Test a Fighter!
Get into your flying kit! That fast new fighter has just come in, and you’re detailed to try her out. No, we don’t know how she’ll act, or what she can do. You’re the test pilot–it’s your job to find out–
By Lieut. Edward G. Schultz, U.S.M.C.*
“What a job! . . . . strength in every line . . . . strength and promise . . . . . and she seems to say. Has this guy got it, or is he just going to take me up and mess around the sky?’ ”
she lies, eager for the air. What a job! A fighter – a single-seated
fighter and a sweet crate. Polished and shined until she gleams
all over. Strength in every line of her. Strength and promise. The
sweep of her wing is perfect, and her full-bodied fuselage is streamlined
from nose to tail.
Buckling on your ‘chute, you walk over to
her. A little tap on her taut wings – they vibrate. A slow look at
all of her, as your hand rests gently, almost caressingly, on the
She seems to be looking askance at you, as if saying to herself: “Has this guy got it, or is he just going to take me up and mess around the sky?” Through your fingers on her fabric, you can feel her say: “Treat me right, feller; don’t go loose on the controls just when I need you most, and don’t get sloppy and skiddy. For when I dive, I dive; when I spin, I spin; and heaven help the bird who fails me.”
You sort of say to her – “Stick around, baby,
because I’ll be with you when you spin and I’ll be with you when
you dive. But don’t you go busting any control wires.”
Into the cockpit you go, wiggling some to
get the ‘chute comfortable. A couple of shots with the primer, the
switch is on, and you press the starter button for a few seconds.
It picks up with a crescendo whine, so you give it throttle. After
a couple of protesting barks the engine takes. The oil pressure pops
up but the heat is low, 80 you reach down, close her shutters, and
open the bypass. As the heat builds up, you feed more throttle until
she’s rolling a thousand. And there you let her set until some real
She’s alive now – hands fluttering on the
instrument board, wires vibrating. And there begins to be a feel on
the flippers and rudder. You juggle them a little just to see if
they’re functioning right. The heat is up now. You open the gun all
the way to the supercharger stop and try the magnetos.
Not a miss! The pressure holds and you are pulling back on the stick to keep the tail on the ground. She’s rarin’ to go,” and seems to snarl: “Get those chocks Out from under my wheels, and get moving! Are you going to fool around here all day kicking gravel and dust?”
Slowly you ease back on the gun, kind of grin through your teeth and say, “Don’t rush me. Just wait until I get buckled in and then we’ll go places.”
“Click” goes the belt, and you snug down. The
chocks come free, and you taxi slowly over the field to an up wind position
for the takeoff. A little too heavy a burst of the gun and she tries
to run away with you. A little too much rudder and she tries to ground
loop. “Just feeling you out. Who’s going to do the flying this hop,
me or you?”
You kick her nose into the wind and let her
set for just a few seconds idling – to show who is boss. Then you pour
in the gas! Everything tightens up, the controls get heavier, the tail
starts to lift, she gathers speed. Gentle, gentle,
with the throttle – and watch the needle to see it doesn’t go by the
What a temptation to slam it wide open and
hurtle her right off the ground! But now she’s trying to lift. Trying
to get off. You are smart. In places like this, you know you need speed.
So you hold her down.
She’s roaring at you to let her go, but you
hold her nose down until a little touch of the stick lifts her. Then
for sheer joy she goes straight up about twenty feet, shakes herself,
and levels off.
Levels off? You want none of that, and besides
she’s got to know right at the start who’s doing the flying. So back
you come hard, and into a tight climbing turn she goes. With never a
whimper she takes it. Rate of climb, a thousand; now twelve hundred.
Before you know it, the altimeter says thirty five hundred.
Nix, guy, don’t let this get you. She’s got
a lot more up her sleeve than a flipper turn. Now you are climbing,
pushing her hard. All of a sudden you nose over, pick up a little
speed. The wires start to talk, and you haul back with a little rudder.
Over she goes in the sweetest of wingovers. Response!
Here goes another wingover to the other side.
A little dive. You haul her back in a zoom. Another thousand feet
on the altimeter, now a couple more, and before you know it you’ve
got ten thousand.
get you. The ship is beginning to get you.
She’s too good to be true! All the time she’s been talking to you,
louder and louder in the dives, softening off as she loses speed after
a maneuver, responding to your touch, almost to your wish.
Now she knows who’s doing the flying. Abandoned
completely to you. What a ship! That was a two thousand foot layer
of clouds you went through then, climbing, climbing – and the water
is streaming off her wings like blonde hair blown out in the wind.
The wet slip stream blows your lips apart as you put out your head
from behind the cowl.
Your goggles fog, but you break through into
the sun above, right through the middle of a circular rainbow. Ecstatic!
And now seventeen thousand. The air is rare up here. Your breath
is coming harder, you are a little lightheaded, melted entirely into
the ship, a sentient, throbbing, beautiful thing, thrilling with
every revolution of the prop. The speed sends white lights flashing
across your eyeballs.
Now let’s see what she’s made of. Nose over
for some speed, back into a loop. On top of it you level off for a
second or two, inverted – then, hard back with the stick, full out
with the gun, and you are diving. Straight down, vertical! Engine
roaring, picking up speed, more speed – the airspeed says sixty – two eighty – three
Screaming wires, screaming like a thousand
nerves about to break, breath leaving you - fighting, fighting the
controls to hold her in the dive. Driven down hard into the seat by
a force which catches the breath from your lungs. One hand holding,
bracing against the side, leaving finger prints in the paint; the
other on the stick, every nerve in you straining against the devilish
forces trying to draw you in.
Roaring, screaming down – inexorable, primative strength wells in you.
Will those wings fold when I pull her out? Can’t take any more. Back, back on the stick. Hard, hard! She’s taking – Those wings! Can’t go black, can’t go black – Hold yourself in – Holler, man, holler! I can’t, it’s – Black, black, black!
What's that buzz? Maybe I’m dead – Groping, groping!
What snapped? I’m . . . . . . . . .
The sun is suddenly bright again, ship struggling,
straining, losing speed, stalling in a vertical climb, your head lolling
against the cowling. Man, you blacked yourself out completely that
time, but what a dive! Easy, easy, back on the throttle! A slow bank
and a soft, soaring glide, engine ticking over, delicious freedom
thrilling through your veins.
You level off, land, and roll right up to
the hangar doors. A minute of cooling, then the engine dies reluctantly
with spasmodic gasps as the switch is cut.
As you climb from the cockpit you give the
ship a grateful pat and she settles down into herself, resting – but
she’s right ready to go again whenever you are.
|*Lieutenant Schultz is a chief pilot with
Pan-American. He’s made a splendid record hopping
fighters – so when you go through this test flight, you’ll get the
|There is at least one more out there somewhere.
If you find it, please write email@example.com