T-28 Surprise

No one ever spilled the beans, far as I know.

We’re in a growling bouncing climbout from Navy Whiting Field north of Pensacola, Florida. We left the cloud deck behind back at 5000 feet and now as briefed, level off at 11,000 feet. I pull the 1425 horses back and push the nose over to cruise speed to set up for my first practice landing pattern up here where we have plenty of room. Lots of re-trimming getting the elevators and rudder adjusted from the 120 knot climb to 180 knots cruise.

Accelerating and approaching 180 knots, I grip the 4 cell Mag-Lite sized throttle and pull it back to 24 inches MAP, manifold pressure. Then with my left forefinger I choose the gray PROP knob and confirm it’s the right lever and curl the finger around it and pull it back to 2400 rpm. Then the red MIXTURE lever.

The hulking plane lurches and resettles and the powerful roar bellows down to a gentler but still impressive throbbing rumble. The heading wanders some with the power changes but it is quickly tamed like the rest of the new distractions. So far.
The next thing is very important based on how many times it has been emphasized- adjusting the cowl flaps for the lower power setting and faster speed, closing them to keep those nine five-gallon bucket sized cylinders happy.

It’s my first flight in the powerful North American T-28 Trojan. The beast is very complex, 14 feet tall at the tail, and truly a handful. We have been prepared well and I am ready for the flight, during which I am expected to get most of the stick time. But they have a big surprise in store for those moving up into this league. It is now my turn in the barrel.

You’d think transitioning into the T-28 would go pretty well, after all, it’s just another trainer. And I now have a whopping thirty hours in thirty days in my logbook after Primary Training in the agile, mild mannered T-34 Mentor, of Bonanza heritage.
But the T-28 is a different animal. They have learned, at a high price, that they need to get your attention big time, to impress you what this beast will do if you get behind or don’t treat the plane with respect.

Normally when transitioning into a new trainer, on the first flight you would tour the training area making entries and landings at the outlying airfields. But from this first briefing you know that you’re coming up here to 11, 000 where there is plenty of room for setting up for a normal landing at 10,000 feet. It all sounds fine. Right.
The instructor in back clears the area and says to commence the break pattern and landing approach.

The normal T-28 landing evolution that you think you are about to practice is a very intense overhead break to transition the plane or planes from a high speed entry, to downwind, to final approach with a maximum of control and discipline and a minimum of fuss. The result is a display of what real pilots are made of, while ushering the participants into a select group of pilots that for some good reason must roar into the pattern on other than the standard 45 degree entry.

From the IP (Initial Point) you come screaming toward the airfield at 180 knots for an overhead break to downwind. Over the runway you heroically bank and pull into a 35 to 45 degree turn, trim and reduce power, extend the speed brake, trim, once below gear speed you extend the gear and flaps and trim and add power for 120 knots, level the wings on downwind, re-trim, deftly keeping the altimeter frozen at the target altitude.

Then roaring downwind dirty trimmed at 120 knots with all the ducks in a row you call the base turn, reduce power to seventeen inches and muscle in 30 degrees bank and hold 110 knots around the constant banked Navy style base leg, adjusting to hit the 90 degree position right and ideally roll wings level at about 400 feet. Approaching the runway you flare slowing through 90 knots and adroitly touch down. Nothing to it. Especially when you are in the briefing room holding a model airplane “flying” it around the pattern and landing it on a runway painted on the table.

I think these numbers are close. After today, during all these power and torque and configuration and heading and speed changes your instructor will allow you a hundred feet, 50 feet on either side of the target altitude, about half an inch leeway on either side of the mark on the altimeter. Without proper attention, just flicking the thumb button and extending the speed break is good for a 300 foot altitude excursion.

Trimming and re-trimming is critical. A gag gift that I made for a friend’s graduation turned into a nice sideline. It was an apple sized ceramic orange and white helmet ashtray with a huge mouth and teeth screaming open under the visor with “TRIM!” on the tongue. I probably made fifty of them.

Back to the first T-28 flight-
So there I was - on final glidepath at 10,400 feet, on speed and on heading. In the pattern I got most everything done and he helped a little and all is well with the world, looking good. So, seemingly satisfied with my effort, the instructor says ‘enough’ and calls for a go-around so we can move on to more important maneuvers.

If you happen to look to the side, in your peripheral vision you might see the instructor get a good grip on the grab handles and settle into the seat a little and maybe cock his neck to the side and back like a baseball batter approaching the plate.

But no matter. You can hack a simple waveoff. With stoic confidence, you stick out your Clark Gable chin and add full power with a John Wayne swagger and retract the gear with a Walter Mitty-like flourish...

Per your training you monitor the plane’s acceleration and you confirm the positive rate of climb and you start to raise the flaps. But something funny is going on here Second Lieutenant Mitty…
We’re supposed to be traveling that-away to the right – but why is the nose pointed way over here to the left…sideways… the heading is a little off there…
What’s wrong with this right rudder, you’re pushing hard as you can…
Shouldn’t you be looking out the front of the windscreen… instead of the side panel…

(We right-brained, type-A personalities are so focused on hitting the numbers of the approach that we easily miss or forget the rudder trim that we previously set for 180 knots, not the 100 we are now doing.
At this slow speed, with the huge radial engine and three surfboard-sized prop blades, the ferocious 1425 hp propwash circles around the fuselage and hits the vertical tail, pushing it to the right. Way to the right. The large nose pulls left and blocks the air off the left wing, the wing has no lift. So, as we learned in class, and now remember too late- the wing drops…)

And bang! - everything’s upside down and round and round and there’s dirt and pencils and paperclips and washers flying everywhere… and presto, we have an inverted spin!

Today, as it starts rolling, you get in just enough right stick and rudder to hold it at 90 degrees of roll, not going quite all the way over. You manhandle it back under control and pull out. The instructor is disappointed that you recovered, barely, and he didn’t get to take it. He quickly helps you get back on track. Once stabilized, he takes the plane and you relax a minute and he asks “What’s your altitude?” After you report 7000 or 8000 or whatever, a 3000 foot loss, he asks what your simulated altitude was. Four hundred feet.

Another approach is done with his calming instruction, and on the go-around you apply power deliberately and keep the heading target within 30 or 40 degrees. Not good enough, but not bad for today.

Because of this power delivered through the propeller and circling around the fuselage, and hitting the vertical tail on the left side, there is an interesting structural arrangement on these mighty WWII era prop airplanes. The vertical tails are offset, canted to the side at an angle to allow a cruise situation with neutral rudder and balanced rudder pedals.

In some planes, like those with 2000 hp, the cant angle is very pronounced.

Years ago a non-ez builder mentioned that his kit had been delivered with the vertical tail screwed up – but that he had cut it off and reinstalled it straight…

The T-28 power can get you, as described in the practice landing at 10 K, but just as readily on takeoff. You can’t punch in all the power at once. Normally for takeoff in the T-28 (I think this is close) you start the roll by adding in 36 inches MAP and accelerate to 60 knots. You already have a lot of right-rudder trimmed in and you are pushing in a lot more, but starting out there is not enough wind over the rudder for it to be effective.

By the time you reach 60 knots the tail has enough airflow over it and the rudder is working. Then you can go to the full 48 inches MAP, still using a judicious amount of right rudder. By liftoff speed the initial rudder trim that you put in is about right.

As you accelerate on climbout to 120 knots you can take out a little of the right rudder trim, thanks in part to the slight left bite that the canted vertical tail is making. At 180 knot cruise, after you have trimmed the rudder pressure by feel, you can look down and check the mark and you will normally have cranked the trim wheel to about zero. The tail is offset to provide that balance.

On takeoff, if through some distraction, the full 48 inches MAP is put in all at once, there is not enough airflow or right rudder. You are just along for the ride, and you quickly make a smart left turn and become a very powerful and loud and disturbing orange and white weed eater.

Loops are fun. On the first ones the torque usually turns you at the top so that if you started on a heading of 180 and should end up at the bottom heading 180, you come screaming out at the bottom heading 270, or worse.

In the air, on landing approach at 400 feet and deciding to go around, with the rudder trimmed wrong and not getting rudder in early, adding full power is almost uncontrollable. Well documented over the years. But the first flight “surprise” got your attention. Now you judiciously work in the power while also doing all the rest of that pilot stuff.

As you walk in across the ramp sweatsoaked from your memorable first Trojan flight, several instructors usually walk out and meet your instructor. They ignore you and murmur for a moment and then guffaw and pound each other on the back.
Your in-the-know buddies crowded on the vulture’s row porch lean forward over the rails, silent, but grinning big and about to bust, waiting to hear if your harrowing tale can match theirs.
Until everybody has his turn, nobody spilled the beans.

Today you learned. But tonight you don’t sleep. Tonight you internalize. The lesson of the day becomes yours. From now on, when you need it, it’s your original idea. Many other long days and short nights build your aviation experience. You become.

One day during the de-brief your instructor tells another instructor that on your break pattern you have everything in one bag and the needle nailed at a thousand feet. He says it loud enough for the other student pilots hear. The next day in the break you take a second to look and you see he’s right!

And over the weeks and months your walk to the plane is a little stronger, a little surer. Not bravado any more, but confident assurance of the power and the limits. That’s what you do.

We ez drivers are different. And not just because our propwash flows off without bothering the winglets. Our surprises are different, but they are still there.
So - we spill the beans. Everywhere, to anyone that will listen. We are our own caretakers, our own best motivaviators. We don’t need no stinkin’ surprises.

Good flying-
Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze

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