Regular readers know that AVweb's John Deakin is active in the warbird community — a master at flying big radial-engine transports like the Lockheed Constellation and C-46 Commando. Recently, however, John had the opportunity to fly a very different breed of warbird: the Grumman F8F Bearcat. Deak explains that when you take an 8,000-pound airframe and add a 2,200-hp radial engine, what you get is an elevated pulse rate.
February 11, 2001
|About the Author ...
John Deakin is a 35,000-hour pilot who worked his way up the aviation food chain
via charter, corporate, and cargo flying; spent five years in Southeast Asia
with Air America; 33 years with Japan Airlines, mostly as a 747 captain; and
now flies the Gulfstream IV for a West Coast operator.
He also flies his own
V35 Bonanza (N1BE) and is very active in the warbird and vintage aircraft
scene, flying the C-46, M-404, DC-3, F8F Bearcat, Constellation, B-29, and
others. He is also a National Designated Pilot Examiner (NDPER), able to give
type ratings and check rides on 43 different aircraft types.
about a muscle machine! It looks the part, and it flies like it looks.
I really hate to brag (you do believe that, right?), but I'm having so much
fun with this beast, I just have to tell you about it.
The Grumman (aka "Grumman Iron Works") F8F Bearcat was first
delivered in 1944, and was built to meet the Navy's desire for aircraft
carrier protection. The idea was to launch, get up high quickly, and pounce
upon the enemy at short range. It's essentially the superb Pratt & Whitney
R-2800 engine, with just enough "stuff" hooked to it to make it fly.
This 2200 HP version of the engine weighs about 3,000 pounds, and the whole
airplane without armament, empty, is about 7,000 pounds. Max gross is 10,400,
but since the only "load" we can carry is fuel and one pilot, we
never see more than 8,000 pounds, max. Only about 1,200 Bearcats were built,
and only about half a dozen of them remain in flying condition today.
Gary Barber in Bearcat, Steve Barber in Hellcat. (Click photo for
Unfortunately, they came along too late for WW II, and by the time the
Korean hostilities broke out, jets made the F8F obsolete.
Bearcat prices today start at about two million dollars, if you can find
one for sale at all. They don't change hands often.
By modern standards, where the kerosene burning screechers have a better
than 1:1 thrust-to-weight ratio and can accelerate in the vertical, the
Bearcat may seem a little tame by comparison. But a modified Bearcat still
holds the piston-powered world record for its class for time to climb. That
record is 96 seconds, from brake release at sea level to 10,000'. The Bear
that I have the honor of flying is fairly "stock," but it's still a
pretty impressive airplane when you lay the whip to it.
Deakin with Bearcat in 1961.
Oddly enough, I had flown the Bearcat before, long ago. A local pilot named
Sal Martino owned one briefly at the Sarasota-Bradenton (Florida) airport
where I grew up. For reasons I never fully understood, he let me fly it one
day in 1961, in return for simply filling the tank (I remember that I had to
borrow the money to do that). I had been flying Mustangs, and perhaps he had
grown tired of hearing how much fun they were, and wanted to give me a taste
of a real airplane. Of course, Bearcats were both more plentiful and much
cheaper then, probably selling for well under $10,000 in flyable condition.
(Mustangs could be had for under $6,000, and we were buying North American
B-25s for $10,000, in flying condition!)
For years, there have been arguments over the performance of the Mustang
vs. the Bearcat, with both competing in the Reno races. I can't answer the
question on the highly modified airplanes, but a stock Bearcat will easily
beat a stock Mustang, without even breathing hard. Mustang pilots grit their
teeth when trying to fly formation with the Bear, they have to constantly
whine, "Hey, gimme a couple inches, willya?" (Meaning, "Reduce
your manifold pressure a bit, you're leaving me behind!")
I've been active in the Southern California Wing of the Confederate Air
Force for some time, but never dreamed I'd be invited or allowed to the fly
the Bear, which is owned by the CAF, and assigned to the "SoCal"
Wing. By CAF rules, only five pilots are assigned at any one time. When a
vacancy occurred, and I was invited to join that group, I asked only,
"Whom do I have to kill?"
N7825C is an F8F-2 airplane with an engine from an F8F-1, the R-2800-34W
engine. The airplane and the engine are in superb condition. It is flown
often, attending airshows almost every weekend during the season, and even
staying busy in the off-season with photo shoots, flybys, etc. Any of us can
go fly it anytime for proficiency, just paying for the gas and oil (at about
$150 per hour). One member of the group, Mike O'Hearn, does a very nice
aerobatic show routine in it, and that's very popular at shows, too.
Bearcat propeller hub. (Click photo for larger image.)
Stock Bearcats have the fairly unusual AeroProducts hydraulic prop, with
its own reservoir of hydraulic fluid in a small drum that is attached to the
rear of the prop hub, rotating with the prop. All the prop control mechanism
(governor) is in that assembly, also turning with the prop. Parts for it are
getting very scarce, and we may be forced to someday convert to something
(Most of the big radials use engine oil for prop control. There is usually
a prop governor mounted on the engine to boost normal oil pressure and to port
oil to and from the prop dome for control. The AeroProducts prop is fine when
it works, but the Hamilton Standard installations are much more reliable, in
my opinion, and parts are still easy to find.)
Early Bearcats had four .50-caliber machine guns (half-inch diameter
bullets), two in each wing, and the later models replaced those with the 20 mm
cannons. (20 mm is about 0.79 inches, a much larger projectile!) No missiles,
no radar, just a nasty, mean little street fighter with an attitude and
awesome performance. All the armament and most of the protective armor has
been removed from 25C, of course, leaving large bays in the wing for spare
oil, cleaning supplies, and luggage.
With a capacity of only 169.7 gallons, it is a very short-range bird,
indeed. (Standard fuel on the F8F was not much better at 185 gallons, and 25C
is even shorter legged.) If all possible fuel-saving measures are taken (250
knots IAS at very low power), you had better be on final approach with landing
assured within two hours!
Bearcat fuel system diagram. (Click diagram for larger image.)
All the fuel is in one big tank in the fuselage, right behind the pilot.
None at all in the wings, there simply isn't room. It is possible to mount a
150-gallon drop tank on the fuselage centerline, and 100-gallon tanks on the
hardpoint on each wing.
We actually have one of the centerline tanks that we could use, but the FAA
takes a dim view of mounting anything on any civilian airplane that can be
dropped. If we do ever use it, it must be installed so that it cannot be
dropped. Most of us are just a little bit squeamish about having 150 gallons
of fuel hangin' down there, hard-mounted. Why? Well, think about an engine
failure on takeoff, right after gear retraction. The immediate belly landing
would destroy that tank, fuel would go all over the place, and there would be
plenty of sparks to ignite it. No thanks, I'll take the extra fuel stops.
Besides, I fit the cockpit like the cork in a wine bottle, the parachute is
fairly hard, and about two hours is my max limit in the little fighter,
anyway. Funny, I don't remember that cockpit being so small when I was 21, and
The engine is rated for the old 100/130 octane fuel, no longer available,
but 100LL is fully equivalent, and we operate the engine at full rated power
as recommended for the civilian version of this engine. 50 inches of manifold
pressure, 2800 RPM. Much higher power settings were approved for military
flying, but they didn't care much about TBO in the middle of a dogfight. (By
very wise CAF regulation, all takeoffs are made at full rated HP in all CAF
aircraft, all engines. Some foolish operators persist in "babying"
their engines by using lesser power settings, which are often actually harmful
to the engine, and far less safe from a flying standpoint.)
The airplane is a little short on oil, too, holding only 18 gallons. Most
R-2800 engines in other airplanes have 30 to 50-gallon tanks, but once again,
weight ruled the design. That's not as bad as it sounds, the ratio of oil to
fuel is within the normal range. In the Bear, 15 gallons are required for
takeoff, with an ominous warning in the manual about carrier launches with
less than 13 gallons unporting the oil pickup. We service the airplane after
all flights, no matter how short. You never know when there will be some
problem that might take some time to sort out, and I'd feel very foolish being
"up here, wishing I was down there," short on fuel after foregoing a
fill up from the previous flight.
Wing fold latch. (Click photo for larger image.)
The wings are short and stubby, with just enough room for the guns, the
landing gear, flaps, and some control cables. The outermost six feet fold
manually, reducing the wingspan from 35.5 feet to 23 feet for ease of
maneuvering on a carrier.
At one time, Grumman experimented with a rather novel concept. The tips
were intentionally weakened at the folding point so as to fail under high
loads, acting as a protective device, leaving much shorter, stronger wings.
But in solving a non-existent problem, Grumman created another. They found
through experience that just one tip might come off under load, leaving the
other intact, thereby rendering the airplane unflyable. (Guess how they found
that out?) Piling one poor solution on top of another, they then experimented
with explosive bolts, so that the pilot could, in theory, blow the remaining
For some reason, this was not a popular feature with the test pilots, and
the structure was returned to full strength, without the explosives. Good
move, Grumman. To fold the tips, a small hatch is opened underneath the wing
at the joint, and a mechanical latch is manually unlocked.
Then a round steel pry bar is inserted in a hole, and the tip is simply
levered up by hand. The process is reversed to extend them again. Simple, and
effective. It's also a very good item to check on the preflight walkaround!
Mercifully, that little hatch cover cannot be closed unless the wing is fully
Some racing Bearcats (e.g., "RareBear") have had their wings
clipped, making them "really interesting" to fly, or so I hear. (I'd
still love to fly RareBear, though.)
(Click photos for larger images.)
Oil cooler doors.
The gear and flaps are hydraulically actuated, and have some interesting
features. The 15-foot prop is so big, and the airplane so short, the gear had
to be made in size "extra-long." This presented an interesting
design challenge, in that the gear must be mounted far enough out on the wing
to allow the gear to swing inwards. The further out on the wing the gear is
mounted, the more structure is required, and more structure means more weight.
Grumman came up with an interesting design where the gear leg pivots about a
foot down from the wing, with the top moving outwards, and the wheel swinging
up and in.
The gear has a very low speed limit of 140 knots, operating or extended,
and the prop is so large that it would contact the runway when the airplane is
somewhere around the level attitude. These two factors force a three-point (or
at least a very tail-low) takeoff and immediate gear retraction, or the limit
speed will be exceeded. All landings are three-point by policy, or very
tail-low to provide more distance between the prop tips and the concrete.
The flaps have a automatic blowback feature, so the lever can be placed in
the full-down position at any speed without harm, as a normal operation. As
the airplane slows, more and more flaps come out. Nice.
A couple of minor systems are hydraulic. There are two oil shutter doors,
open for oil cooling on the ground, usually closed in flight, with a speed
limit of 240 knots.
There are also "Dive Recovery Flaps," very small flaps on the
belly. Apparently at very high speeds, the elevators get very stiff and heavy,
and Mach effects prevent recovery from the dive. Extending these little flaps
will give just enough pitch up, and add just enough control to break the dive.
We don't go there, of course, remaining below 350 knots at all times. 300 is
even better, as a limit.
Brakes are also hydraulic, but they are the same type so common in cars and
general aviation airplanes, just individual master cylinders driving phenolic
pucks against a steel disk. Bearcat pilots must be very familiar with the
procedure to bleed the brakes.
(Click photos for larger images.)
Dive recovery flap.
Left to right: Deakin, Gary Barber, Ken Kramer (our crew chief,
easily the most important man in the picture!), Steve Barber
Camarillo, Calif., 2001.
No dual control, or even two-seat Bearcat was ever made, meaning the first
flight is always solo. The contrast between the checkout "then" and
the checkout "now" is quite amusing. In years gone by, all military
pilots started out in basic flight training in the North American AT-6 (the
Navy called it the "SNJ") and many of those pilots had instructed in
it from the back seat. All had flown more airplanes with tailwheels than those
with those cute little training wheels on the front end, and all this was
excellent preparation for the fighters of the day. Quite often, the
"checkout" was "There's a Bearcat, go fly it." My own
early experience was along those same lines, but in the civilian world. The
Sarasota Bradenton airport was an interesting one, with many old warbirds, and
it was also the home of Trans-Florida Aviation, manufacturer of the
"Cavalier 2000." This was a highly modified P-51, converted for
"executive" use, with two seats, leather interiors, autopilots, and
high-end airline radio equipment. Trans-Florida also built a number of dual
control Mustangs, some of which are still flying today. At one time or
another, I had managed to get my hands on most of the oddball airplanes around
that airport, so I wasn't entirely unprepared for a Bearcat flight. The owner
gave me a 10-minute cockpit briefing, and away I went, blissfully unaware of
some of the pitfalls and risks, and totally unaware of my incredible good
fortune. It seemed perfectly normal, at the time. In 1961, the historical
significance of the WW II aircraft had not become obvious.
Boy, have things changed! The FAA decided long ago that there would be a
LOT more formality involved, and a system of "LOAs" (Letters of
Authority) was put in place, to cover all experimental aircraft with 800 HP or
more and a Vne (never-exceed speed) of more than 250 knots. In the early days
of this program, I think there was some language on "grandfather
rights," for those who had been flying them, but now LOAs are required
The Confederate Air Force is also understandably concerned about who gets
into these priceless old aircraft, and have even more stringent requirements.
Once Headquarters approves a pilot in principle, a CAF-approved training
program must be submitted to the FAA. The FAA then reviews the program, and
issues a "Temporary Training LOA," authorizing specific flights, at
a specific location, with very strict guidelines.
Basically, this "program" required a series of training flights
in the AT-6/SNJ, with me flying from the back seat. Since I was already a CAF-rated
instructor in the airplane, this was no big deal. Then two check rides were
required in the back seat of the T-6, each given by the holder of an "LOOA"
(Letter of Operational Authority). This is very similar to the CFI, in that
the LOOA "recommends" the issuance of the LOA, and the FAA then
issues it, sometimes requiring a check ride. Check rides in single-seat
aircraft are a bit problematic, so if the FAA judges one is needed, the check
pilot can either sit by the runway and watch, or fly along in another
airplane, directing the ride. If that sounds bizarre and confusing, try going
through the process!
Steve Barber is one of the five Bearcat pilots, holds the
"Unlimited" LOA, also the LOOA for the Bearcat, and is also a check
pilot in the T-6, so he signed off the first check ride after harassing me for
a couple hours in the airplane. For the other, I took the T-6 down to Ramona
CA, where the legendary Chuck Hall lives. Chuck is also an LOOA holder
(unlimited LOOA, in fact), in addition to being a long-time Reno race pilot,
test pilot, owner of a pristine Mustang, and owner of "Chuck Hall
Aviation," the FBO there. Chuck is an old friend, and the check ride with
him must have been ok, because he gave me the final green light to fly the
All that was submitted to the FAA, and in due time, the "Training
LOA" was issued. The conditions were to remain within 25 miles of
Camarillo, acquire at least three hours of flight time, and at least three
landings. That's when the real fun started!
One must first board the aircraft properly, of course. The Navy does
everything backwards, and this means that one clambers up the right side. It's
a long stretch even for my long legs, with a kick-in footstep for the left
foot, then the right foot can reach the wingwalk. The handhold is also a
fold-in type, at pretty well at the highest point I can reach. I guess the
Navy likes tall skinny guys, and I'm only half-qualified, there.
Fueling is accomplished on the right side, too. A single filler is just
forward and below the cockpit, and a bit tricky to use. Any attempt to fill it
too quickly will result in a slow buildup of air pressure in the tank, and
suddenly a couple of gallons of 100LL will blast back at the unfortunate
pilot. Smoking is not recommended while refueling.
Servicing points. (Click diagram for larger image.)
Oil is checked on top of the engine, right side, but to check the hydraulic
fluid, one must climb down, walk around the left side, and crawl back up
again, for that hatch is just forward of the cockpit, high. Bearcat pilots get
a lot of exercise, climbing up and down. For those who tend to forget things,
it's even worse. "Oops, forgot my helmet. Ooops, forgot my charts,"
While up on the wings, pilots must check that the gun bay covers on top of
the wing are fastened properly. If one popped up, it would make a very
effective spoiler, and I don't think I'd like the results.
Walk around after that is pretty conventional, pulling off the external
control locks, checking that the folding wingtips are locked in the extended
position, checking brake wear, no leaks, no damage, etc. We usually pull the
prop through a couple turns. Some feel this is necessary to detect a hydraulic
lock, but I disagree with that concept, myself. It is a useful chore on this
airplane though, because quite often a fair quantity of oil will puke out of
the engine and drip on the ground. The EPA might not like that, but any oil
thus eliminated is that much less oil that will spray all over the airplane
during the start. Since junior Bearcat pilots are expected to wipe off the
airplane after they fly it, a little effort pulling the prop through a few
times is well spent. It is also just about all one person can handle, this
isn't your average engine! The compression ratio may not be all that high
(about 8:1), but you're always compressing three or more cylinders at any
(Click photos for larger images.)
Bearcat 25C and Deakin.
The heart rate goes up a bit, as you finally mount. But that goes away when
you realize you forgot to get the parachute. Back down off the wing, into the
hangar, and back up on the airplane, all to the cheers and jeers of the
There are ALWAYS onlookers, most of whom don't miss a thing. "Hey
John? You forget to open the oil coolers after that second landing..."
Strapping in is a lot of fun. Just picture that cork in the bottle, trying
to put a parachute on, then buckle up two shoulder straps and two big old
stiff military seat belts. With a little practice, it can be done smoothly,
with a minimum of sweating and swearing. Then the helmet
HELMET? Oh man, it's locked in my car.
Mercifully, I keep my Nomex gloves inside the helmet, or I might have
forgotten them and had to repeat the process again. Maybe there's a reason
for the age-60 rule?
Most pilots of these aircraft wear full Nomex (green) jump suits and gloves
(one of us has been called "The Great Green Pumpkin"), Kevlar
helmets, and paratrooper boots for protection from fire, or from from
windblast in the event of a bailout. These are military airplanes, not
designed as well for safety as modern airplanes, and bad things can and do
happen. It's best to be well-prepared. The downside is that Nomex isn't the
coolest costume around, most airshows occur in the summer, and temperatures
can easily go to 160 degrees in these cockpits. There is no insulation at all
at the firewall, which is all that separates 2,200 heated horsepower and the
The Bearcat pilot is very well advised to close the canopy before starting,
for two big reasons. The smoke that belches out of all radials on startup is
oil smoke, and will royally anoint everything behind the stacks, including the
pilot in an open cockpit. The other reason is much more serious, a "stack
fire." If the pilot primes a bit too vigorously, especially with a hot
engine, raw fuel will find its way into the exhaust manifold, ignite, and
cause a spectacular fire out the exhaust pipes. While not a good thing, it's
reasonably harmless, provided the pilot keeps his head, keeps a'crankin', gets
the engine started, and blows the fire out. The paint may get a little
scorched when this happens, but if it gets out of hand, the airplane can be
lost. If the canopy is closed, the fire will blow harmlessly past. If it's
open, the best that will happen is singed eyebrows. Once the engine is running
well, the canopy may be opened again, for ventilation.
First start of Bearcat. (Click photo for larger image.)
The start itself is by the conventional radial method, electric fuel boost
pump on, prime only, mixture fully cut off ("Idle Cutoff"). The prop
turns very slowly on the starter, and will often halt momentarily when the
spark lights off one or more jugs. But eventually everything comes together,
and the engine snorts to life. Ahhh, that's a lovely sound, 18 big jugs all
making noise! That sound is probably half the attraction, at airshows. As soon
as the engine fires, the electric prime is held on continuously, still with
the mixture in idle cutoff until the engine stabilizes at about 800 RPM, and
the oil pressure is up to normal. Only then is the mixture advanced to
"Auto Rich." The mixture coming from the carburetor, combined with
the fuel from the primer, is much too rich, so the engine will promptly flood
and start to die. That's the signal to the pilot to let go of the primer, and
the engine should then run normally. Some engines will require another tweak
or three on the prime.
Once the engine is running, the boost is switched off to check the
engine-driven pump, the flaps are cycled to check the hydraulic system, and
the airplane is ready to taxi. The tailwheel is a tiny, solid wheel, and very
hard, so the pilot feels every crack in the concrete, every bit of gravel,
clear up his spine. Control with the rudder is good, only very light taps on
the brakes are needed to maneuver on the taxiway. The tailwheel is either
completely free-swiveling, or locked straight. Taxi visibility is very good
for a tailwheel fighter, but the pilot cannot see straight ahead, making
constant S turns a necessity.
Runup is pretty standard for the big radials, a quick prop check at 1700
RPM, then the power is advanced to field barometric pressure (about 30 inches
at sea level, about 25 inches at Denver, for example). This should produce
2200 RPM, as a power check. Mags are also checked at that power, much higher
than the normal GA airplane.
This power check is attention-getter for the new Bearcat pilot. It's
equivalent to cruise power, and the thought is, "Geez, if this thing
feels like this now, what's it gonna feel like on takeoff?" Only a tiny
bit more power, and the brakes will not hold the airplane back, the tires will
simply skid on dry pavement.
Runup complete, the final checklist is run. Unlike many fighters, no trim
is preset, or needed. Grumman learned many lessons from the earlier aircraft,
and got a wonderful harmony of engine offset and surface deflection, so that
very little yaw is evident on the takeoff roll. Not allowing the tail up
helps, there is no gyroscopic effect.
(Common practice in the Mustang is to preset two units of right rudder
trim, but contrary to popular belief, this is not for control on the takeoff
roll, it is simply a preset trim for the after-takeoff climb. In actual fact,
it REDUCES the available rudder control when full rudder is applied.)
Pilot's handbook. (Click photo for larger image.)
While taking the runway, the canopy is closed, the electric cowl flaps are
closed down to a bit less than half, the transponder, boost pump, and strobes
are turned on, and after the airplane is aligned with the runway, the
tailwheel is locked, and it's time for the games to begin.
Many will hold the brakes and push the power up to about 30 inches for a
final quick engine check, then the brakes are released, and "more
power" is added. Acceleration is "brisk," to say the least.
While there is little yaw to the left, the massive torque does jam the left
wing down very hard, and instinctively, I use full right aileron to counteract
it. I wonder if we use more left tires than right?
Very few pilots, new to the airplane, will even be able to get full power
on before liftoff, because things happen VERY fast. It feels like the throttle
travels about three feet (it's maybe 8 inches), and once it's about half
throttle, it feels like more than enough, more power than anyone would ever
want. A quick glance at the manifold pressure might show a mere 35 inches, or
maybe 40. That "10 more inches" is a LOT of additional power, and
the fleeting thought for many will be, "Gee, do I really want to do
this?" Then, "Ooops, too late, we're already 100 feet in the air,
and accelerating, and we don't even have full power on it, yet!" So much
for that CAF regulation. The noise is just incredible, even inside a padded
helmet, with insulated earcups.
I knew enough to expect this effect, and did manage to get full power
before liftoff, but not by much. What I did not know is that the throttle
friction lock must be really screwed down tight for takeoff. I had tightened
it, but not enough. I quickly discovered that if it isn't really tight, the
throttle comes back quite strongly on its own. I discovered this little item
when I let go of the throttle to reach for the gear handle, and the engine
seemed to quit, with the nose steeply up. I grabbed the throttle again, and
pushed it back up. But I had to hold it there to keep the power on, I had to
hold the stick with my right hand, and I really needed two or three more
hands, because the airplane needed trim, I needed to get the gear up, and I
didn't have any more hands! I tried reaching the friction lock with my thumb,
but my thumb isn't that long.
So there I sat, feeling not unlike a fool, keeping the engine running with
my left hand, the airplane flying with my right, gear still down, pulling the
nose up even more to keep the speed below 140 knots (barely).
Steve, watching from the ground, seeing only that the gear was still out,
started yelling at me on the radio, "Get your gear up, get your gear up,
you forgot your gear!" The push to talk switch is on the stick grip, so
even with both hands occupied, I was able to snarl back at him. I forget what
I said, but it probably wasn't very nice.
(Click photos for larger images.)
With a little altitude and breathing room, I was able to get things sorted
out. The airplane is a pure delight to fly. All controls use spring tabs, so
control pressures are very light, and the airplane responds very quickly. Some
care is needed with pitch, because at high speed it is easy to pull lots of g
force, and get into "G-LOC" (G-induced Loss of Consciousness).
That's even worse for me, as I have very low blood pressure, I'm very relaxed
all the time, and I'm tall and overweight. Short, stocky, very muscular pilots
with high blood pressure have a definite advantage with it comes to
g-tolerance. Women do well, too, probably from high blood pressure from being
so uptight, all the time. (Ohhh, Deakin, you dummy, you're gonna hear it on
Rolls are really easy, like most high-speed airplanes, just lay the stick
over and the roll is done before the nose can drop very far. That nicely keeps
me from doing my usual sloppy "scoop" recovery. Loops are fine, but
it's easy to get in to a high-speed stall at the top (snap-rolling), or coming
down the backside of the loop (high-speed buffet). With the nose down on the
vertical, speed builds at a terrifying rate, so you won't see me doing any
loops at lower altitudes, I'll leave that to Mike. A LOT of pilots have
misjudged that maneuver, and died because of it. It's best to make sure the
airspeed is at or below 100 knots on the top of the loop, and pull as much g
as the airplane allows coming down the vertical, helping to hold the speed
down. A little variation in technique will mean a difference of several
thousand feet for the return to level upright flight.
Landings, and the approach to the landing, are FUN. The military
"overhead" approach is used almost universally in these
highly-loaded, high-performance aircraft, for several reasons. Mostly, it
protects against an engine failure at a bad point, and it gives a very
predictable pattern. It's also the fastest, simplest way to get a formation
flight on the ground. The "Initial" is flown at 200 knots or more,
level at 1,000 feet, aligned with the runway, from several miles out. Over the
touchdown zone, the aircraft is rolled sharply to a fairly steep bank (80
degrees, perhaps), and as quickly as possible, the power is reduced and the
flap lever is moved full down. By "loading" the airplane, we
increase the drag a lot, and this, with the reduced power, should put us abeam
the touchdown zone at 140 knots or less, just in time to put the gear down.
The wings are level for only a second or three, long enough to get the gear
down, then a tight, steep, descending turn is made to the runway. The airplane
has a wonderful "feel," an approach without an airspeed indicator
would be easy. My approaches generally work out around 120 knots until turning
final, then a nice steady speed reduction to about 90 over the threshold,
touching down in a full-stall, three-point landing, with a speed probably
around 80 (I've never looked). Directional control is great, especially after
flying something like the C-46! I'm always a little startled at the sound that
tiny tailwheel makes, it really rattles for the slightest imperfection in the
runway. If timed just right, the tailwheel can be put down just before the
When I taxied in after that first one, someone asked me how I liked it. I
shrugged and replied, "Oh, just another airplane." The twinkle in my
eye, and the goofy grin on my face must have given me away, because he took
one look and replied, "Yeah, RIGHT!"
I am one lucky guy, and I know it. Now, if I can just get my hands on that
AD "Skyraider," and the Grumman F7F "Tigercat," and the
Northop P-61, and the North American P-82
So many airplanes, so little time.
Be careful up there!