I was on my night solo cross-country leg from Tucson to Phoenix. This was in Air Force (USAF) pilot training and I was in a T-6D. As you might have guessed, this was some time ago. My class was 53G and I was nearing the end of primary training. As an aside, I should tell you that at this point in my flying carrier I was just about the hottest pilot around. I have since learned that there may be several pilots in existence that could dispute any such claims.
The 1340 was purring smoothly and the exhaust glow was visible on the right side. The air was smooth as glass and it was a great night to be flying.
Let me tell you about the T-6D. She is a two seat tandem cockpit tail wheel trainer. It is powered by a Prat and Whitney R1340 radial engine that develops about 600 hp. During WWII it was used as an advanced trainer. In my time ,1953, it was used as a primary trainer. Foreign governments have used the T-6 as a light attack airplane. Some consider it a handful. I have always thought it a very pleasant airplane to fly. But I digress.
As I was nearing Phoenix, I could se the lights of another airplane in my 11:30 level position. I could see wing lights and a white light between them. I instantly thought, OK the white light is a tail light so the airplane is going away from me. Moments later, when I looked, I realized the lights were spreading apart VERRY RAPIDLY. Do something! I applied full left stick and pulled back. I swear I could hear the engine of the other airplane as it passed the belly of mine. After I realized that we had missed each other, I looked around and could see only black and no horizon.
Something else, you are all familiar with an attitude indicator. Well, we had something similar called an artificial horizon. Note the word similar. In other words, not the same. The artificial horizon had a vacuum driven gyro with a suspension system that had definite pitch and bank limits. If these limits were exceeded the gyro would tumble making a terrible racket and threatening to destroy the instrument. The directional gyro also had these same failings, but not as severe.
So, where did that leave me with trying to regain control of my airplane? Remember I’m really good but I am at this point a student. Well in those days we called it needle, ball, airspeed or partial panel.
So I stuck my head down and banked to the right to center the needle. Did I mention that this was a turn needle not a turn coordinator? Well, with the needle sort of centered, and after completing a couple of vertical S’s, everything seemed OK. I was level and upright. Now I can see Phoenix. I am level, but Phoenix is tilted about 20 degrees. I looked really hard but I couldn’t get me to bank or Phoenix to straighten up. Back to the instrument panel.
By now, the artificial horizon was starting to recover and my pulse rate was going down. Needle centered. Air speed good. Altitude good. But Phoenix was still tilted but when I looked at it for a while, it did straighten up.
I did not continue on my cross-county but returned to Marana a landed.
Remember, when the world won’t straighten up go to the instruments.
- My near miss and partial panel recovery - June 7, 2023
- What are aerobatics, and when do I need a parachute? - June 27, 2016