Week 15
September 20 - 24, 2004

Now that we are back from our travel it is back to flying. No complaints from me. Again, the alphabet caught up with me and I had to wait until Tuesday. Monday I spent working on the written exam that we have to complete before we get checked out in the T-38s. This test is about 250 questions, open book (thank goodness) and covers the entire T-38 operating manual, the T-38 checklists, and the NASA specific aircraft operating and training procedures. The test is a lot to go through and rather time consuming. Luckily the annual re-test is a small subset of the whole thing.

Tuesday's flight was billed as another area familiarization flight. The purpose was for the mission specialist (me) to work on communications procedures, flight planning, checklists, etc. What this translated into was a trip out to NASA's working area and a whole lot of fun. Once we got out to the working areas we warmed up with some stalls. I don't know how other jets are, but in these jets there are no stall warning horns or rudder shakers. The whole jet buffets and dithers. It doesn't really seem that extreme, but it is obvious that something is going on with the jet. I got to fly at bit during one of the stalls.

After that we cut loose. The pilot with whom I was flying showed me wingovers. What a fun maneuver. For these you pull the nose of the plane up 40 or 50 degrees. Yes, you are zooming up, up, up. After you climb some, you put the plane into a 90 degree bank. The plane starts falling out of the sky at this point. When the nose drops to 40 or 50 degrees nose down you bank the plane back level and pull the nose up out of the dive. Yipee yi yo ti ya!!!!

Then, we did more fun things - aileron rolls. We may have done a loop also. The pilot asked if I wanted to fly some of these maneuvers and I jumped at the chance. He talked me through how to do an aileron roll and I proceeded to do a bunch of them. Then he talked me through a wingover. Who would have thought that I would have ever flown a maneuver like that?

By this time the fuel gauges were saying that it was time to head back to the ranch so we cruised on back to Ellington and finished up with a couple touch-and-go's. Not a bad way to work on communications, checklists and the like.

Wednesday was another non-flying day for me. I spent my time working on the handbook exam, had a quick trip to the dentist, and an afternoon of more ground school. Today's ground school class was an in-depth look at the Flight Management System (FMS). As you may recall this is the fancy box that does all the navigation. We spent lots of hours going over its performance characteristics and how to use it to its fullest capabilities. Hopefully, I'll remember some of the detail in my future flights.

Speaking of which, it was back to the skies on Thursday. The training on this flight was an introduction to instrument flying. In addition to continuing to work on checklists and communications, we were to take a look at actually flying somewhere IFR and see what is involved from a crew coordination viewpoint. This is where the mission specialist rubber meets the road as communication and navigation are the two primary jobs of the mission specialist in the T-38. It is one thing to have a route entered into the FMS for the pilot to follow, it is another thing to have all the radios, navaids, and navigation displays set up for the approaches in a timely fashion.

For this flight we went to Lake Charles and back. In a T-38 it takes about 30 minutes to get there from Ellington. So, by the time you have gotten out of the Houston departure area and are talking to Houston Center, it is time to be thinking about the approach. In fact, it is too late to be thinking about the approach. If you don't already have all the right frequencies and navigation set up, then you are behind. I was definitely always behind. But, it was my first attempt at trying to juggle all of the navigation equipment. In addition to having all the right things set up for an approach, every time a controller gives you a new heading or altitude, you are to indicate the information to the pilot by "setting a heading bug" on the horizontal situation indicator and dial in the new altitude on the altitude alerter. And, of course, answer the controller. I don't have enough hands for all of this.

At Lake Charles we did a couple of approaches. I attempted to fly one of them. I am sure that the controllers were talking about me later on. Let's just say that I could use a little more time practicing flying. Ok. . .a lot more time. Good thing the pilot had a sense of humor. After the approaches it was back to home base with a couple of approaches there as well.

Friday it was back to studying and working on the handbook exam. I think I may see the light at the end of the tunnel on this exam. Maybe.

© Shannon Walker   2004

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