NOW WE DIE!

The Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) program (c. 1970) used to take 53 weeks, and consisted of training in the:

  • T-41, A drafted Cessna 172 offically called the "Mescalero," but we called the "Mattel Bomber"

  • T-37, Twin engine, jet-powered glider, side by side seating affectionately called the "Tweety Bird"

  • T-38, Supersonic White Rocket, tandem seating, two seat version of F-5 called the "Talon".

Starting with Class 71-08 at Moody (my class), the program was suddenly accelerated to 48 weeks. Since then, the T-41 program was dropped, and students now start off in jets. However, back in the "good old days", students were screened out, and got about 35 hours in the T-41 before going on to T-37s.

I recall that there were 5 normally scheduled missions before going for a pre-solo check. If you passed the pre-solo check, you soloed. If you failed the pre-solo check, you got a review ride and another check. Two strikes and you're out. The Air Force isn't like the Navy. The Navy gives you X number of rides, and sends you off to solo. If you come back alive, you pass. (I don't know if this is really true, but that's the rumor, anyway).

The two-strike rule was waived for our foreign students. After all, their governments have gone through a lot of effort to get their students to UPT. To have a high wash out rate wouldn't do in a "political" environment, but most importantly, their governments are willing to pay the bill. Besides, there were rumors about washed out pilots going home to a 21-gun salute (as in standing in front of, with back to wall, blindfolded, and smoking a cigarette).

Anyway, few foreign pilots washed out. They would be given as many review rides as it would take to get them ready for a check ride. They would get as many check rides as it would take to pass. And they would get a top of the line fighter aircraft when it was all over.

So here's old Abdul on his 15th consecutive pre solo ride in a T-37. As he's heading down initial, his instructor informs him that he'll have a 16th pre solo flight to look forward to. Abdul says, "I bring shame upon myself, shame upon my family, and shame upon my country. Now we die!" At which point, he reaches out and hits the fuel cutoff switches for both engines.

The instructor got the switches back on before the engines could flame out saying, "What the f*ck is this 'WE' shit? If you want to kill yourself, I'll send you up here on your own!"

The fact that Abdul had taken his hand off the stick and throttle was no indication as to what he had in mind. Many Iranian students were fond of getting into a critical phase of flight, deciding it was too much, release all of the controls and declare confidently, "Allah has the aircraft!1" The instructor usually had to give Allah a hand. This situation gets really hairy when Allah has about 50 knots overtake, and is about 3 ship lengths out on a formation rejoin.


The final note on Abdul (Call sign Bim 411),

Moody Approach Control: "Bim 411, Radar contact. Moody landing runway one eight, wind two two zero at ten, altimeter two niner niner eight, turn right to two seven zero, descend and maintain six thousand, squawk four zero zero zero, contact approach control two four seven point one."

Bim 411: "Rogerwhatmean?"

Controller (to his workmate standing beside him): "What did he say?"

Workmate: "I think it's Farsi for 'Clear the pattern, I'm landing.'"


  1. BTW, This is not the recommended spin recovery procedure. It would probably work, but here goes:

Throttle - Idle.
Rudder and ailerons - Neutral.
Stick - full aft and hold.
Determine direction of spin.
Apply full opposite rudder.
Stick - full forward.
Recover from dive.

A case of beer was to be awarded to the first pilot who could wrench the stick out of the socket. It was not intended to be a gentle maneuver. It gave you a chance to take out your hostilities on the aircraft. We actually practiced these things!

My memory may be failing after over 30 years, but on "Stick - full forward", I nearly punched out the monitor.

Emergency procedures such as the above are studied and permanently burned in ROM. Any spouse of a student pilot was probably equally proficient in rattling off the emergency procedures, aircraft limitations, weather limitations, FARs, ICAOs, AFR 60-16, etc. I married my wife after pilot training, so she was spared such agony, nonetheless she still picked up all my bad habits when she took her flying lessons. (But that's another "war story.")