Lessons That Live as told by A.A.F. Pilots
The spreader bar came loose and trailed out behind, flapping in the breeze.
Ignorance is sometimes blamed for the troubles that pilots get into. Ignorance is never an excuse because the training program is thorough. Most generally errors in judgement, plain boners and faulty planning, plus the lack of alertness, give an appearance of ignorance.
It was an out and out boner, and the fact that I lived to become an older and vastly wiser pilot is a direct tribute to the Lady that's known as Luck. Shortly after I finished flying school I was detailed to assist in the flight testing of overhauled planes. Upon reporting to the test line one afternoon, the operations clerk informed me that number so-and-so was ready for an initial check hop. I wandered out and climbed into a shiny overhauled job. The engine cranked readily, checked on both switches, and the controls were free.
I took off and climbed to 2,000 feet, leveled out and made a brief check of general flying qualities, noting that the left wing was slightly heavy. My first maneuver was a whip-stall from the nose straight-up attitude. As the nose dropped sharply, a pair of 8-inch slip-joint pliers came from nowhere on the floor and hovered momentarily before my nose. I snatched them out of space, pocketed them, and made a mental note to raise hob with the responsible mechanic for being so careless as to leave them where they might jam tile controls. Next I went into a fast dive and as I did so, the spreader bar which connected the upper and lower ailerons of the left wings came loose and trailed out behind, flapping in the breeze. I decided I'd better get down from there in a hurry.
I made a landing approach, coming in "hot" to assure lateral control and consequently bounced when the wheels hit with the tail high. I hit the throttle to ease down again and imagine my surprise when the entire throttle quadrant dropped loose and dangled on the control rods which ran up through the fire wall. As I hit the ground again, the oil filler cap came off and I was blasted with hot engine oil.
Here was a clear case of plane failure and stupid ground work. Oh yeah!
As I reached the line, burning to crucify the inspector who had passed on a plane in that condition, the clerk ran out. "Lieutenant," he yelled, "you took the wrong plane. I said number so-and-so but you took number this-and-that. This plane hasn't even been finished by the assembly department!"
Yes, sir. I had been flying a plane that was literally falling apart! And the horse was 100% on me.
I made a dive on my 'enemy' and in pulling up I lost him under my wing.
Always fly your plane through maneuvers; don't let it take care of itself while your are looking at something else. If you do get into trouble, keep calm and use your head about getting out. Panic is many a young pilot's undoing.
I was on a practice individual combat mission over Chame Bay, Panama, and my opponent and I were both flying P-39D's. The planes were fully loaded with combat ammunition, including 2,000 rounds of .30 calibre in each wing, giving this ship a very risky stall and spin characteristic.
We'd been scrapping several minutes and the combat, unnoticed by either of us in the thrill of the fight, had dropped from 10,000 feet to 5,000 feet. I made a dive on my "enemy" and in pulling up I lost him under my wing. In my eagerness to find him again, I completely forgot about altitude.
Suddenly I felt an alarming looseness in my controls and at the same time I became aware that my plane was pointing almost straight up. I reacted immediately by pushing forward on the stick a ridiculous maneuver since I was in a vertical position at stalling speed. When I realized I could never push over straight, I attempted to drop a wing and roll out.
The plane stalled out completely; it was upside down and refused to respond to the aileron controls. I had a feeling that it was sliding vertically downward, tail-first. It had no tendency to spin; yet at the same time it refused to respond to my efforts to get a wing down. Next I tried to pull the nose through as in a loop, but my position, hanging upside down on my safety belt, prevented me from doing anything except pull straight up on the stick instead of to the rear.
By this time panic had me in its grip and I felt an almost uncontrollable impulse to release the emergency handle of the door and hail out. I realized, however, that the engine was still churning away at 40 inches of mercury so I cut the throttle back and concentrated on pulling the stick to the rear.
Slowly the nose of the plane fell through, and as it picked up speed I eased it out of the dive, expecting to snap into another stall at any second. When I finally straightened it out, although my altimeter showed that I was at 800 feet, I felt as if the waves of Chame Bay were lapping at my belly.
The lessons learned from this harrowing experience, which really lasted but a few seconds, have burned deep in my mind during the ensuing weeks. When I get into actual combat, I know I'll not make the same mistakes again.
Official Song of the Army Air Forces
Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Minds of men fashined a crate of thunder,
Off we go into the wild sky yonder,
The Pilot's 23rd Psalm
by Capt. J. D. Olive
Hailed as the first classic of the Second World War, High Flight was written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. on September 3, 1941. Magee was a 19-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, who was killed in a flying accident on December 11, 1941.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
All material not specifically credited is Copyright © by Randy Wilson.
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