A country boy way out of his element
When I flew a P-38 for the first time, I have to admit
that I had a hard time hearing the engines over the noise of my knees
knocking. What was a grassroots pilot like me doing strapped into such
a huge piece of iron? That was simple: I wanted a type-rating in the
airplane (type-ratings are required for aircraft over 12,500 pounds
empty) because the training would make me a better pilot. I would be
a scared pilot, but a better one.
Like everything else with the Lightning, even boarding it is unique.
There’s a little ladder like thing that drops out of the back
of the fuselage pod that requires you to put your feet in the rungs
sideways to climb up onto the centersection.
Once up on the centersection, you’re acutely aware of how big
the airplane is because aluminum seems to flow to the horizon. Also,
the sides of the cockpit are level with the top of the wing, so you
step down into the seat, rather than climbing over a fuselage side.
Once you’re in the cockpit everything seems different. The engines,
for instance, block huge chunks of your vision down and to each side.
The usual control stick isn’t a stick, but a control yoke. You’re
sitting high over the nose and can see directly ahead, a weird feeling
for a fighter. Other than the usual instruments, there is nothing about
the environment that even remotely resembles any other fighter.
After you get both Allisons running (a head trip in itself), you find
that the nosewheel doesn’t steer—you turn the airplane with
differential throttle and brakes. Unfortunately, the brakes are incredibly
sensitive and powerful, so there’s a tendency for newbies like
me to jerk around
On takeoff, rather than lurching forward like an artillery shell, it
accelerates like a luxury automobile; extremely smooth and insistent.
When you bring the yoke back to pick up the nose, however, you have
to be careful because its really easy to over rotate. I had been warned
about that, so had no problem running on the main gear until it flew
off at about 120 mph indicated.
I tried my first takeoff without a headset, which was dumb, really dumb!.
The airplane isn’t very loud because the exhaust is routed behind
the cockpit through the turbo chargers on top of each boom, but the
noise was like a gigantic dog whistle and really hurt. I grabbed an
old headset back in the radio rack, which made things almost bearable.
In the air, the airplane was much more nimble than I’d expected,
courtesy of the hydraulic ailerons. Also, after a short time, the engines
seemed to disappear and I learned to look around them or move the airplane
to see better. I’ve got to tell you, however, that it pegged my
grin meter to look out at those two big engines and know I was actually
flying a P-38.
The landing was far easier than I expected. Even on my first landing,
the airplane dutifully squatted onto the mains and let me hold the nose
up until I was ready to let it down. Then I touched the brakes and started
jerking around again.
So now, my ticket has L-P-38L stamped on it. It’s unlikely I’ll
be flying a Lightning any time soon, but at least I’ve been there
plus the type-rating makes for terrific conversation at parties.Now,
if I can just get someone to invite me to a party.
Peanut Pirep? Return to PEANUT.