We had a gal show up in the Squadron (560th FTS) sometime in the mid-80s. She was somewhat of a ‘ball of fire.’ Young, capable, a good pilot, self-motivated, personable – she was a delightful additional to our unit.
One morning we had an “open jet.” It was an aircraft that, for some reason or another, was not going to be used for a scheduled mission. It happened. So Ops (Operations) was looking for someone to fly it. “Here!” I said, then I began looking around the squadron to see who I could get to go flying with me. This first person I came across was Jane, and she was good to go.
It was humid out, and somewhat overcast. But it was breaking up – not very fast, mind you, but it was breaking up. I had seen this condition many, many times before. We briefed, pre-flighted and strapped in. After engine start, I noticed that our Horizontal Situational Indicator (HSI – our compass) was ‘not quite right;’ It was kinda wandering. Jane noticed it also, but I called for ‘taxi’ anyway. I always felt that strapping in was the toughest part of any mission – and once I was strapped in, I was good to go.
Jane registered a concern right away, and several times thereafter as we continued to the runway. At one time I was wondering if I was married to her? Anyway, I had seen this condition several times before, and knew the HSI was (probably) damp from the humidity, and would soon dry out. So I just pressed on, with Jane continuing to express her great concern. It was kind of amusing, I have to say…
By the time we got to the runway, the cloud cover had begun to break up. I think it was probably 60 – 70% overcast by that time, and I could see where it soon would be gone – or I sure as hell hoped it would be gone! As we received takeoff clearance, Jane registered a ‘formal objection.’
“Colonel Holliker,” she said, “I just don’t think we should go.”
“Okay Jane, got it” I replied as I told her to go ahead and takeoff – with the HSI still unreliable. We subsequently entered the cloud deck about 500 – 700 feet (AGL – above ground level), and broke out around 1400 – 1500 AGL. While we were basically “in cloud,” with an unreliable HSI, there were enough breaks in the clouds to keep oriented.
Our first maneuver was a simulated single-engine approach to a touch and go. This was conducted with the use of radar vectors to align us with the runway and provide spacing from other aircraft.
“Now, how am I to turn to the assigned heading of 050 degrees without an HSI?” she asked – and herein was the lesson I wanted to give to her.
“Good question,” I replied. I then told her to begin her turn and look back off her left shoulder. We had taken off on Runway 14L, on a heading of 140 degrees.
“Can you see the runway?” I asked.
Hell, you would have to have been Stevie Wonder to have missed it! She acknowledged she had it, so I told her to ‘put it off’ her left shoulder, and just guess at a heading 90 degrees of of the runway heading. She did, and it worked great.
The radar controller then told us to take a heading of 320 degrees. Jane picked up on it right away, looking out the window – the canopy – orienting herself to the runway we had just departed from, and paralleling it in the opposite direction. That gave us a heading of 320 degrees. By that time our HSI had settled down and was operating properly; but I didn’t tell her. We continued northbound, then was given a heading of 230 degrees. Using the runway, now clearly visible, Jane turned right to 230 degrees. The rest of the pattern was unremarkable.
The lesson I wanted to teach her that day was to, know her equipment, know the environment and use what she had vs. calling it quits with a simple, predictable malfunction. Did I take a “risk?” You bet; absolutely. Had anything else gone wrong, the “shoeclerks” would have been gleefully lining up to hang my ass! But it all worked out, as I knew it would, and we had a great flight – at least, I did!
“CP-IP,” you ask? Oh, that was Jane’s nickname, or call sign from the squadron. In those days she wore her hair kinda short, and quite a bit curly. With her brilliant dark hair, coupled with her height, she looked just like a cute, little ‘Cabbage Patch doll,’ consequently the name, “CP-IP:” Cabbage Patch – Instructor Pilot. Kinda has a nice ring to it…