Week 3
June 28 - July 2


The third week of our training was probably as mentally demanding as the second week was physically demanding. We went through in a week what the regular Navy pilots go through in a month (literally). It was the proverbial drink from a fire hose time. I surely was glad that I had some flying experience to draw on. Even if the planes aren't similar, at least I had some working knowledge of terminology and concepts.

Monday morning we started bright and early at 0730 for a welcome to flight training briefing. We then plunged into a Crew Resource Management briefing. This is the topic of making sure that all folks in the cockpit are communicating appropriately during the flight. We saw several interesting film clips of airline crash investigations where the cause of the crash had been attributed to the crew not paying attention to each other, or the rules, or what the plane was telling them. These clips can really get your attention and show you how easy it is to lose sight of the big picture if you aren't on top of your game all the time.

The rest of the day was spent on the T-34 systems - how the engine is built, how the propeller works, what the operating limits are, what all the switches and dials are for, etc. We had three hours of systems details; the Navy normally does this class over the span of a week. Needless to say, our heads were reeling by the end of the day. I think it is fair to say that none of us really felt like we had enough hours in the day to review what we had gone over in class today (essentially an entire textbook) and get ready for the classes tomorrow.

Our Tuesday classes started at 0730 again. However, we went in early at 0630 to get in the static cockpit trainers to review switch and dial locations. What we covered in class yesterday came together more easily once we could see and sit in a real cockpit layout. Since we had covered all the systems on Monday, we spent the part of the morning on communications. They went over all the VFR (visual flight rules) communications that we needed to know. They expect us to do all the communications when we fly. Luckily the communications are quite similar to the way General Aviation does their communications, but the Navy does have its particular way of saying things and there are a few more items that must be communicated as you also have to communicate with the "base" who is keeping up with all their planes. They expect us to use all the exact Navy phraseology, so I am going to have to break some of my General Aviation habits. The communications class took two hours.

After that we had a class on how to bailout of the T-34 should we need to. The T-34's aren't equipped with ejection seats; you have to make sure you have your parachute and jump. Following the class we got to practice the procedures that we had just learned on a bailout simulator. This is essentially a T-34 that has one wing replaced with a trampoline. You are strapped in with your vest and parachute and helmet and gloves. The instructor first talks you through the procedure then you demonstrate it. The key in this simulation is accuracy and speed. You are trying to get out of the plane as fast as possible, but still make sure that all the right connections are unhooked so that you don't get tangled and/or injured by forgetting something such as still having your helmet connected to its communications harness. I think the hardest part on this (aside from the speed that one would need if your plane were in out of control flight) is the actual jumping out part. You are supposed to keep your head and body down in the protected area of the canopy until you jump. It is hard to get up on the seat ready to jump and not get your head in the wind stream. Well, let's hope I never have to worry about that issue for real. Ejection seats, while more brutal on the body, are a lot simpler to use.

After our bailout training we had a lecture on anti g-force loss of consciousness (anti G-LOC) procedures, i.e., how to squeeze your muscles to keep the blood flowing to your head so you don't pass out during "high g" maneuvers in the plane. The T-34 limit is 4.5 g's which you can get on a regular turn while going in for a landing. And, since we don't wear a pressure suit, you have to perform these anti G-LOC maneuvers to keep command of your faculties during landing (or any other time your are experiencing high g's). [Note to folks who fly General Aviation - the military does not make square patterns. If they are not making an instrument approach, they start the landing pattern by flying parallel to the runway in the direction that the landing is going to be made (i.e., upwind). When approved for the "break" they swing the plane around in a circular pattern to get lined up with the runway. It is during this swing around that one can encounter the high g's. It all depends on how tight they want to make the circle and what the angle of bank is.] At any rate, we were told what we needed to do and we practiced it a bit. Let's just say, one doesn't feel glamorous while doing these procedures.

Finally it was lunch time. After lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon going over all the checklists that we have to perform while flying - everything from prestart to after landing. For those that are interested, you have your prestart checklist (which has 43 steps, by the way), the engine start checklist, the pre-taxi checklist, the taxi checklist, the instrument checklist, the ground run up checklist, the takeoff checklist, the cruise checklist, the landing checklist, the after landing checklist, the engine shutdown checklist, and the post flight checklist. There are probably some others lurking out there, but that is all we went over today. We are expected to perform these checklists with minimal errors in the simulators tomorrow. Most of the checklists are straight forward, but some, such as starting the engine, require that you check a lot of dials and gauges and adjust the controls in a very short period of time.

After three hours of checklists we were turned loose for the day. Of course, by now it was after 1900 and we had already been at the day's lessons for nearly 11 hours. We stayed around for another hour or so practicing our checklists in the simulators. Then it was back to our rooms for more studying. I feel obligated to point out here that what we covered in the first 2 days the Navy folks go through in 3 weeks. We are just zipping through the material.

On Wednesday our classes again started at 0730 and we again got there at about 0630 to do some checklist run-throughs in the simulators. Once we got settled in class we had a briefing on how to do the T-34 walkaround. Let's just say that there are a lot more items to check than a Warrior and leave it at that. Oh, and we are to have the procedure memorized, of course. . . The rest of the morning was spent on emergency procedures. If you have certain situations arise while flying (certain warning lights, a fire, loss of engine power, etc), there are specific procedures to be run. All of these have to be run quickly and you have to have the procedures memorized. Yes, I think our brains are full now.

The afternoon consisted of our first simulator run. We ran all the checklists that we covered in class yesterday as well as did all the appropriate communications procedures (i.e., getting a clearance, talking to the ground, talking to the tower, talking to the departure and approach controls, and talking to the base). It was a lot to do with no notes. Well, we did have the checklists, but you have to make all the appropriate callouts in the appropriate Navy phraseology at the right time. I felt like I had an acceptable performance. But, I still get my General Aviation communications confused with my Navy communications. Oh well. It will come in time (I hope). For this simulator run, I did some flying also. Good grief was it hard. I sure hope that the actual plane isn't that difficult to fly. Trimming the controls is key and much more difficult in the simulator than our Warrior. My sim instructor decided to have some fun while I was struggling to fly and gave me some in flight failures. I guess I should have paid more attention in the emergency procedures briefing. . . I only crashed once.

Thursday morning we learned about all the in flight procedures that we will have to do on our 4 familiarization flights. These are such procedures as how to take off, how to do specific turn patterns, how to do a landing pattern and how to land, as well as the emergency procedures such as how to do a stall and a spin. This information is normally covered in 3 days of classes for the Navy pilots; we covered the material in 3 hours. Yes, I think all of us felt a little dazed afterwards. In the afternoon we did a simulator run on the emergency procedures. I felt like I did well. I was all over the abnormal start emergency procedures (you have to shut the engine down just so if it doesn't start up properly) I also felt like I did better on my flying and communications. I am not quite sure, though, that I am ready to be turned loose by myself in a real T-34. . .

Friday morning we had the last sim before our first T-34 flight. We covered more emergency situations. Most of these were in flight emergencies whereas yesterdays emergencies were mostly on the ground emergencies. I also did some more flying and attempted some landings. I probably would have gotten on the ground safety had it been a real plane, but I doubt it would have been pretty. Our afternoon class was a hands-on class on the preflight procedures. As I mentioned before, we are expected to be able to do the preflight without a checklist. Although, the instructor with whom I'll be doing my first flights says that if we basically check that we have 3 tires and 1 engine, we are OK. . . Personally, I want to do better than that. I think I will go for pointing out that we have 2 wings also.

The afternoon was hotter than Hades. We also did a simulated bailout during this class. Holy schmoly was it hot with the cockpit canopy closed. I sure hope that the aircraft air conditioners work when we actually fly. While I was sitting in the cockpit, my instructor also had me close my eyes and point to the various switches in the cockpit that he called out. I passed with flying colors (or something like that). Well, I was reasonably confident that we had three tires and one engine. . .

When this class was done we were off for our 3 day weekend. Andy [Andy is Andrew Thomas, astronaut] arrived just about the same time I got done. The T-38's land very close to where my squadron is, so it was quite convenient to go pick him up. I then heard cold beers calling our names.

© Shannon Walker   2004

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Revised 07-26-04