Aerobatic Awesomeness

Well, it’s done! I have a spin endorsement in my logbook. If you’ve been following along, you know I am working on my CFI certificate, which requires a spin endorsement in the candidates logbook. I finally decided it was time. I also decided to do it a little differently. No, not inverted! It was the aircraft on which I decided that was a little less than ordinary. Spin Endorsement in a T-34 Mentor in Santa Fe.

A Horse of a Different Color

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the need to get a spin endorsement. I was also thinking about getting out of town. I hadn’t taken any vacation time this year. Then I thought, the most efficient way was to do both. In a matter of seconds, the Google-Fu led me to a web page for Jet Warbird Training Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had looked at their website before and marked it in my mind as a must-do bucket list item. However, what I was seeing on this particular day was a page about their T-34 Mentor. I didn’t know they had a T-34, I thought. This looks like just the right thing for my spin endorsement. After all, it’s aerobatic, it’s got warbird flavor — the works. I called proprietor, Larry Salganek the next day, discussed what I was looking to do, and we set a date. The die was cast.

The Land of Enchantment

I visited the Santa Fe, New Mexico a few years ago. Any place that has mountains is pretty high on my list of places I would most like to be. So, this would allow for the spin endorsement plus a couple days of hiking and exploring the dry air of Santa Fe and the surrounding area. Despite adjustments for Coronavirus, my experience in Santa Fe was no less enchanted than what I remembered before.

Even the Caterpillars are Turquoise

My wife and I take regular vacations, separately. That’s just what we do. We’ve been doing that for several years actually. As it turns out, I’ve noticed some consistent irregularities when I go away solo. First, I completely change my eating habits. Not, what I eat, but rather when I eat. I tend to eat breakfast, and then a late lunch or a relatively early large dinner. On top of that, because I’m a hiking maniac, my calorie burn goes up astronomically. Guess what, I generally feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. This trip was especially cathartic. The Airbnb I chose was fairly spartan. There was a TV with streaming, but it didn’t really seem to want to connect to the internet and I hadn’t brought my iPad. So, I decided it would be a reprieve from the incessant bombardment of all those internet things. So it was, and that was a really nice reset for the brain.

Interestingly colored Crawling Thing in New Mexico
Interestingly-colored Crawling Thing in New Mexico

A Bit of Light Reading

My first night, the night before my early morning flight, I decided it would be a good idea to read a little more about the T-34 Mentor. I found a military manual on my iPhone and set about doing just that. Over the preceding days, I had been peeking at the cockpit layout, and doing a bit of chair flying. After all, this would be my first time in this aircraft. I didn’t really want to be fumbling around thinking, where in hell are are the headlights and how do you turn on the windshield wipers. I must say, doing some chair flying goes a long way to aiding familiarity with a new cockpit layout or unfamiliar maneuver. I also looked at the Class D airport and surrounding area. The finished off my reading stint with another look over the Airplane Flying Handbook section on spins. The next morning I started early and arrived at the Jet Warbird Training Center office, prepared, calm, and ready to hash out an instructional level of discussion about stalls and spins. Que the Kenny Loggins….

It Works Both Ways…

The instructor and I covered all the hairy-legged whatnot regarding stalls and spins, which way it’s going, which way it ain’t, why, what to do about it, and so forth. I asked about stick neutral versus stick forward in recovery. That’s when Larry mentioned crossover spins. What? Turns out, if you jam the stick forward aggressively in some aircraft, think well beyond neutral early in the stall, the spin inverts. Gah! That means, you’re recovery inputs are now pro-spin inputs due to the cross over. Ah – ha – ha – ha – ha — wow, what? Oh, that’s sounds neato. Neutral, that’s the ticket — unless it isn’t. Of course, these things are airplane dependant, so see your fantastic POH for specifics. You’ll likely find parameters regarding weight, balance, and fuel load with regards to spins and spin recovery.

Airplane Flying Handbook, Spins
Airplane Flying Handbook, Spins

Flying the T-34 Mentor

My chair flying paid off nicely. I was never lost in the cockpit of he Mentor. In fact, I found the plane to fit like a glove. While the density altitude in the August air of Santa Fe is rather high, we got going early and with a with a bit of patience ascended to our target altitude of 10,500 MSL. This level of flight instruction is much like what i’ve seen from friends who are former military pilots. Thoroughly brief the flight, fly what you briefed, and if things go wonky, knock it off. Then debrief with intent. As with most things you only know conceptually, the awesome rush of sensory input is pretty wild. We began with some no-frills stalls. The T-34 doesn’t seem to have any weird proclivities in this area.

Sitting in the T-34 Mentor, Santa Fe Regional Airport

After a couple of those, Larry demonstrated the first spin. Then I took my turn. Wow! That happens really quickly. However, I was surprised by my presence of mind in counting and maintain orientation. We went on to do several more. When he was satisfied I had a handle on it, he put the plane in a spin and then transferred the controls to me for recovery. That makes sense, after all, this endorsement is a requirement for CFI applicants. Meaning, your student may have caused the spin, but you’ll probably be initiating the recovery. Once he was ensured I had the juice to command a corkscrewing aircraft back into normal flight, we added a few aileron rolls as the icing on top. Everything about the T-34 seemed very intuitive. I did one touch-n-go, and then a full stop landing. Even the pattern, sight picture, sink rate, flare and touchdown were kind of how my imagination always wants a plane to fly. You know what I mean, right? Some aircraft seem designed to especially favor one regime of flight, like power on. When you pull the power back they may start to feel like they are trying to weasel their way out of flying and you have to pitch, and trim, and flap, and adjust and throttle-jockey to make it act right all the way around the pattern. While everything in aviation, and all of life is a trade off, the T-34 seems to have been engineered to be happy no matter the throttle setting, flap position, gear out, upside down, spinning, etc. Certainly, the list of aircraft I have yet to experience is long, but this one put a big smile on my face. Even on the ground. While taxiing, some aircraft are like pushing a shopping cart through jello on an ice rink, naked, on fire, complete with that damn wobbly wheel. Perhaps to the more experienced this praise is beyond the pale. Alas, I am here now, yet it is quite possible I might pull back from my stance in some future revelation birthed on new experience. Upon having arrived at such a place, I will gladly do just that. Until then, I’m still enchanted — smiling.

AirTime Podcast E4: Show Notes

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