Week 4
July 6 - 9


This week started out with a holiday for us. We got Monday, July 5th, off. I spent the majority of the day studying, trying to prepare myself for my first T-34 flights. This week we were scheduled to take 4 familiarization (fam) flights. The T-34 is a two seater where one person sits behind the other. For our fam flights we sat in the front seat while the instructor sat in the rear seat.

Tuesday, I did my first flight, a. k. a. Fam 1. The way these flights happen is that we first go in for a pre-flight briefing. During the briefing we review various procedures and specifications/limitations of the plane. Then we talk about what we are going to be doing while flying. So, for this flight's prebrief we covered bailout procedures, emergency gear extension procedures, emergency egress procedures (how to get out of the plane quickly while on the ground), what the start limits of the plane are, and how to handle abnormal starts. We went over many of the emergency procedures that we covered in the simulations last week. For the flying discussions we talked bout taxiing, taking off, climbing to altitude, turn patterns and stalls, among other tidbits of flying the T-34s. After 45 minutes or so, we were ready to go. We got our flight vests and helmets and strolled on out to the plane.

I think the flight went really well. The instructor did the take off which seemed pretty straight forward. While in flight the instructor demonstrated various techniques or procedures that I would then try. I found that it is a whole bunch easier to fly the plane than the simulator, thank goodness. We had a little excitement at the end. One of the things that we were to do during the flight was practice the emergency landing gear extension procedure (basically turn a very hard to move handle until the gear is down). Everything went fine until near the point where the landing gear should have been down and locked. I couldn't get the crank to keep going. The crank is really hard to turn and it was possible that I just didn't have the physical strength to do it. So, we decided to go to plan B which is cheat a bit and get the gear the rest of the way down via re-engaging the electrical system. However to do this, you have to disengage the clutch on the manual crank and I couldn't get it disengaged. Everything was pretty much stuck. So, there we were tooling around the sky with the gear in transit and unable to move it up or down. Needless to say, you can't land in this configuration.

My instructor got on the radio to the base and got a maintenance person on the other end. We were told to do the old wiggle it and try it again. After several tries of that I was finally able to get the gear down. We then radioed another one of the folks out flying around to come fly under us and check the indicator lights on the landing gear that show whether the gear is truly down. So, we ended up doing a little formation flying. I surely wish I had had my camera. It was very strange to see another plane so close to us flying right underneath. They reported all the lights on so the gear was down. The other plane took off to finish their lesson and we declared an emergency per procedures and flew on back to the airport. We landed gently on a runway that wasn't in use. The gear held, but they towed the plane back in for maintenance (also per procedure). Not bad for an introductory lesson, eh? Luckily, the landing gear procedure was the last item that we were to do for the day, so I even officially completed all objectives for the flight.

Wednesday I did my Fam 2 and Fam 3 flights. Instead of just flying around the practice area and going back to Pensacola after each flight, we decided to take a break between the two flights by landing at the Mobile Downtown airport in Mobile, AL. You can actually call ahead and order pizza for lunch. Not a bad deal. [Note: for those that have the L-17/L-18 IFR En Route Low Altitude chart or equivalent VFR chart, our practice area is the Pensacola South MOA to the west of the Pensacola NAS field.]

For these two flights I got to take off and repeat some of the procedures that we had done yesterday. We also did a lot of touch and go's to get the hang of landing both with and without the use of flaps as well as all the Navy specific landing communications. When we practice the touch and go's we actually do them at some areas that the Navy calls Outlying Fields. These are non airport runways in the practice area that have a person on the ground manning a radio and directing traffic. That can't be fun duty to do - be in a little hot box all day watching other people do landing practice. I actually found landing fairly straight forward and I think I did much better when I just flew looking out of the window rather than looking very closely at the instruments.

I really had to work hard to suppress my General Aviation landing habits, though. As I mentioned previously, the military doesn't typically fly the square landing patterns that I am used to. They just circle on in. And, of course, they have different radio calls at different times in the landing pattern. Since we are flying much faster than I am used to, everything happens much more quickly. Luckily the instructor will step in with all the right radio calls and keep you on the proper landing pattern, as required. Also, they don't want you to land right on the numbers as we shoot for in General Aviation. They want us to touch down a little way down the runway near where the guy in the box with the radio is. So, there are a few subtle changes that I have to get used to.

On the Fam 3 flight after lunch, we practiced more landings as well as in flight emergencies - loss of engine power (simulated by pulling the power back), stalls (both power off stalls and approach turn stalls), and a spin. The spin was very exciting and, thankfully, just a demo for this flight. As you do a spin, you are supposed to be looking at various instruments to make sure that you are actually in a spin as opposed to some other out of control flight situation. They have a pattern that you are supposed to follow - altitude, angle of attack, airspeed, the turn needle indication, and back to altitude to start the pattern again. I was doing good to find those instruments much less get my brain to process what my eyes were seeing. So, I finally gave up and decided to enjoy the ride. It is quite an amazing view looking down at the ground as it is spinning around. We start the spin at about 10,000 ft above the ground and lose a couple thousand feet during the maneuver. These planes come out of a spin quite precisely. Once you put in the proper flight control inputs to halt the spin, the plane will spin around another time or two and then it will just all of a sudden stop spinning. Wham! You are now just in a dive which is fairly easy to recover from. Quite impressive.

I don't think my classmates enjoyed the spin quite as much as I did. Unfortunately several of them seem to be suffering from motion sickness as they are flying around. Come to think of it, they didn't seem to enjoy the pizza nearly as much as I did either.

Thursday was my last fam flight. I didn't feel like I was flying as well this time as I did yesterday for some reason. Oh well, I am reasonably sure I could land the plane safely if I had to (though it might not be pretty and they might not get the radio calls they want at the right time) and I know I could take care of stalls and engine failures.

Once we were done with all of the regular procedures, we got a demo of aerobatic procedures. What a blast! Lest folks think that we were just out having fun (which we were), there is actually a reason to demonstrate the aerobatics. You can pull quite a few g's while doing them and it is important to be able to do the anti G Loss of Consciousness procedures (all that muscle squeezing and breathing that I talked about before). We can potentially see quite a few g's when flying the T-38s (4 or 5 g's if we do the swoop in a land maneuvers that the military likes to do).

So, we did loops (keep climbing until you go over the top upside down and on back around to where you started), wingovers (a way to turn heading the opposite way by doing a 90 degree climbing turn followed by a 90 degree diving turn), barrel rolls (a maneuver where you roll the plane over in sort of a big arc), aileron rolls (a very tight rolling 360 degree spin of the plane - lots of fun), split-s's (this maneuver combines the first half of an aileron roll followed by the second half of a loop), Cuban Eights (pretty much doing figure 8's in the sky by doing the first half of a loop to the point you are inverted followed by half a roll such that you are in this 45 degree dive. At this point you are heading the opposite direction, you then go wings level and start the same maneuvers again so that you end up heading the same direction as you started. Trust me, this makes a figure 8 in the sky.), and something called an Immelmann (the first half of a loop followed by a half-roll to wings level).

I am not sure who had more fun, my instructor or me. I think I was a rare student that wasn't bothered by all the aerobatic motion so he got to do a lot more maneuvers that he normally would. Most students seem to call it a day just as soon as they can. Once we got done with all the required demos, we realized we had more time and gas left, so we did some more aerobatics. Yeeha!

And, that concluded my fam flights. Not a bad week of flying, if I do say so myself.

Friday I basically had an off day since I had finished my four flights. Not all of my classmates had gotten done with theirs because of either the weather or their instructors had only planned one flight on the day I did two. Those of us that were done went over to Pensacola Beach and watched the Blue Angles practice. Since the Pensacola NAS is the home of the Blue Angles, they do a show for Pensacola twice a year. Their summer show happened to be this Saturday. They do a practice show, which is the same as the real show, the day before. It was interesting to watch their aerobatics, since I had just done most of those maneuvers the day before. Man, are those planes zippy. Late that afternoon, we were given a tour of the tower at the Pensacola field. Turns out that the Pensacola firing range is quite near the end of the runways that are normally in use. Hmmmm, not sure I wanted to know that. Well, I'll just have to trust the folks to not use the departing planes as target practice. Next week we move on to navigation and instrument training.

© Shannon Walker   2004

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Revised 07-26-04