FIRST FLIGHT SURPRISE

(A Dog of a Checkout)

By Jim Hancock

In October 1956, fresh out of pilot training and sporting a shiny new "brown bar", I began my rated flying career as a T-33 Instrument Instructor Pilot with the 3558th Combat Crew Training Squadron, Advanced Interceptor, at Perrin AFB, Texas. Major Gus Sonderman was the Commander. Two years later, it was time for me to upgrade to the F-86D/L as an All-Weather Interceptor IP. My checkout Instructor Pilot would be Captain A. D. Stanley.

The checkout consisted of ground school, simulator, and flying training. Simulator training focused on aircraft performance, emergency procedures, airborne intercept tactics, emergency procedures, emergency procedures and more emergency procedures! About twenty hours worth, as I recall. Lots of sweat was generated in the "box". Finally, having passed my "sim check" early one morning, I was scheduled for my first flight later that day. It would not be a dual ride. A. D. would chase me.

"Sabre flight of two, cleared for takeoff." Into position, Brakes SET, Power FULL MILITARY, Engine/flight instruments CHECKED, Blood pressure/heart rate MAXED, Light the burner, check nozzles OPEN, EGT, RPM and Fuel flow STABILIZED, Brakes RELEASE and AWAY WE GO! I could almost hear and feel the vacuum tubes in that "state of the art" electronic fuel control as they tried to optimize performance in that big J-47. Outside, I knew, the whole base could hear the roar. What a blast! Man, was I pumped! My IP, A.D. Stanley, rolled three seconds later.

At just about rotate speed (we didn't use Vr in those days) I began to feel and hear power surges accompanied by fuel flow and nozzle fluctuations. (This isn't really happening. I'm still in the simulator - right?) "SABRE LEAD ABORTING!" Throttle CUT-OFF, Speed brakes OUT, Drag chute DEPLOY, Drop tanks JETTISON (?), Brakes AS REQUIRED. Just like the book said. The tanks rolled to the right, fortunately, as A. D. was coming up fast on my left. Naturally, the tanks ignited, resulting in a rather spectacular infield fire which caused the Runway Safety Unit (RSU) crew to evacuate and the airdrome was subsequently closed. My Dog and I came to a screeching halt at about the 2,000 ft. mark of the 8000 foot runway.

Needless to say, there was considerable "Monday morning quarterbacking" about that one. I was feeling a little sheepish, yet I knew I had correctly followed the procedures that had been drilled into my head. I must have related the incident a dozen times; to A. D., to Flying Safety, to Maintenance, (they did confirm a fuel control malfunction), my Squadron CO, Group CO, Wing CO, and Lord knows who else. However, all concurred that I had responded properly to the situation, but maybe I was a little too aggressive. Had I more experience in the jet, I probably wouldn't have "punched" the tanks off? Twenty-twenty hind sight. It's great!

The next morning A. D. and I finally accomplished my initial checkout flight and I went on to instruct in the "Dog" for another two years. Eventually our squadron converted to the F-102 and guess who checked me out in the "Deuce"? A. D., of course. This transition went as advertised, but, A. D. did cut me a little slack when he chased my first flight. Six seconds this time.


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