This is going to be an excursion down memory's path. A couple of months ago I noticed an ad placed in ALPA magazine by a retired Delta pilot who wanted to contact as many former aviation cadets as possible. He's writing a book about this program and also trying to arrange an all class reunion sometime in the next couple of years. While helping him with some of the records I happened to still have from forty years ago we talked at great length about this program and some of the lifetime friendships we formed. More important, however, are
the habits and/or thought patterns indelibly etched in our minds during that period of intense training so many years ago.
Deep in southern Georgia at Spence Air Base, the USAF operated one of their nine civilian contract primary flight training schools. I can still vividly recall that trip, starting in Minnesota's cornfields and ending amid Georgia's cottonfields. The odyssey for me began with walking across the ramp at Rochester's historic old Lobb Field near downtown, its famous "ear of corn" watertower now long since vanished, along with all the other traces of an airport ever existing there. A short flight on a Northwest "red tail" DC-4 to Chicago barely allowed time to contemplate the journey I was undertaking. In my mind I can still visualize walking up the airstairs at Midway Airport while boarding an Eastern Lockheed "Connie", its dolphin-like silver fuselage illuminated by the ramp's floodlights, the entire scene bathed in ghostly moonlight. A placard near the passenger entry door proudly proclaimed the capability of this aeronautical behemoth to produce an amazing total of 13,000 horsepower! After an all night trip, the load of unshaven passengers disembarked in front of Atlanta's historic old airline terminal, "deep in the heart of Dixie". Later, the sun's first rays endeavored to peek through the fluffy cotton clouds of the Georgia spring morning. They bounced upon the hail pocked skin of a venerable Douglas DC-3, its white and blue paint scheme identifying it as a member of the Southern Airways (not Airlines) fleet. Quietly wakened from its overnight slumber on the tarmac, the ancient pelican's three-pointed stance seemed to portray its eagerness to leap into the air and begin yet another day. The pre-flight experiences of San Antonio suddenly became just another hazy and receding memory to me. Just a few hours more of
traveling and I'd finally be experiencing the sights and sounds of a actual flying U. S. Air Force airbase.
Two stops later, we arrived at the small municipal airport serving Moultrie, surrounded by cotton plantations, peanut fields and pine trees. On the other side of town, Hawthorne Aeronautics operated a flight school with one Beverly "Bevo" Howard, famous old time airshow pilot, in charge. Bevo's airshow mount of choice was the agile little Bucker Jungmeister. Kept tucked away in the corner of a hangar, this red and white biplane had once been the proud possession of the legendary Alex Papana. These nine civilian
schools were widely scattered across the southern states of the U.S. Spence was approximately 50 miles west of the great Okefenoke swamp; the airfield was surrounded by peanut fields laboriously cleared randomly from among the hovering pine forests. These odd-shaped fields permitted our instructors ample choices from which to evaluate our practice forced landing techniques, every day!
In the early spring of 1954 our cadet class found ourselves deposited in the middle of this beehive of yellow Supercubs (used for screening) and snarling T-6's. Everywhere we turned we found continuous reassurance that we were "dodos", probably of very little use to anyone - especially to the military. Each and every mistake was ample reason to be assigned time to be spent "walking the tour path" the following weekend, those hours affording us ample time to ponder the error of our ways.
The forced landing procedure drilled into us from the first day on at that school has remained just one level down in my subconscious all these years, and that's probably exactly where the military authorities intended it to dwell. In modern parlance, it became a part of my CD-ROM, impossible to be erased. In turn, I've taught it to all my single engine students, hoping that they'll stash it some place where it's instantly retrievable, should they ever need it while falling out of the air in some fighter.
Possibly other mnemonics (if that's the word) would have worked as well but this is the way it was. GLIDE-GAS, GEAR-FLAPS, MIXTURE-PROP, IGNITION-HEAT, CANOPY-HARNESS. Let's break them down according to how they were taught to us. Then, at the end, I'd like to discuss a possible addition we should consider.
GLIDE - GAS: This is the first thing to establish. I've recently read letters in Aviation Safety discussing whether or not you should initially begin a climb if you have a lot of speed in an effort to immediately establish your best glide speed. I guess you can do whatever you feel is going to work for you at the time if your engine quits, this isn't going to be an exact scientific aerodynamic analysis. This is slanted more towards the practical, on the order of what Jim Orton always preached - "fly it to the
ground, don't fall it to the ground!" We know that you must get this in hand right away or else everything else goes for naught. Next, the gas selector. Thinking of the T-6, who hasn't been embarrassed by running a tank dry on one side? Along with that goes the boost pump, if the engine driven one fails, then get this on. Obviously, the T-6 didn't have one but - if you have an electrical one - get it on without delay.
GEAR - FLAPS: Maybe the engine quit with your gear down. If the engine's turning you still have hydraulic pressure so retract it - if the situation demands. On the other hand, if you're low and have already pretty much figured out someplace suitable where you can land, you might leave/put it down. The important thing is to decide what to do with it and make sure that it's already where you want it, or moving towards that position. If you've been caught with your flaps down, you'll need to retract them also. But if you're going to land and have established a glide based on them, then you'll obviously need to leave them out. Nothing in this paragraph, as you can see, is cast in concrete. These two items are included in an effort to make sure that you give them some thought.
MIXTURE - PROP: I can remember that we were taught to run through a quick checklist at 3000 feet while descending before we got involved in the traffic pattern. This included moving the mixture to the rich position and the canopy wide open for landing (just in case you ended up on your back during the rollout). I only mention the canopy item to find an excuse to describe why I spent eight hours walking the tour path the next Saturday. I did open the canopy at 3000 feet but later encountered a rain shower when nearing the
field. I reached back and re-closed it halfway in an effort to keep the rain out of the cockpit. Upon rollout the mobile controller said, "Blacksheep forty eight - report to the control shack after you park". Amazing how eight hours walking the tour path in Georgia's summer heat and humidity will focus your attention and strengthen your resolve to never again do something dumb - at least not that! I digress, the thing here is to enrich the T-6's mixture when descending because otherwise, it might quit! It's included here to see if it might help. Second comes the prop's position. Doesn't mean to shove it up, doesn't mean to pull it back and it doesn't mean to leave it alone. It means, think about it and place it where your brain says it will do you whatever you need done. If you need maximum glide, then pull it way back. If you need to bleed off altitude, shove it up. Or maybe the situation says leave it where it is. All situations are different and it's up to you to make this checklist work for you as the items scroll by on your memory screen or monitor.
IGNITION - HEAT: Quite honestly these two items were not on the memory aid used in T-6 training. Over the years I've always recited the other items but at some point I added these two because I found them to be really necessary. To tell the truth, the first item was something that I added when a FAA Airworthiness Directive was published on my Stearman's ignition switch. It also represents an event where we could cite name and circumstances of the event. This involved a guy I had checked out in the FG-1D Corsair who encountered an engine problem and this specific magneto switch problem occurred. If the engine quits and you get to this point you need to realize that just because the thing
won't run on BOTH doesn't mean it won't run on maybe LEFT or RIGHT. Maybe it's a bad switch or maybe it's a bad mag but try both LEFT and RIGHT switch positions, it just might work. Next is carburetor ice, get the carb heat on. To tell you the truth I sometimes think this should have been included several steps earlier in the chain so that the carb heat is applied while it's still available. If I hadn't gotten this far along in life and had it so consigned to memory, I probably would have memorized and taught it differently. The Corsair pilot I mentioned above says he
definitely would get to it earlier. This would provide a source of heat while it was still readily available. If you're just starting or considering using this, you might wish to do so.
CANOPY - HARNESS: These last two are "O.K., I give up" items. They recognize the fact that very likely the engine's not going to start running again and you need to prepare for a forced landing! Probably you're going to be somewhat in shock, not believing that this could actually be happening to you, and these two items should run across your memory screen to maximize your chances during the inevitable. In the T-6/SNJ/Harvard, with your right hand, reach across and move the canopy all the way to the rear and lock it so it will stay open under the "G" load that's very likely to come. I say with your right hand because, if you try it with your left, you'll get all bollixed up due to the arm's physical characteristics and most likely you won't be able to get it all the way open and locked in this time critical situation. Next,
with your right hand, pull both shoulder harness straps tight because shortly you're about to investigate - up close and personal - how near your face is going to come to fitting in among all the flight instrument knobs and protrusions.
Now for one last thing, based on later equipment and knowledge. Last week I spent some time talking to John Ellis. He feels (in what he fully acknowledges as Monday morning quarterbacking) that this last ditch item might possibly have enabled an on-airport forced landing in a recent F8F incident. If you're ever caught in a situation where the engine stoppage might possibly be caused by carburetor malfunction, actuating the electric primer might provide some minimal power. I've advocated this for many years in a variety
of aircraft in the event of carburetor malfunction in an attempt to obtain enough minimum power to make feathering unnecessary. In fact, we had a position placarded "CONTINUOUS PRIME" on the Convair 340/440 aircraft that would provide about 2000 RPM in this exact circumstance. This certainly is as valid in single engine aircraft (well, let's face it, really much more so!) as in multi-engine. Obviously we only had a hand primer on the T-6 but almost everything later used electricity and it really needs to be part of your thought process. In fact, I believe the USN T-28 NATOPS manual does make reference
Again, none of these items are meant to tell you what to do, they should run across a visual memory screen in your brain to tell you what to think about accomplishing during an extremely stressful time.
R. Sohn © 1995
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