At long last, I was able to sit down with Caleb, who has recently “soloed” (flew alone) in the mighty T-38, and pump him for first-hand information about what it’s like to zoom across the sky at speeds averaging 300 nautical miles per hour all alone. Here’s what he had to say.
TKB: So you recently had a solo flight in the T-38. How did it go?
CFB: Very well. I didn’t break the plane or hurt myself.
TKB: So is this experience more fun or stressful for you?
CFB: Overall it’s a very fun ride; since you have more freedom to enjoy the flight without an instructor critiquing your every move. However, the absence of an instructor also increases the stress level since you are solely responsible for everything that occurs during the flight.
TKB: What sort of fun things do you do during this one hour flight?
CFB: I get to do all kinds of aerobatics including loops, barrel rolls, cuban eights, Immelmanns, clover leaves, split Ss, and lazy eights. Afterwards I get to go back to the base to practice my overhead patterns and landings.
TKB: Cool. I don’t know what most of those maneuvers are exactly but I’m glad you enjoy them. What is your maximum speed and G’s pulled during this type of flight?
CFB: Many of the maneuvers require entry speeds of 500 mph and pulls in excess of 5 Gs.
TKB: In your centrifuge video, it looked very painful to pull so many Gs. Would you agree with my observation or would you say you’ve grown accustomed to that kind of strain?
CFB: There’s no real pain involved, it is a stressful condition which requires constant muscle strain and increased focus on breathing. It does become more natural the more you do it and it’s much easier to control when you are flying as opposed to being spun in a centrifuge. Not unlike when you are driving a car around a sharp turn versus being a passenger going around the same turn. It also helps to have a G-suit which constricts your legs and abdomen and helmet/mask which provides you with increased levels of oxygen.
TKB: This is serious stuff. So tell us, Caleb, how does this flight compare with other flights in terms of amount of preparation, content, and the importance of your performance?
CFB: Preparation and content are similar, however there are several maneuvers, such a stall, that you are not allowed to do while flying solo.The solo flights are much nicer, actually, in that the grade is pass/fail which leads to much less pressure on individual maneuvers. It allows you to enjoy the flight as a whole.
TKB: That’s nice. Any other comments you’d like to make?
CFB: Can’t wait to do it again tomorrow. I can’t believe that this is my job.
TKB: Me neither. Okay, thank you for taking the time to talk about your latest and greatest adventures with our readers and me.
CFB: My pleasure.
*Fun fact* The T 38 was used by the USAF Thunderbirds from 1974-1981. I used to think all AF planes were painted like the Thunderbirds, and I wish they were. Most of them are a dark, matte, gray color.