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Aerospace Trainer

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The 16 degree Angle of Attack (alpha) and Climb Angle.
The 16 degree Angle of Attack (alpha) and Climb Angle.
(Image by S.T.E.M. For the Classroom)
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On this flight, the RCS worked as advertised, but the nose of the AST would not come down. This was because the pilot had not flown the proper flight profile, and had arched over at too-low of an altitude, still stuck in the denser air. The atmosphere was just thick enough to overcome the downward force of the RCS. Thus, the nose was stuck pointing up while on its way down. This was double-trouble: the nose needed to be pointed down so that the air scoops could spin the jet turbine blades so that he can restart his engine. Worse, flying essentially backwards, he would be out of control and might even enter into a flat spin, which was notorious for this type of aircraft.


Sure enough, the flat spin happened, the pilot had no control over his aircraft, and he had no choice but to eject. Scratch one AST. That left only two others remaining in that small fleet. The test pilot was seriously injured, even if he amazingly did walk into the helicopter under his own volition. He and Smith talked about the crash and what happened on the way to the base hospital. As mentioned, the test pilot eventually fully recovered from his wounds, and even returned to flight duty.


In the end, the inquiry into the mishap was just as efficiently scrubbed, sterilized, and sanitized as the hospital he stayed in.


::


Maj. Smith, as Instructor Pilot (I.P.) of the AST, was blamed for the accident, since he had obviously not instructed the test pilot adequately to fly the AST to the prescribed 120,000-foot altitude. Of course, Smith was never assigned I.P. duty from his superiors, and he had taken it upon himself to try to coach the test pilot on the proper flight profile of the AST. But all of that was unofficially. Officially, it was all Smith's fault.


Smith could not get the accident board to understand that the test pilot simply could not fly the proper flight profile, resulting in the loss of the aircraft. His proof was the maximum altitude the test pilot could obtain; by not flying the proper profile, the airplane lost too much energy on the way up, resulting in a lower maximum altitude. The proper verdict: pilot error. However, the very thought of even verbalizing that the cause of the accident was pilot error seemed to horrify the board. So it must be, nay, it just had to be something else.


And so, something else it was. Smith was to fall on his sword, the AST would be deemed unsafe to fly in this particular mode, resulting in a kinder and gentler flight profile, which meant no training in a space-like environment, and the case was closed. In the final analysis, it turns out that both Smith and the AST were to share the blame for the accident. all because it wasn't to be pilot error. It just didn't make any sense that it was. The test pilot was just too good, and as it turns out, too famous, to be blamed for the accident.


After all, it was just simple logic; who wouldn't think that Chuck Yeager could fly anything?


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Joe Maness is a High School Mathematics Teacher. He is writing a S.T.E.M. Lab textbook along with Dr. Holtzin.

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