There I was…My Head Mashed against the Canopy

In each of the “There I Was…” essays, it is usually necessary to spend a few words providing some technical background to explain what happened and why. This flight also involves the T-37 described in “There I was…My First Jet Flight.”

But first, an aside about our class; we had several “exchange” students in our class. In addition to several foreign pilot trainees, there were two U.S. Marine students. One was a Captain with prior service, the other, Lt. Bender, was a fresh second lieutenant like the rest of us. Still, I have to admit, the Marines always had an air of being super squared away military officers. Those two used more starch in their uniforms than the rest of us combined. Now, on to today’s lesson.


In describing the ejection seat system, I omitted one item. Have you ever been in your car, wearing your seat belt, and quickly reach for something, only to have the shoulder harness lock and stop you from reaching? Similarly, during the ejection sequence, the pilot’s shoulder harness locks, holding the pilot firmly against the seat back for the proper ejection position.

It is often necessary, however, to reach around the cockpit to operate certain controls, or just to look around and get a good view of the airspace around you. So the shoulder harness, like that in a car, allows good freedom of movement during normal operations. The pilot has the option of locking the shoulder harness if he anticipates flight conditions where full restraint is desired.

The T-37 was the first jet aircraft future Air Force pilots would fly (in the 1970s)

The T-37 was the first jet aircraft future Air Force pilots would fly (in the 1970s)

Flight instruction and learning was/is typically a four-step process. (1) Prior to a flight, read the training syllabus on the requirements for that lesson and (2) go over the finer points of the lesson with the instructor. (3) In flight observe the instructor as he demonstrates the new maneuver or skill, and (4) practice the skill. Practice includes instructor critique and more practice until the skill is satisfactorily demonstrated.

On this day, my lesson included inverted flight in the T-37. The aircraft manual (we called it the “Dash-1”) had a warning note about inverted flight that read something like: “Inverted flight should not be continued for more than 30 seconds. The engine oil lubrication system is a gravity-feed system and oil will not continue to flow to the engine after 30 seconds in a zero or negative gravity situations and can cause engine damage or failure.” That made an impression.

My instructor also pointed to a reminder note in the training syllabus: “Before performing inverted flight, the pilot should lock his shoulder harness.” That apparently did not make an impression.

Of course, we were going to practice other maneuvers, and, as I recall, we were going to return to the airport for more takeoffs and landings—I was approaching my first jet solo, so landing proficiency was the immediate focus of my training.

The Flight

We departed the air base and were soon in our assigned practice area. My instructor had me demonstrate several maneuvers, checking my procedures and performance. Satisfied, he said it was time to move on to the inverted flight demonstration, and he asked, “Are you ready?”
In my usual enthusiastic response to anything, I responded “Yes, Sir.”

He began the demonstration: clearing turns to make sure there were no other aircraft in the area, proper airspeed, slightly raise the nose, stick to the left to roll to the left, a touch of left rudder to make a smooth roll, and presto, we were upside down.

And there I was…lying in a ball, my helmet and shoulders mashed against the inside of the upside-down canopy, staring somewhat askew at the sandy brown high Texas plains directly below.

There was a chuckle on the intercom in my helmet. “Guess you weren’t really ready, Lieutenant,” as he continued the roll back to right-side-up, and I plopped back into my seat. “Would you like to try that again?”

“Yes, Sir,” I said, somewhat less enthusiastically as I reached down and locked the shoulder harness.

Thank goodness for the demonstration-then-practice aspect of flight training.

And the Not-So-Fun Part

Back in the flight room, the first thing I heard was “Did he get you” referring to catching me with my harness not locked. It seems there were several wagers floating around as to whether I would remember to lock the harness. What really annoyed me the most; it was Lt. Bender who was collecting on the bets! My only consolation is that I was not the only one, and rumor had it that Bender had done the same thing the previous day.

Table of Contents
“There I was…My Head Mashed against the Canopy” provided me with an unusual perspective of the high plains of Texas around Lubbock.

About Update
My adventures (and misadventures) in the T-37 continue “There I was…My Head Mashed against the Canopy”.

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3 Responses to There I was…My Head Mashed against the Canopy

  1. Pingback: Renaissance Musings Table of Contents | Renaissance Musings

  2. Dan E Maloy says:

    I used to be a T-37 IP and an FCF (Functional Check Flight) IP. One of my jobs was to certify the Tweets safe for flight after extended or intensive maintenance. The 30-second inverted flight restriction was not due to oil supply, as you said in your story, it was actually due to fuel. The Tweet had a small chamber inside the fuel system, basically a small chamber inside a larger chamber. Inside the small chamber was fuel that fed 2 flexible hoses about 1″ in diameter. On the end of each 1″ hose was a heavy metal tip with a hole in each tip. The purpose of the heavy metal end was that, if you pushed negative G’s, the end of the fuel pickup hose would “follow the fuel”. If you pushed and held negative G’s the fuel would be forced to the “top” of the small fuel reservoir (which would now be inverted/closer to the ground). Due to the weighted end of the fuel pick-up hoses you’d be able to still feed the engines with fuel regardless of negative G’s. So why the 30 second restriction? Because the small chamber only held about 30 seconds of fuel. Flying in a negative G attitude for more than 30 seconds would exhaust the small chamber’s fuel supply and you’d flame out both engines. Our FCF profile required us to hold exactly -1G for 25 seconds and then roll out. I gotta tell you: even only ONE negative G held for that long get’s mighty uncomfortable and you can bet that I REALLY tightened my lap belt before I did it each time! 🙂 Cheers – ‘Twister’

    • merlinjr01 says:

      Twister, Thank you for the correction. The fact that more than 30 seconds was not good stuck in my mind–perhaps for the wrong reason but with the proper outcome. Agreed, inverted was not comfortable for any length of time.

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