glare shield right behind my head when I screwed up. It was an effective training aid. We did six 50 minute flights practicing take offs and landings, climbs, turns, and basic air work. The seventh flight was a check ride with a different instructor. I got a thumbs up on the check ride and two hours later I was in the air on my first solo. That was one of those things I will never forget but don’t remember a whole lot about. Guess I was a bit nervous. You didn’t see him but your instructor was around witnessing your preflight, taxiing and take off. He also observed your return and landing. It was rare but not unheard of to get a down on a solo if the student was observed doing something dangerous or illegal. There were always a lot of eyes around to keep track of who was doing what.
The student stayed with the same instructor for most all training flights. Check ride were always off wing (with a different instructor pilot). Each flight was graded. Check rides were especially important since the students performance determined whether he continued with the program. The first down usually resulted in a couple of extra flights and a re-check. A second down and he was washed out of the program. I had no problems in this stage of training. I had a good instructor.
It was every students worst nightmare to get a instructor who was a screamer. He was the guy whose voice got louder and louder plus higher in pitch when a student was having difficulty with a particular part of the flight. The more he screamed the worse the student performed and the more the instructor screamed.
At Saufley we learned how to take off and land, fly straight and level, do turns, climbs and descents, recognize and recover from stalls (done at altitude), ELP’s (Emergency Landing Practice). The instructor would close the throttle to simulate an engine failure. The student had to locate a clear area on the ground for an emergency landing and fly the aircraft to a landing. We never took these to a landing but waved off and hopefully we hit all the check points on the way down so we could have made a landing if it were a real engine failure.. We also did some acrobatics. And of course there was basic air work. Every other word out of the instructors mouth was about your basic air work. Basic air work consisted of maintaining a constant heading, altitude and air speed when flying straight and level, making standard rate turns (3 degrees per second), making standard rate climbs and descents (500 feet per minute) and keeping the aircraft in balanced flight. We had to do all that plus keep an eye outside the cockpit to avoid other aircraft.
A new class of students would arrive at Saufley every week from Preflight Training. There were 20 to 25 students in each class. The goal was for the class to finish the syllabus in about 16 weeks. I don’t know what the attrition rate was but more quit than actually were booted out. Those of us that finished went on to Whiting Field at Milton, Florida. A different aircraft and different things to learn will be the the subject of another post.