A VT-6 story by Pat Kenny
I started flying students in the T28 at VT 6, NAS Whiting Field in 1972. I had just transferred from a one year tour as a Marine Infantry Officer post Vietnam. I was probably a gruff sort of instructor at first. I wanted everything in the cockpit to be professional and I followed the rules closely at first. My first student was 2nd Lt Karl Schwelm and it was a P8 hop in the L-4 area over the Conecuh River, East of Brewton, Alabama. I was of course a little nervous and Karl seemed nervous, also. I don't know if he knew it was my first hop as an instructor, but I worked hard to show that it wasn't. I was to introduce the 1/2 Cuban Eight on this flight, but I was having him review his Wingover, Barrell Roll and Loop. While doing the Loop, Karl stalled the airplane at the top and we started to enter a spiin. So, I took the aircraft. I reprimanded him and then commenced to show him what a loop was supposed to look like. I startedd and I stalled it too. I was embarrased to say the least, but with great fortitude tried another. Again the a/c stalled violently and we went into a spin. I decided this was enough and we went home. Later I learned, from Capt Paul Stansel, that the a/c was checked out by maintenace and the horizontal stabilizer was replaced. I was relieved to learn that it was not Karl or I who were at fault.
I flew 15 P -stage students before being assigned to my fist T-Stage student, Ensign Wes Bartell, USN. I was eager for him to be the best student in his Transition Class and reassure my confidence as an instructor. It rurned out that Wes was an outstanding student. Later on I sent him copies of my Knee board in flight notes of his performance and he said " I thought you said I was a good pilot". I told him I graded hard because I moved the bar up on good students. And that was true. If the student was good, I wanted him to be better. I didn't want him comparing himself to the poor or average. Wes was good and so was Karl. And they are both great men today. They always were.
Skidmarks in the Sky – Chapter One by Terry Price
BJ was a large, strong, athletic fellow. He told me he had played football in college. He was a likeable guy, good humored, always smiling and laughing but his performance was seriously behind where it should have been for this stage of his training. I had flown several flights with him and I knew he had the necessary skill but he was easily unnerved and his performance in the aircraft really suffered when he was nervous, and he was nervous most of the time. I believe now that his quick and frequent laughter was really nervousness.
On this day the weather was a bit sketchy, overcast with multiple cloud layers so I departed North Whiting on a Yankee flight plan – IFR to VFR on top. I leveled off about 1,000 feet above a cloud deck to practice our high work so I asked him to show me an approach turn stall. He set it up nicely: landing configuration with gear and flaps deployed, descending left turn, close the throttle and raise the nose, stall buffet as expected, then things went south in a hurry. He shoved the throttle quickly forward but failed to apply the large amount of right rudder that was necessary in the T-28 with a rapid application of power. The aircraft quickly torque-rolled to the left, went inverted and entered a spin with gear and flaps down and full power. I grabbed the stick which was in the full aft position, pulled off the power, raised the gear and flaps and began spin recovery techniques but I couldn’t move the rudder pedals because BJ was standing on them both and had the stick in a death grip. I yelled at him to let go of the controls and that I had the aircraft. But he was locked up and wouldn’t budge. I was yelling as loud as I could when we entered the clouds shuddering and shaking in a left- hand spin. With the altimeter winding down and me pounding on the glare shield and shouting at him BJ finally loosened his grip on the controls. I was able to recover from the spin on instruments and we popped out of the soup at less than 3,000 feet. Because I was such a generous and forgiving guy, I think I logged the flight as incomplete due to weather conditions.
Skidmarks in the Sky – The Final Chapter
We were in 80 kt. slow flight configuration with gear and flaps down and speed brake out. I asked BJ to recover from slow flight and transition back to normal cruise. He set the throttle and prop to the proper RPM, raised the flaps, retracted the speed brake but forgot to raise the gear. I waited silently as he tried to figure out why he could not get his airspeed back. “What’s the matter, BJ?” “We’re not accelerating”, he said. “Well, look around and see what’s wrong”. His head is going from side to side and up and down. “What could be slowing us down? There must be something hanging out that isn’t supposed to be hanging out,” I said. He’s still looking. I hear him say “Oh $h-t!” as he finally, he sees it. His left hand went down quickly, grabbed the gear handle and jerked it upward with such force that the handle actually came completely off in his hand (I told you he was strong) and his hand was moving up so fast that the gear handle bounced off the top of the canopy. Now he is holding the red landing gear handle in his left hand and staring at it in disbelief. Again, I can hear him say “Ohhhhh $h-t!” “Jeez, BJ.” I said, “You’ve broken our airplane!” How are you going to get the gear down for landing?” Now he leans forward and tries to re-attach the gear handle back into the slot in the instrument panel. “Oh $h-t!” he shouts again. He’s now obviously worried about the situation he has created for us and asks me, “Can you lower the gear from back there?” I said, “BJ, that’s the smartest thing you’re said all day. I’m glad to know you’re finally thinking.” Back on deck I told him to take the gear handle into Maintenance Control and explain to the Maintenance Chief how he came to be in possession of it. I graded this flight Unsatisfactory and recommended that BJ be assigned to another instructor. I found out later that he did not make it through the program. It’s too bad. I really like the guy.
Pima Air Museum VT-6 T-28C on loan from USN
Eric Van Gilder photography
Civilian T-28B with USN VT-6 livery
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