Monday and Tuesday were both great weather days for flying. Clear skies, plenty of horizon, and not too many bad gusts of wind. The profiles I flew were both pretty similar to what I've been doing. Go out to the practice area, practice full stalls, traffic pattern stalls, emergency landing pattern stalls (ELP stalls), slow flight, and recoveries from unusual attitudes. Then we would go to another airport (either dogface or a civilian airport just next to Vance called Woodring) and practice different types of landings and visual approaches. I think it was Tuesday I got to see my first spin in the T-6. A spin is where you stall the airplane so it can't fly, but you induce a yawing motion so the aircraft will continue to flat-spin until you recover (remember Top Gun....spinning out to sea??) Anyways, the IP demoed the first one, then let me try the second. It's like you're in control of your own rollercoaster ride...and you don't even have to stand in line :-).
Wednesday was a little more exciting than what I had anticipated. I briefed the flight with my IP in the morning just as we had done in the earlier two flights, even though the weather wasn't that great. We suited up in our harnesses and Gsuits at life support, then humped it out to the jet for our pre-flight inspection. This time, the IP let me strap in while he did the exterior walk-around...again, because we wanted to beat the impending thunderstorm that was on its way. After getting everything hooked up in the cockpit, we closed the canopy and started it up, just like every other flight. While taxiing, we went through our last "brief" which we call R-NEWS (RAIM, NAVAIDS, EMERGENCIES, WEATHER, SID). The most important of those is the weather and emergencies checks. We look at the weather and determine what we would do in case of an in-flight emergency near the airport. We go into more detail with this brief an hour prior to the flight in the squadron, but we also discuss a little while in the aircraft. On this particular day, in case of an engine failure the clouds would have prevented us from climbing to our "high key" or the top part of our emergency landing pattern we fly when we don't have an engine. This usually isn't a problem, since there are other ways to intercept an ELP, so we kept going wtih the flight.
After takeoff, I brought up the gear and started a turn to crosswind to keep us in the pattern at Vance. When we got on downwind, my IP asked me if I heard a noise. I kept very quiet on the radio for about 5 seconds, when I could start to hear a metallic "ringing" noise, albeit very muffled. I told my IP I also heard it, when he asked me where it was. As I leaned forward to try to tell, it got louder, meaning it was in front of my position. I told him it was in front of me, and not a second later, he took control of the aircraft and pulled us into an abrupt turning climb to intercept the ELP below high key just as I briefed on the taxiway. We declared an emergency and got traffic priority for an immediate landing on Runway 35R, the closest piece of concrete to us. We climbed well over 1,000 feet above the normal traffic pattern altitude just in case we lost our engine in the process of trying to land. This type of procedure is something they harp on us and beat into our heads, and now I finally see why. From the moment we declared an emergency to the time we shut down the engine and had firefighters on our wing was probably less than two minutes. It only took about 90 seconds to climb, intercept our ELP, drop the gear and line up on runway centerline to put it down, then use our remaining energy to taxi clear of the runway. We shut the engine down as soon as we were clear of 35R and started going through normal post-flight procedures. My IP stressed to me how important it is to do all the normal checks even slower than normal during an emergency, because it's easy to overlook something easy and simple when you're all hyped up on adrenaline. As it turns out, our "emergency" might not have been anything more than a loose screw on my rudder pedals making a high pitch noise that sounded like an engine problem. But it's better to play it safe than lose the one and only engine you have on the aircraft.
So, I'm officially the first in our class to have an in-flight emergency in the T-6...lucky me ;-). Thank God it didn't turn out to be anything serious, but if it had been an actual engine problem, we were always in a great position to put the aircraft down with plenty of runway to spare. That's what training now will do to prepare us for the day when we have a real problem and we're the only ones in the plane to solve it. Hopefully that won't happen again any time soon :-).
Thanks for the prayers...got a big week ahead. I might be able to solo on Friday if I fly every day this week. If not, I will be soloing early next week. Take care!