The T-38 Stall Ride: Part III – Discoveries

In the summer of ’85, as I continued to ‘fine tune’ the ride, I made several discoveries – perhaps things I already knew, but didn’t know I knew them.  Or, more accurately, I didn’t know the full consequences or impact of what I knew.

My first revelation was that the Navy and Air Force had a fundamental philosophical difference in the way the Final Turn is flown.  The Navy used more of a “power on” approach; e.g., they consider the throttles primarily for controlling the descent rate and/or sink rate more than the airspeed.  I think with this philosophy Navy aviators tend to have a greater appreciation of the relationship between the throttles and descent rates than Air Force pilots do.  Of note, at the time of my work in 1985, the Navy had not experienced any T-38 stall/sink rate-related accidents.

My second discovery was that (perhaps) we were placing too much emphasis on the AOA (angle of attack) indicator in our stall recognition training.  ATC treated the AOA indicator as the ‘panacea’ to stall recognition, and it just isn’t always the case.

In the ’38 we had 2 AOA indicators: a light system on the dash, and a gauge in the cockpit.  The light system consisted of 3 lights: a red, or slow, ‘down’ arrow; a yellow, or fast “up” arrow; and a green on speed “donut” in the center of the indicator.  The arrows directed the pilot which way to put the nose of the aircraft when illuminated.

The gauge in the cockpit reflected the percentage of maximum lift, expressed in AOA.  The problem with this system is, pilots became too dependent upon this “idiot light,” in combination with the gauge indication, to recognize stalls or sink rates.  On the proposed stall/sink-rate ride, I could put a jet in a very high sink rate, with normal, on-speed indications both on the light system, and on the cockpit AOA gauge.  This became a real eye-opener for IPs and students alike!

The other thing I discovered was a developing resistance from ‘Command.’  We had the ride ‘in place’ when ATC Stan/Eval showed up for our Wing inspection that cycle, and actually received “kudos” for the initiative.  HQ ATC Stan/Eval was totally behind our effort in this endeavor.  However, others in the Command were not convinced.  Yet they still could not counter the argument: if our T-38 stall/sink rate recognition training was adequate, why were we still losing folks?  And that’s what actually sold it.

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