I was flying a ‘contact’ ride one day with 2Lt. Lloyd B. A ‘contact’ ride is a ride wherein we practice aerobatics and landings as well as ‘unusual attitude’ recoveries. This ride was toward the end of Lloyd’s training and was more for “proficiency” in nature than anything else.
To “fill the squares,” we planned a Loop followed by a Cuban 8, a Cloverleaf, an Immelmann then Split-S. All “high-G” maneuvers and not fun to sit through! With the exception of the Split-S, all the maneuvers are entered in at 450-500 knots and use 4 to 5 “G’s on the pull into the vertical.
So we get in the area and Lloyd begins his profile. Up and down we go – 7 times, right after another – up we go. 4 to 5 “Gs.” Sweat dripping into the eyes, burning. Up we go again! Ahhhh….
After we come out of his last maneuver, the Split-S, I take the jet to to allow the ‘gyro’ in my brain to stabilize. Without fully realizing what I’m doing, I pull the throttles back and transition into the ‘vertical.’ My plan was to then execute a ‘vertical recovery’ – a maneuver where you roll the jet to determine the ‘nearest horizon,’ then add power and pull to it, eventually rolling wings level. Got that? (LOL!) It’s actually a simple maneuver…
However as I wasn’t in any particular hurry that day, by the time I looked for the “nearest horizon,” it was all near! I was going straight up – with my throttles retarded. “Oh shit, what’s the airspeed?” I wondered. Passing through 100 knots, decreasing! We are about to be in a self-induced world of hurt!
Taking the jet into (deliberate) vertical stall was a “prohibited maneuver.” And I was about to discover why!
I recognized right away that we were about to be in a world of shit, but I didn’t want to alarm Lloyd – lest he do something stupid – like jump out! So, as calmly as I could I asked, “Say Lloyd, have you ever seen what happens when a T-38 runs out of airspeed going straight up?”
“No Sir,’ he replied.
“Well, neither have I,” I responded, with impeccable timing. Airspeed – zero.
Initially we began ‘backsliding’ – dropping tail first. Then the aircraft violently pitched over, past ‘the vertical.’ We were now falling, not flying, inverted – hanging in our shoulder harnesses. As the aircraft began oscillating, I began fighting it. I was working my ass off, but all I seemed to be doing was aggravating the situation.
We entered the vertical stall around 18-19-20 thousand feet or so. Our mandatory ‘uncontrollable’ bailout altitude was 10,000 feet. While fighting to regain control, I kept an eye on the unwinding altimeter. 18 – 17 -16 thousand feet…we were really dropping.
I can’t explain this next sequence – all I can do is tell you about it. At some time during the out of control descent, I heard a voice tell me, “Let go Bob… just let go.” So, I did. I let go of the stick…
The aircraft stabilized right away! Imagine that? It stabilized in an inverted, nose low attitude. I knew that since we were still descending, although upside down, the aircraft would soon gain speed to where I could regain control – and that’s exactly what happened. When the airspeed recovered to around 150 – 160 knots, I slowly began rolling to wings-level. Form there on out, the ride was ‘uneventful.’
It’s appropriate that I recall this story at Thanksgiving. I am so thankful we didn’t have to jump out that day! I was never afraid of dying in the jet, but I was scared to death of “embarrassing myself” in the jet. At 10,000 feet I think I would have commanded Lloyd to eject – but I don’t know if I would have followed him…
My other “take away” is, it’s amazing how Life tends to sort itself out when “Bob” gets out of the equation! When “Bob” is not in control! (Or, at least, when “Bob” thinks he’s ‘in control!’ LOL) “Just let go Bob.” And how well this has served me in sobriety.
Just let go, Bob…