While many of you were enjoying last years annual fly -in at Galesburg, I was stealing some of Addison Pemberton’s valuable time for some dual aerobatic instruction. Addison is well known to many of us as the patron saint” of Stearman operators since he is ALWAYS ready and willing to assist with all things Stearman. I ordinarily avoid asking for his time because he is generous to a fault, and usually tied up with donating his services to others, but this time I needed someone with outstanding qualifications. I being a dead foot airline pilot with very limited upside-down time… And as usual, Addison had volunteered.
Did you know that when you foul up a classic maneuver, (like the simple hammerhead), and it doesn’t even come close to resembling the real thing, you get to name the new screw up after yourself? Addison says I have demonstrated some very original “McGraths”, but since I’m so modest, I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, inverted, out of airspeed and ideas is a trademark in my routine. You think that’s scary? The rest of this story will make you recall something that you have heard before, and should hear again before you get a dose of adrenaline like I did on about lesson three.
It’s a crisp, clear day in beautiful Spokane, Washington when we launch in my stock PT-17 to go use the Scareman, I mean Stearman , for what it was designed to do: Teach students the FUNdamentals of flight while being screamed at by an experienced airman/instructor. Just kidding… Addison never stops laughing long enough to scream. He says the biggest risk in performing a loop is the possibility of trimming the tail feathers with the prop. Even I manage to get her over the top without stalling inverted or passing redline, (engine, of course), on the backside. “Yeeee-Haaaa” says Addison… ” okay Bob Hoover, lets see some aileron rolls and remember: Pitch it, PARK it… THEN roll it!” Approximately five minutes later I achieved entry speed for the maneuver in the 220 powered drag-master and commenced pullin’ and parkin’! FULL aileron applied smartly and too much rudder rendered an aileron – slash – snap-at-the-end roll and encouragement from the front seat to “Try her again… and not so much rudder this time!” One or two more tries and Addison is getting bored with the climbin’ and divin’ necessary between attempts, (HIS PT-17 has a 450 and FOUR ailerons!), so he says “Let me show you the fun way to reverse course… its called a split S and boy is it fun!” Knowing that a brief encounter with negative g is approaching, I reach up to snug up my shoulder harness while Ad does his clearing turns. I have the original military style 4-point harness with the over-center latch that holds everything together. Do you see what’s coming yet? When I pull down on the take-up end of the shoulder harness, the slack comes out with ease since the latch has mysteriously come un-done and the lap belts are flopping around on the floor boards! I puckered up so fast, I cut a button hole in my parachute pack! Instead of keying the intercom to scream WAAAIT! I found myself reaching over the windscreen to try and slap Addison on the shoulders to stop the maneuver before it starts. Luckily his many, many hours in the front seat have taught him to use the rear-view mirror constantly while instructing wanna-be Stearman jockeys, so when our eyes meet in the mirror he is laughing hysterically at my vain attempt to get my hands far forward enough to get his attention. When my panic subsides and I tell him what is going on, he says: “yep, happened all the time in the Air Corps… your sleeve caught the belt release when you were putting in the aileron for the rolls we were doing.” Then he recommended carrying a cell phone in one of my flight suit zipper pockets so I could call my significant other on the way down and tell her where to come pick me up…. or I could just dress my sleeves with elastic cuffed gloves like he wears. Well, my airline sized ego was brought safely back to earth in my airplane vs my parachute, and for my penance, it was suggested that I relate this tale to the membership for posterity. Between nervous laughter, we mused about having to relate the incident to the local FSDO if the “professional” pilot had exited his airplane unintentionally. At least the airplane would not have been lost since Ad would have brought her home. It might have taken a few attempts to land while he wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes, but he would have eventually gotten her down. So take heed, intrepid men of the open cockpit! Dress those sleeves!