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.
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.
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
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.
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-
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 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.
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.
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.