Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weeks 35 & 36: Bad Weather and Solo

It's been a bit since I wrote a post, so I'll get to it now. The past two weeks have been interesting, if a bit boring. The highlight was definitely being able to solo the T-38, though the experience was somewhat dampened by bad weather and shortened flight times.

I'll start with two weeks ago. Really things have been going pretty smoothly, I flew pretty regularly and they went well. I was just trying to get opted for my initial solo, but with the weather being crappy the conditions weren't right for transition rides. We ended up doing quite a few instrument rides, trying to get T-rides when we could. On Friday I ended up flying a pretty good sortie to get opted to solo. It was actually a bit eerie; the clouds formed a perfect deck at about 7,000 feet, so from the MOA you were looking down at a floor of white clouds. I don't know what it is about the 38, but when you're nose-down on the last part of a loop or something like that, the ground appears pretty dang close to you. Probably because you're going so fast towards it, but even so, you're at least 10,000 feet away from it assuming you stay in the MOA. So yeah, staring down at the clouds while finishing those over-the-top maneuvers was odd. But pretty sweet as well.

Anyway, the weekend went by and I was ready to go for my solo on Monday. Driving into work, the sky appeared like it would be clear, at least to the west, so I was feeling good about my chances to go up. For whatever reason (Oklahoma's weather sucks) a ceiling of clouds rolled in and the weather turned miserable. They still were going to open the pattern, so I would be flying a pattern-only sortie. While slightly bummed, I prepped up, got all bundled up for the impending cold and stepped out to the jet. It's true what they say: when you're going solo, every strange noise or feel of the plane pops out at you, and you get freaked out by things you probably wouldn't notice while dual. The cold while doing ground ops was terrible; another incentive to get them done quickly. As I drove out of the chocks to head over to the runway, I felt bad for the crew chiefs.

Everything went fine on the taxi out, no runway incursions or anything like that. I had to leave my engines running slightly high to get my oil pressure within limits, but everything else went pretty normally. Due to the cold, we've had a lot of compressor stalls recently. This basically means that the normal smooth airflow through an engine gets interrupted for whatever reason. Anyway, you lose half your available thrust if one of these happens, so to preclude them, you have to run-up to MIL power while jamming on the brakes to let the engines stabilize, then bump the throttles up into minimum afterburner (AB). Once you get the indications that your burners lit, you can then smoothly apply max AB and release the brakes.

Another bad thing the cold gets you is a real potential to overspeed the gear or flaps. The plane performs a lot better in the cold, but better performance leads to a faster speed-up, so you've got to be quick with the gear. Everything went fine on my takeoffs and landings though, unlike my T-6 initial solo.

As a solo student, you're not allowed to land with more than 2,500 pounds of fuel onboard. So we immediately go up to the high pattern, which mimics the normal pattern ground track except that it's 1,200 feet higher. So you're not a conflict for anyone while you drive NASCAR-style around the pattern. I did five laps before I could call my gas and descend to do normal patterns and landings.

All the while, more and more weather was rolling in, so by the time I was actually doing landings and such, the visibility was pretty bad. The T-38 ops supervisor ended up calling the runway supervisory unit and me, talking about the weather and me doing a full-stop. They let me have another touch-and-go, and then I full-stopped. Everything went well though, I was just bummed I could only fly a 0.7-hour flight.

The rest of the week I barely flew, despite the weather being clear and a million. Hopefully in this upcoming week I can get some more flights and possibly two more solos before we leave for winter break. We have our transition check rides coming up soon, so we are going to be left with a good amount of flights after break to relocate our good flying form after spending a week and half at home.

That's about it! Pretty uneventful two weeks, though the solo was a big accomplishment. It was really cool to look around at what I was doing and realize that even though I was only flying around the pattern, I was doing so in a fighter-type aircraft and not messing anything up. Pretty cool.

Hope your weeks were good ones, thanks for reading!

~ Dakota

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