Saturday, June 5, 2010

Instrument Phase

The past few weeks have been very busy…but it’s been a great experience….

After Final contact checkride, we began flying under instrument conditions in the airplane. To do so, the instructors put us in the rear cockpit and make us wear a flimsy “hood” over our heads so we can’t see outside and are forced to focus on our instrument displays for navigation and orientation. It takes some getting used to…a lot of guys early on said they got headaches from focusing so much on the instruments for an hour and a half at a time. Flying from the rear cockpit certainly feels a lot different than flying up front, but I’ve since gotten used to it.

The first week since my last update was spent preparing me for my cross-country flight in the T-6. On the Monday, I flew an “Out and Back” to Fayetteville, Arkansas. An “O&B” is where you land somewhere outside of Vance, stop to get gas and some lunch, then hop back in the jet for another flight home. It simulates what it’s like to fly a couple legs on a cross country, since you’re not only flying instrument approaches into a strange airport you’ve never been to, but also having to navigate along “Victor Routes” or “Jet Routes” which are like highways in the sky. It takes a lot of mental concentration to stay focused the entire time, constantly multi-tasking and prioritizing the tasks at hand. If you do it right, you should be able to fly the whole mission from the rear cockpit without ever looking outside. But usually the instructors are nice and give you a break to blink and look outside.

After landing at Fayetteville, we dropped off the gas card for the jet at the front desk of the terminal, then sauntered up to the “pilot’s lounge” where they already had freshly made BBQ burgers for us for $1.00. It’s so cheap since we’re paying about $500.00 in gas…it’s the least they could do for us, lol. Anyways, I sat down with my lunch when my IP tells me, “This is what you get to do every day in T-1s!” Ok, I’m sold! After the lunch, we found a couple lazy boy chairs in front of a TV and watched ESPN while my IP used a foot-massager he found…rough life, I know.

We hopped back in the jet and flew back to Vance uneventfully. The most stressful part of the whole ordeal was the mission planning prior to leaving Vance, but it was well worth it when we finally took off and were chewing up the radios with all the other Airline pilots sharing the friendly skies with us. It was a sign for me that this was gonna be a good week.

The rest of the week made me pay for all the fun I had on my Out and back….double turning sims all week…. Yeah, it’s kind of like playing a giant flight simulator video game, but usually I’ve never been graded or critiqued when I play games on my own free time. Suffice it to say, it’s still a tough environment to look forward to being in on a daily basis. I had 2 sims every day until Friday because I had to meet all the prerequisites for my cross country flights that weekend. On Thursday, the secretary in the sim building finally asked me if I was ever gonna fly an airplane again because she had seen me in the sims so much! I told her they were training me to fly the predator…haha….which is probably true, I just don’t know it yet ;-P.

Friday finally came around…the first of 3 days of my cross country trip. The plan was to go to Scott AFB in Illinois to meet up with one of my instructor’s friends. I originally wasn’t too excited to be going to Scott AFB, but tagged along anyways (not like I had a choice!). It turned out to be an amazing trip! Again, the most stressful part was trying to leave Vance…there’s a ton of paperwork and planning you have to do ahead of time. Because it was all so new to me, I again felt like I was drinking water from a fire hydrant…barely finding time to breath. But we got off the ground and headed to Fort Smith Arkansas for gas and food. We shot a couple of approaches into Fort Smith before landing, during one of which we were overflown by a C-130 about 1,000 feet above us!! It was quite the sight to see…wish I had a picture of it. We landed, started taxiing to parking when we saw two gentlemen on the flightline, one holding a sign and one holding a flag. My first thought was “These better not be protesters!!” Quite the opposite actually. They turned out to be guys who lived nearby and enjoy welcoming military aircrews to Arkansas, even those just passing through briefly like us. We took off our harness and G-suit, ended up eating at a bar in town, then came back to the airport to wait for it to get dark so I could get a night flight in. While we waited, we had the chance to talk to the gentlemen who very warmly welcomed us in to Arkansas. They gave myself and my IP each an American flag to take with us…I now have it on my desk in my dorm room…something I’ll always have for the rest of my life to mark my first leg of my first cross country in the T-6!

We left Fort Smith at night to go to Scott AFB. Somehow, the best landing I have ever had in the T-6 was my first landing at night….really weird!! We parked and put the airplane to bed, then met up with a good friend of mine’s parents who live and work at Scott. We took them to the Officer’s Club to chat for a while…I’m still amazed they were willing to visit with us even at 11pm at night! It definitely made the trip to Scott worthwhile.

The next morning my IP and I got incentive rides in a sailplane at a small airport near Bellville, IL. It was an absolute blast. We later flew over the St Louis arch in the T-6, then passed over the sailplane airport to say thanks for showing us a great time! The flyover of the arch was really special to me…the last time I was there was with my dad when we drove my Civic up to Colorado from Florida. Definitely some good memories.

We landed in Knoxville, TN for dinner, then continued on another night sortie into Pensacola, FL where I met up with a really good friend of mine from the Academy I haven’t seen since he graduated in ‘08. I stayed at his place until Sunday morning…we left Pensacola, flew along the Gulf Coast (couldn’t see the oil spill yet), flew over New Orleans and stopped in Lake Charles Louisiana for the best seafood I’ve had since living in Florida. We finally came home Sunday evening….man was I tired! It was a fun trip, but each leg was 1.7 hours long. I got 8 hours of sleep every night, but I was still exhausted by the end.

The following week, my instructors were very generous to me and didn’t schedule me for anything until Friday when I flew on my last out and back to Rick Husband International Airport, named after the commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-107. I thought it was a fitting location to fly to as my last navigational sortie in the T-6. I finally felt fairly comfortable flying into strange airfields and navigating in places I’ve never been to before.

This past week, I wasn’t scheduled for any flying the first couple days (Tuesday and Wednesday). Wednesday, I had a midterm feedback session with my Flight Commander and Assistant Flight commander. They said I’m exactly where I need to be, but cautioned me to not let my guard down. There is still plenty of flying left, and 2 more checkrides in my future. I later flew with my Assistant Flight Commander on Thursday, and had a great time. I think my two best flights in the T-6 have been with him. Don’t know why, but they’ve been a ton of fun. We just did a local instrument sortie where we flew to Woodring for 3 approaches, then hung out in the area to fly some basic instrument maneuvers before calling it a day and flying home. Friday was a similar sortie, but instead of flying to Woodring, my IP and I flew all the way down to Wiley Post in Oklahoma City and shot our approaches down there. It was a good thing to see how busy the radios can get in a very congested airspace such as Oklahoma City. Good experience.

Overall I’m pleased with my performance in the airplane during the instrument phase so far, but I feel my general knowledge has more work to do. I’m gonna continue studying this weekend, since I will most likely be having my instrument checkride this week. Even though I had a lot of fun during my navigation flights, I still am leaning towards tracking T-38s and trying to fly either fighters, bombers, or spec ops. But that’s a long way off, and as my flight commanders said, there is a lot of flying between now and track select. Anything could happen, and if I fail one of the two checkrides between now and then, that will pretty much erase any chance I have of flying the T-38. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to go to Test Pilot School, and I know the best way to do that is to become a fighter pilot. But in today’s Air Force, that’s tough to do since there are so few fighter slots left. We’ll see what happens… Until next time…..


Jeremiah 29:11

1 comment:

  1. If there's any chance of flying into North Carolina, let us know!