STARLIFTER

The flight deck of a C-141A is my kind of place. For a short while, I got to call it home, and it every now and then, it calls my soul home for a visit.
 
Today is your lucky day.
 
With a 167′ Foot wingspan and four Jet Engines that can put the Starfighter in the air at max weight, we were the workhorse of the force for a lot of years. 
 
The original A model had no in-flight refueling capability, but that mother would just flat get.
 
The later models were stretched and added in-flight fueling, and as time went by, the instrumentation got far superior to the stuff we had in the early days.
 
On the ground, the old girl is a bit ungainly.
 
Most people don’t realize that on smaller planes, indeed in a LOT of aircraft, you steer it on the ground with the brakes. Hold the right pedal down, and it turns right, etc. You can paddle them for minor adjustments, and increase or decrease the engine power to slow down or move quicker. 
 
The brakes are on the “toe” part of the foot pedals which operate the rudder mounted on the tail.
 
In the Starlifter, we have a small “steering wheel” down at our left knee that turns the nose wheel of the aircraft. 
 
Flying is a study in coordination on a three axis model, and it’s more of a delicate set of adjustments that a pilot does that keeps everything in stable and coordinated flight. 
 
Think about this.
 
If I were to suddenly turn the yoke (the steering wheel) which adjusts the ailerons on the wings and makes the aircraft left or right, if you were a passenger, you’d fall to the left or right. To keep that from happening, when I bank left, I apply right rudder pedal, which keeps the aircraft in coordinated fight, and you don’t go lurching around the cabin.
SMLXL
The flight deck of a C-141A is my kind of place. For a short while, I got to call it home, and it every now and then, it calls my soul home for a visit.
 
Today is your lucky day.
 
With a 167′ Foot wingspan and four Jet Engines that can put the Starfighter in the air at max weight, we were the workhorse of the force for a lot of years. 
 
The original A model had no in-flight refueling capability, but that mother would just flat get.
 
The later models were stretched and added in-flight fueling, and as time went by, the instrumentation got far superior to the stuff we had in the early days.
 
On the ground, the old girl is a bit ungainly.
 
Most people don’t realize that on smaller planes, indeed in a LOT of aircraft, you steer it on the ground with the brakes. Hold the right pedal down, and it turns right, etc. You can paddle them for minor adjustments, and increase or decrease the engine power to slow down or move quicker. 
 
The brakes are on the “toe” part of the foot pedals which operate the rudder mounted on the tail.
 
In the Starlifter, we have a small “steering wheel” down at our left knee that turns the nose wheel of the aircraft. 
 
Flying is a study in coordination on a three axis model, and it’s more of a delicate set of adjustments that a pilot does that keeps everything in stable and coordinated flight. 
 
Think about this.
 
If I were to suddenly turn the yoke (the steering wheel) which adjusts the ailerons on the wings and makes the aircraft left or right, if you were a passenger, you’d fall to the left or right. To keep that from happening, when I bank left, I apply right rudder pedal, which keeps the aircraft in coordinated fight, and you don’t go lurching around the cabin.
 
 
 
 
 
Simple stuff, but don’t do it, and it’s a bumpy ride.
 
Likewise, when I push the yoke forward, the nose of the aircraft points down, and the aircraft begins a descent.
 
Pull the yoke towards you, and you point the nose up, and the plane climbs or adds altitude.
 
Here’s the thing.
 
To keep the wings from stalling, which means they lose lift and the aircraft falls out of the sky, you have to be careful with all of your control inputs.
 
Here’s an example or two.
 
If I push the controls in and begin to descend, the aircraft will pick up speed, and continue to do so.
 
You want a controlled descent, so you adjust your power to the engines, so we control the airspeed. We’ll pull the control back towards us, so our decent isn’t too steep, and overload the airframe and cause a crash.
 
In reverse, as we pull up, we’ll lose airspeed, so we’ll have to add engine power to give that performance back to the pilot. If you pull up to steep or too fast, you’ll stall the wings.
 
Now, when you say “stall” to people, they think the engine dies.
 
In an aircraft, stalling happens at the wings, not the engines, and when that happens, essentially they loose lift, and the aircraft will begin to fall, either left or right depending on its attitude.
 
To control a stall, which really should NOT happen unless you screw up or have mechanical issues when the aircraft falls left, the solution is to apply full power immediately and push on the rudder pedal OPPOSITE of the fall.
 
If the plane falls left, you apply power and push the right pedal and bring the controls to the nose down attitude and then gradually recover.
 
This is a basic maneuver, and it is not complicated.
 
When we talk about a “dirty” aircraft, we mean that we’ve lowered the flaps and then the landing gear.
 
We land and take off into the wind, when at all possible.
 
This arrangement allows for liftoff or rotation, at a lower airspeed, using the wind and it’s forward motion, as an additional lift. If you were at max capacity, and you had a wind speed from the north at 25 mph, and you need 165 mph to take off (we measure in knots), then theoretically, you can take off at 25 MPH slower with that wind speed and additional lift. The max capacity will require some adjustment, but the aircraft manual will tell us that.
 
This is ONE of the reasons it’s important to understand wind conditions both on the ground and winds aloft, which may well be different.
 
That explains why with a tailwind of 25 knots, and aircraft speed of 500 knots, you are actually moving 25 knots faster and you make better time. Into a headwind, you lose time.
 
The flaps, when lowered at different angles, will provide additional lift so that you can reduce the aircraft’s forward speed, and still stay in the air. The lower the angle, the further you can reduce power, and maintain flight.
 
When you lower the landing gear or wheels, you INCREASE drag.
 
Therefore, all things being equal, we will lower the flaps increasing lift, then lower the landing get increasing drag, and then apply power as necessary to maintain our planned altitude and attitude.
 
Sound complicated?
 
These parts are really not.
 
They’re much the same as driving, you do them without a great deal of thought, it becomes rote, and you just do it.
 
There are a lot of other things that are far more complicated in flying, but these are the basics.
 
Pilots are trained to do these things. There are three old sayings that we always hear.
 
1. Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.
 
2. There are old pilots, bold pilots, and there are no old bold pilots.
 
3. Flying is hour after hour of sheer boredom, only interrupted occasionally by a few minutes of sheer terror.
 
All three of these are true on the surface of things.
 
I’ve made some bad landings, but thus far I’ve always walked away. We’ll talk about one of them in my next story.
 
I’m not a bold pilot. It’s not about fear. It’s about not being stupid. It’s about respecting the laws of physics, the aircraft, your crew, your passengers if you have any, and knowing your own limitations, and staying with the operational area of all of the above.
 
Flying, up front, on a large aircraft like this can be boring.
 
It’s like getting in your car and driving 12 hours. And then sleeping and doing it again, and again and again. It gets boring.
 
But where the rubber meets the road is staying alert through it because the moment you get “comfortable,” something will go wrong, and you’d better be there, wide awake, and paying attention, so you can control and/or fix it. A small thing will only get worse and turn into a big problem, and that’s where the crap hits the fan.
 
Terror?
 
If you’re a pilot and you’ve never scared yourself silly, you’re not doing it right.
 
The only way you really learn is to need some bladder protection when you’re training.
 
This is a lot to take in, I know. 
 
If you really want to understand the story to follow, you might want to reread this. Otherwise, it might make total sense.
 
See ya in the air.

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