Recovery Without Blowing Leading Edge Droops

Hal Vincent graduated from Test Pilot School at Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland in 1955 where he initially worked on the first YA4D and the YF7U-3 Cutlass before flight testing the YF8U-1 in 1956.  Hal has been in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots for 51 years, has been a Golden Eagle for 26 years, has flown 165 types/models of US and foreign aircraft, has 242 combat missions in 8 different types of aircraft and is a recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.  Hal retired from the Marine Corps in 1981 as a Major General.  The following in Hal's account of accidentally spinning the early Crusader when only 33 % of previous spin recoveries had been successful without deploying a safety parachute.


Major Lynn Helms, one of the 10 test pilots in the Flight Test office at Patuxent River and on his second tour, and Commander Duke Windsor, Chief of Projects at Flight Test, had both been sent to Edwards to evaluate the X and YF8U-l.  These first flights were called  Navy Preliminary Evaluations (NPE). Our first test plane arrived at Flight Test Patuxent in August 1956.  I was initially assigned as Lynns Assistant. Two Marines and Duke Windsor to test this great airplane!  OoooRAH!  My first flight was 17 August 1956 in BuNo 140446.  The company pilots, John Conrad, Bob Rostine and Hank Lankford, provided invaluable information about the airplane characteristics and the company's history with it.  The Crusader was most impressive.

Flight testing at that time, at both Test Pilot School and Flight Test, involved using an "Ames gauge" to measure stick forces, a stop watch to time specified maneuvers, and a knee pad card with the steps the engineers wanted recorded.  Later, equipment was installed on board so when the trigger was pulled a bright light came on, and a picture was taken of the instruments so the enginers could see the readings.  This reduced the pilot data recorded.  There were many planes on the flight line to fly and as Flight Test pilots we flew them all including the F4D, FJ-4, A3D,  F11, F3H, A4D, TV, F9F-8 series, T2V, F7U, S2F, TF, TT-l (tempo trainer), Beech 73  (a proposed trainer), French Fouga Magister trainer, etc.  I tested over 40 types/models myself.  Some of the others that operated out of the Flight Test Branch at Patuxent in the 55-57 time frame were Lt. Tom Hayward (Later CNO),   LtCdr  Al Shepard (astronaut), Lt Bill Lawrence (VAdm and POW), LtCdr Bill Botts, Lt Jake Ward (CAG and CV), Lt  Cdr George Watkins (1000 CV landings), Don Engen (VAdm and head FAA), Lynn Helms (head FAA), Gordo Gray (World Record A4), Laurie Heyworth (Adm), and Larry Flint (CAG , VX3).  Two TPS classmates that did well included Lew Edwards (Adm), and Spin Epes (Adm)  Our performance instructor was one Lt Jim Stockdale (MOH, F8 , POW, Adm).  Lifelong friends are best friends.  Each of these gents have individual stories about many airplanes and test experiences.


After we flew our test card, if we had any extra fuel, some of us then looked for aircraft to engage in air combat maneuvering (ACM).  ACM was great fun in the F8U!  Major Helms resigned from the Marine Corps to work for Bendix, then Piper and then to head the FAA and I got the full project when he left.  OoooRAH!  I recall  that most of the 10 pilots in the office flew a couple of flights in my project airplane (YF8U-1) which contributed greatly to my flight reports.

One day after a test flight, I set up a "tryst" in the air with Major Roy Gray who was then the project F-8 pilot out of Service Test and a superior fighter pilot.  Our helmets in those days only had snaps to fasten the mask to the helmet.  Bayonet fittings were not yet in use.  I met him head on, fast, at about 29000 feet, and the fight started.  As I laid on the "g"  to go vertical and do a roll off on him, the mask was pulled down my face until the snap popped loose. I rolled in a fist full of nose up trim to maintain some g, and reached up with both hands to re-snap the mask.  Then I saw that Roy had gained on me, so I yanked the stick back farther, forgetting the preset G, and my Crusader shook like a terrier. It flipped over the top and snapped into a violent spin at over 30,000 feet!  (As an aside, the company test pilots had already spun the airplane by this time with a spin chute installed.  They found they could only recover about l in 3 times without using this chute.  No one dreamed of ever blowing the droop!) 

Well, the spin was really quite a wild ride.  My knees were banging hard on the consoles, debris was everywhere, pitch oscillated initially from about 40 to 70 degrees nose down with a rapid rate of yaw and roll. I immediately put in pro aileron, opposite rudder and full back stick.  Absolutely no response!  After several turns Roy radioed "Better get out!"  I noted that the pitch oscillations had changed over several turns and were now between about 50 to 110 degrees, so as a last ditch maneuver, at 110 degree pitch, I popped the stick full forward.   The nose dropped to the characteristic 190 deg. nose down recovery position at around 12,000 feet and I recovered near 6000 feet.  I went at least 9 turns, losing about 2,000-2,500 feet per turn.


While sneaking back to the base I transmitted to Roy, "I'll call you later. In the meantime, keep it quiet!"  As I landed and taxied into the line I noted a box-like sea land van.  Suddenly the door flew open and out popped 3 people.  They rapidly ran up, and shouted, "WHAT HAPPENED?"  I had not known about it, but it was a new experimental tele-metering van and the plane had TM readout capability installed in it from the factory.  The  engineers had watched the whole thing!  They saw roll rate, pitch rate, altitude, speeds, etc.  The secret was out!  Interestingly, they then sent the data back to LTV, where the engineers found from the data that they could blow the droop without structural damage to the airplane.  This discovery allowed Crusader pilots in a spin to recover without a problem in one turn or less.

After Flight Test and then two wonderful years in VMF-334, our first Marine West Coast F8 squadron, I went back into test work at VX-5 and on to today with 61 years of great flying and, never duty in Washington!  A great flying career, and happy to still be doing it!  I can guarantee there is no thrill like that experienced in a fully developed spin without using the leading edge droops to recover.

All The Best.  Cheers!