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 !!.
© 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.