SK’s story : How I flew the HF-24 backwards -and lived to talk about it.

I really don’t know as to how many people are going to believe this incident/story . Very few, perhaps be the people who have flown with me and know me as person of integrity, at least as far as flying was concerned. To the layman it may be quite uninteresting, if not downright meaningless, but to the Aviator it would be of considerable interest because they would be in a position to not only imagine what it must have been like inside the cockpit but also in the pilot’s mind at each step of the flight profile. Plus, they would be able to understand the Aerodynamic situation and how true it could or could not be. So the credibility would also be better understood by them.

In any case it is to this lot of people that this story is being addressed to. The heading  should  give a lot of hints of things to come. If they can follow me at each step of the way they too would have felt a sense of good fortune that accompanied me at each step, all the way, and also perhaps remind them of several such incidents in their flying career which they never spoke about. And to all of them I would request that they too should come out with stories and incidents that they have been keeping in their ‘closets’ so far.

I don’t remember the exact date and time that this incident took place, but I would put it around the early seventies or between 80-82. For some reason we were in Jamnagar with the HF-24,probably to do a spot of live bombing. This was not in the 67s because when this incident took place I had a considerable amount of HF hours under my belt. Close to around a thousand hours, I guess, or I do not think I would have done what I did.

What I do remember, was that I had gone up do and Air Test, and at the end of it, instead of doing a let-down to give the ground controllers some practice, I decided to do some aerobatics North of the airfield, over the sea. It was more or less over the Port of Porbunder because those huge oils tanks that they had there are still imprinted on my brain.

I went in for a loop at around 10,000 feet  450 0dd knots, and whilst on my back I relaxed on the stick and let the aircraft float lazily on its back , wondering what it would be like just to lie flat up like that on your back, with your speed close to zero if not zero.

While floating lazily on my back, I suddenly had this zany idea, as to see as to what would happen if I dove into a loop and let the aircraft go straight up, into the sky, just let it go on and on and on.

So in the next loop I put the aircraft into a dive and let the speed build up to some 550 knots plus which did bring me in quite low, to around 2,000 feet or so because the Port and the ships began to look quite big and one could see the men working around the ships quite clearly. For a moment I was tempted to do a really low pass at 600 knot plus and scare the shit out of them but desisted as I would have to turn around and then there was the chance of the guy in the radar letting off a screech to my bosses that I had gone down to a hundred feet off the deck.

So brushing away that temptation, I pulled the aircraft out of the dive and put her into a straight-up, vertical climb and just held her there, letting the ground shrink as I zoomed straight up into a sheer vertical climb, watching the altimeter go winding up , with both the engines at full blast at a 100% and the JPT at 710-720 degrees. My eyes were glued on the Air Speed Indicator (ASI) as it unwound from 500 plus to 400, 300, 200,and the aircraft nose pointed straight into the high heavens. The die had been cast. 100-50, then a stillness as the ASI dropped to Zero and began to quiver there. A sudden change in the noise of the engines alerted me to the JPT which was going off 800 and still moving towards the end of the meter reading, closer to the meltdown of the turbine blades and the explosion of the engines. With a swiftness brought about by sheer fright, I had both the throttles back and  past the gate to OFF position, which brought the rpm down to zero and the JPT  inching backwards, to 700, 600,and further down.  I was left wondering if any of the turbines had been left intact or they were one solidified mass, or should I say mess.

And then there was peace. A blissful silence I had never heard. there wasn’t even the swish of the wind passing the cockpit. There was hardly any sound of deep breathing in the oxygen mask, because my breathing had stopped some time back. All I was left with were my thoughts. Which were close to being blank anyway. The only thought that I could recall later, was something to the effect, “ shit ! Now What ??!!”

For a moment I was left wondering as to why the engines had gone berserk and the JPTs shot off the mark, when I realized that it was due to the fact that I was ‘tail sliding”. The aircraft was vertical, pointing straight up into the sky, and I was going down towards the ground arse wise, No wonder the engines had gone berserk….they were used to the airflow coming from the front, not going up the rear. All this thinking went on in microseconds, as to what was happening and why !

With one problem sorted out I was left wondering what to do next. I just held on to the controls in the neutral position waiting for something to happen, as to what  would happen, I hadn’t a clue !

 How long the aircraft slid backwards I can not say. Time had stopped, just as my breathing had. After what seemed like eternity, the left wing dropped slowly almost majestically, allowing me now to see a bit of the coast way off on my left  with a touch of the muddy coastline in view, and with that the aircraft flicked, not violently as one would have imagined, but with a rapidity that almost caught me off guard. And the nose dropped and I was spiraling down towards the sea. Just a I was contemplating yanking the ejection handle I felt the aircraft responding to the controls, and to my great relief I could see the ASI beginning to register, 100,120,..200..300 and around 400 I started pulling her out from the vertical dive she was in. The tanks of Khandla Port had really grown in size, and growing bigger with alarming rapidity. With a few hundred feet to spare, I pulled out of the dive, and with the nose coming above the horizon I heaved a sigh of relief and began to think of the engines. With the nose above the horizon ,and the speed dropping off to about 300 Kts and may be a thousand odd feet off the deck, I gingerly pressed the re-light button and eased the throttle forward. And as if on cue there was a slight whoosh and the rpm began to wind up, and the JPT too began to rise.  For a moment I thought that the rpm would not rise as the turbines would have melted off by now, but obviously I had caught them on time. And then the second engine lit up sweetly. As if nothing in the world had happened and this was something that they did everyday for a living.

With both engines singing sweetly, I opened up to a hundred percent, with both the JPT’s at 710 and everything looking normal I climbed up to ten thousand feet, swinging back towards the airfield in a climbing turn. Getting back my breathing to normal, I took stock of the position, checking all the systems, especially the engines, to see if they were not going to seize at the last minute. Moving the throttles back and forth from idle then back to a hundred percent, a couple of times, watching the JPTs’ rising and falling smoothly, no rumbling and no vibrations, I convinced myself that the engines and all the components were functioning normally, I contacted the ATC, asking permission to join circuit. It was then that I noticed that my right leg was shaking violently. Jumping up and down like a dissected frog’s leg. I had no control over it. I don’t know if my voice sounded normal to the controller in the ATC, or it was a high pitched squeak that he heard. Only he could tell. This was the third time in my life that my leg had shaken so violently of its volition. On the earlier two occasions it had been when I had had a close brush with death. I suppose it was something like that this time also.

Needless to say, I landed back normally, as if nothing had happened.

I suppose nothing had.

And that’s how I knew that the HF could come out of a spin, if not, at least it could fly backwards !!.

SK

© Copyright Wg Cdr SK Singh (Retd) and Marutfans. All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this article in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.

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9 Responses to SK’s story : How I flew the HF-24 backwards -and lived to talk about it.

  1. Gp Capt VK Vidyadhar says:

    I would like to add the following to my earlier comments on this incident.

    In the RAAF students are taught a manoeuvre known as “extreme unusual attitude recovery” where the instructor pulls the nose up to the vertical and as the speed approaches zero (which happens very quickly) hands over controls to the student to recover. The student is then required to do the following. Check attitude, airspeed, initially apply full power and simultaneously push or pull on the stick to recover. If the aircraft responds fine, but if it does not (it won’t when the speed is close to zero because the flight controls are unable to generate the required aerodynamic forces), pull throttle back to idle, centralise all flight controls and hold them firmly there and wait for the nose to drop. The nose will drop either forward or back, left or right, depending on which side of the vertical the aircraft was in. While the nose is dropping, the student is taught to firmly hold all flight controls in the central position, do nothing till the speed crosses the stalling speed (which again happens very quickly) and then smoothly ease of the dive, opening full power as the nose crosses the horizon.

    This exercise is not practised or taught in the Indian, US, Iraqi or Singapore air forces. I’ve flown with these air forces, so I know. I don’t know about other air forces.

    Let’s analyse the aerodynamics involved. What happens when the nose drops / pitches over from the vertical. Why and how does this happen? When the airspeed reaches zero, the aircraft WILL tail slide before it topples over to a nose down attitude. How far will the aircraft tail slide? That will depend on how far away the ‘aerodynamic axis’ is displaced from the true vertical. Even a degree this side or that of the vertical is all that is required. WHILE the aircraft is tail sliding, the C of G being behind the C of P with respect to the reverse airflow, aerodynamic forces will topple the aircraft to the nose down attitude.

    If the aerodynamic axis is EXACTLY aligned with the true vertical then it will be a while before the aircraft topples over. During these few seconds, the reverse airflow can reach quite high speeds like it happened in the case of the HT2 where the aerodynamic force was sufficient to prise the flaps open. But this happens very rarely. Even a slight misalignment of the aerodynamic axis to the vertical is enough to topple the aircraft before high reverse speeds are achieved.

    What about high speed modern fighters? Can THESE aircraft also tail slide? Yes, they can. Many of you may have seen the video clip of the Su30 doing aerobatics with smoke trails from the wing tips. At one stage, the aircraft tail slides with the nose up in the vertical before it topples over. The wing tip smoke trails reveal this.

    When the aircraft is tail sliding, the pilot MUST ensure that the throttle is in the idle position. Jet and propellor engines are not designed to withstand reverse airflow with throttle fully open.

  2. Polly Singh says:

    Ahhhh the days without FDRs !

  3. Shashi says:

    What a vivid and absorbing account of what must been a very scary situation. Full marks to you, SK, for having remembered every detail. This account certainly needs to be included in any future history of that wonderful aircraft.

  4. Gp Capt VK Vidyadhar says:

    I’ve had two incidents of “tail slide” on aircraft. The first one was in a Vampire in 1963. Though the narrative is a bit lengthy do read. It is very interesting.

    The background to this is as follows. Late Pilu Kacker was my instructor at FTW. As you all know, Pilu was an ace pilot, there were/are very few of his calibre. In dual GF sorties at FTW, the first manoeuvre was to climb to about 15,000 ft and from the climb, pull the nose up to the vertical and hold it there, bring throttle back to idle, wait for the speed to drop to zero, allow the nose to drop, whichever way it wanted and as the speed increased past stalling speed, while gently ease out of the dive, open throttle and go on to the next manoeuvre. Mike McMahon who was co-pupil will bear me out.

    The purpose of doing this manoeuvre was to instil confidence in handling the a/c at the extreme left edge of the flight envelope. After all what is the worst thing that can happen while flying: zero speed? If one can safely and confidently recover from such a situation it adds to the pilot’s level of confidence.

    So in my solo sorties on the Vampire 52, I was briefed to do just his: pull the nose up to the vertical and allow the speed to drop to zero. So in all my solo GF sorties on the Vampire 52 this was the first manoeuvre I did.

    After FTW I was posted to 220 Sqn, Poona. Pilu Kacker followed me there a few months later, posted as one of the Flight Commanders.

    During one of the solo GF sorties on the Vampire 52 a funny thing happened. While in the vertical the a/c remained there for a little longer than it usually did. At that stage I noticed something shooting out to the front of the a/c. This happened for a short few seconds before the ensuing dive and recovery. I later realised what I had seen shooting out in front were fuel droplets from the engine inlet. The a/c had been in the TRUE vertical and had tail slid for sometime. There were no abnormal engine indications.

    The second incident of a tail slide occurred on a HT2 while doing a stall turn. This was at FIS in 1985 when I was posted there as the CFI. As you know, stall turn to one side is more difficult to perform and sometimes the a/c gets stuck near the vertical. In a dual instructional sortie, while demonstrating a stall turn to the more difficult side, the a/c DID get stuck, and it held there for sometime. When I recovered from the ensuing dive I noticed the flap lever was half way down. I looked outside and found the flaps were split half way open. The a/c had got stuck in the true vertical, had tail slid for some time, resulting in the reverse air flow forcing the flaps to open. I returned to land without any further complications with the flaps left half way open. After landing, an Incident Report was raised.

  5. Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd) says:

    A fabulous story SK and well told! But you had reached one wrong conclusion: If you remember Ganguly had to eject after a low speed bank reversal. The aircraft entered a flat spin. After he ejected, it must have got even flatter, It hit the ground only 8° nose down as measured in the ground imprint.

    Subsequently, wind tunnel tests were done in Germany. These conclusively proved that the Marut was difficult to spin, but once in impossible to recover from it.

    Lucky you did not get into a spin, or we would have never heard this story.

  6. SG Inamdar says:

    SK,

    All I can say is “Great Scott!” Can’t think of too many others who could have handled it better!

    Your ‘adventure’ reminded me of the time we twice ferried Toofs in pairs from Kanpur to Hashimara (1964-66), steering 045 after take off from Chakeri till we hit the foot hills, then rolling out 090 at 30,000 ft till we came abreast of Kanchenjungha, dipping our right wing to spot Baghdogra under us, commencing descent for Hashi, landing there and saying nothing about it to anyone!

    The weather had to be good & vis had to be unlimited. With NO radars etc in the entire area, flying right through Nepalese & Bhutanese air space with no authority didn’t matter much to two bird brained F/Os! The route nav was simplified as the headache of spotting Kishenganj to alter course overhead there to 015 to Baghdogra (part of the briefed & authorised route), was done away with,

    Thankfully, Amausi, Babatpur & Patna ATCs seldom bothered to check on R/T & we never called them!

    If they/ we had, either they’d’ve had to snag their AD 210 Cs for having gone berserk or we two’d’ve been up for the highest high jumps, in old Subbu’s office in 47 Sqn, after landing!!

    As in your fascinating story, “all is well that ends well”, I guess!

    ‘Inoo’ Inamdar.

  7. Philip Rajkumar says:

    Hi SK,
    Having flown with you with the Black Archers in 63-64 I endorse your claim to integrity in flying matters ! A great story nicely told! From your description of speeds and nose attitudes I guess you would have reached about 12000 ft when the tail slide started and she probably slid about 1000 feet before dropping off on one wing.Kudos to you for holding the controls neutral. And then the dynamic pressure had to build up for the controls to become effective. Where did the hyd pressure come from with the dead engines? Wind milling rpm during the dive and the accumulatore must have taken care of that. Congratulations for being the world record holder for backward flight in a Marut. As far as I know there is no other competitor!!
    Philip Rajkumar.
    PS. Did you write up the engines for an overtemp check/!!

  8. Cherry says:

    SK Sir . >>>>> That was an amazing story . Good lod HFs have saved many of us from toatal shit . Will come out with my story little later … >>> May be Regards Cherry

  9. Wg.Cdr.H.R.Seetharam ( Retd ) says:

    With your vivid description, I felt I was wth you in the cockpit. I resumed breathing when you lit the second engine successfully !
    May your right leg not shake for a long long time !
    Seetha

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