Thursday, February 2, 2006


After the thrashing I took from the post on the State of the Union address, I figured I would stray a bit from politics and the war for a little bit.

I mentioned earlier that one of the things a pilot fears most is loss of control of his airplane.

I haven't felt that much. Only one time is immediately coming to mind.

My last assignment was as a T-37B instructor at Laughlin AFB, Texas. Over the course of three years I flew over 1300 hours in roughly 1100 sorties with students and and instructors alike. When I left I was one of three "Assistant Director of Operations" (third in command of a squadron) and a Flight Evaluator, which means that I gave checkrides to not only new students, but also to experienced instructors to maintain their own currency. It was by far and wide the best tour, and best job, I've had in my life. There are experiences that I had while there that I will never forget, and lessons about flying and life that I will carry with me any time I get behind the controls of an aircraft.

I had hundreds of students that I instructed over the course of my time in Del Rio, TX. Most of them just kind of blurred together and I recognize by face alone, a bunch I remember names, but a select few I remember even minute details, like what made them nervous or what their specific strengths and deficiencies were. One day one of these students got me in a bind...

The T-37 does one thing that, supposedly, no other basic flight training course does--it spins. The purpose of the manuever is to increase confidence in the student and to teach them to be able to recover from an uncontrolled situation if they were to ever get into one while solo. Essentially what you do is take the aircraft up to a high altitude (18,000-21,00 feet), stall it, and then jam in a bunch of rudder to start an autorotation. If you've never done one before, it's a pretty harrowing experience. If you've done a few hundred, like I had at the time, it's a blast. The plane violently shakes, flips over a couple of times, and then wraps up into a tight spiral where the only thing you see from the cokcpit is the earth spinning around like you're on a wrapped up tire swing.

The recovery procedure is relatively complex, but, when done correctly, extremely reliable in getting you out of the tight spot. The only recorded mishaps (crashes) that occurred when spinning were from actual damage to the aircraft (which caused the spin to occur in the first place) or (important point here) an improperly executed recovery procedure.

So...said student, we'll call him "El Tigre" (those who flew with him know who I'm talking about) was one of the best kids I taught as far as motivation and personality go. His hands--well, left a little to be desired. He was one of those students that barely had the skills required to graduate, but as they say "if the minimum wasn't good enough, it wouldn't be the minimum." El Tigre generated a couple of stories with me that I plan on putting on here. Suffice it to say that he eventually graduated, and was loved a great deal by the instructors. Sometimes this can be a bad thing, but I'm 100% confident that with Tigre we made the right call.

So there I was...Tigre was nervous, as most students are when spinning, and wrapped us up at 18000 feet. The airspace was cut into "blocks" of five to seven thousand foot sections to keep people separated. Our block this day went from 15,000 feet to 22,000 feet, with the block below us from 7,000 to 12,000 feet. So, essentially, we were completely safe above 15,000, mostly safe below 15,000, and unsafe below 12,000 due to the traffic below us. The ejection altitude for a spin in a tweet was 10,000 feet.

So Tigre wraps up and slowly starts to go through his procedures. He was having trouble, so I let him go further than I should have to try and figure it out. Passing 17,500 feet, I took the aircraft from him since the spin was getting faster, and I needed to save the day. I started the procedure at around 17,000--since it takes about 1,500 feet to accomplish, that was late.

Irritated with myslef for getting us in this position, I sped through the moves. One of the steps was to apply rudder opposite the spin to slow it down and get ready to pop out. Caught up with watching the altimeter rapidly spin downward, I looked out and saw the world spinning to the right. I stomped on the right rudder.

Suddenly the earth spun faster. A lot faster. I watched as the altimeter spun below 15,000 feet.

Realizing my mistake I released everything and the spinning slowed down. Passing 14,000 feet I took a deep breath and started over, slower this time. I remember crystal clearly verbally going through the motions as I applied them, this time stomping (really really hard) on the left rudder. The altimeter was passing 12,500 feet.

With a heavy shudder, the world stopped rotating and I jammed the throttles forward as I reefed back on the stick to gain altitude. The lowest we got, I think, was 11,500 feet. Tigre said not a word as the nose pitched up and the altimeter reversed. Passing back into our altitude block I turned my head to look at him. His face was white through his helmet visor.

"Woo hoo! That was fun, wasn't it!" I shouted through the intercom.

After gaining our breath I climbed as high as I could and let him try it again. He did much better this time.

I still think spinning is fun.


  1. Nah, that wasn't a thrashing, Lucky, that was just a moonbat blog-by.


  2. As a pilot of a different sort, I studied your every word and the description took me by the collar and popped me in the plane for the duration. Thanks for the writing Lucky. Wahoo!

    My piloting involves 10 years of flying Paragliders, and as an instructor and tandem pilot I have a few stories - the heights are different but the ground looks just as hard.

  3. In Navy training we "spun" in T-34's which are still in service and in jet tarining we also spun in the T-2B which is a hoot. At the instrument RAG we added the inverted spin(eyeballs out).


  4. Hey an intel techie or somebody about your buddy here:

  5. I agree with you but I'm not sure who I could report an anonymous, location-less blog to. I don't even know what base he's at.

  6. Well, now that I have barfed all over myself, I am going reread your post. Only 43 hours in a Cessna 150, and I still don't like stalls. What's a spin? (Don't worry, I know what one is, but haven't yet experienced one).

    Enjoyed the account. Don't know if I'll ever agree on spins ever being "a hoot" though.


  7. Wow. Can I have a ride?

    My dad used to take me up but I NEVER got to do that!