Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

From Tailwheel To Turbine

Total transition training, the Gauntlet way

By this time, I’m feeling like a kid in a candy store myself. Given my choice of which ride looks sweetest, I select the L-39. After being outfitted with a flight suit, helmet and oxygen mask, we head for the flight line. I take the back seat, where all transition students sit on the first flight. Most of the original basic flight instruments have been swapped for Western equivalents, minimizing the Cyrillic characters, metric scales and other potentially confusing gauges found in some imported Eastern Bloc airplanes. Morris reviews the instruments, systems and flight controls. The profusion of knobs, switches, levers and dials is a little overwhelming, but the basics are easy to remember: Unless there’s an emergency, don’t touch the red knobs on the canopy ejection handle or the fuel-cutoff lever. Had I come for complete transition training, I would have received the syllabus and operating handbook in advance, and would have spent 15 to 20 hours studying the material beforehand.

“Basically, it’s just an airplane: stick, throttle and rudder,” Morris tells me. “Just fly the thing.”

Strapped into our ’chutes and buckled in with the canopy down, we go through the engine start and are soon taxiing to runway 27. Just rolling on the ground to the accompaniment of the turbine whine is a thrill. With half flaps (25 degrees), we power up, release the brakes and accelerate. Rotation is at 90 knots, and by 115 knots indicated, we’re airborne in a shallow climb. Once in the practice area a few miles west, Morris begins by demonstrating some of what the Albatros can do. On the ground, he had given me two sick sacks, so I figure he’s prepared to go full bore, and that’s fine with me. We do some vertical pull-ups, generating dynamic rates of climb of about 7,000 fpm and 4 G’s, then dive down, regaining dissipated airspeed. The sound of the air brakes being deployed and retracted to control airspeed punctuates our maneuvers. As we do rolls and loops, I’m overwhelmed by the alternating views of the ground and sky through the canopy, the three-dimensional performance, and the sheer exhilaration of the experience. This is nothing like any piston airplane I’ve ever flown.

Morris, like any good instructor, is concerned with how his student is enjoying the lesson. “How do you feel on a scale of 1 to 100?” he asks, as we momentarily right the jet to straight and level.

“One hundred and ten!” I answer.

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