Ray Scalise (FCO)

photo courtesy of Ray Scalise

Ray Scalise worked for Hughes Aircraft as an engineer on their radar systems.  He recalls some "interesting" test missions:

"We did flight tests on these systems. In the back seat there were blackout curtains so I could see the radar scope better. Under these conditions my only frame of reference was the radar scope. One of the quirks the pilot had was to try and use ground reference points as well as electronic ones to let the ground tracking people we were over our IP to start a run.

"I was concentrating on the scope when the pilot did a half roll to the right te see the ground. My inner ear sensed this move and I became disoriented. I quickly ripped open the right curtain to see the ground. But by this time the pilot rolled to the left and all I saw was SKY. Now I was really screwed up. I quickly ripped open the left curtain but by now the pilot had leveled off AND ALL I SAW WAS SKY! I really became sick from the disorientation.

"If I barfed in my helemet face mask I would drown in the barf. If I opend my face mask I would not have any air to breathe. I reached over and opened the valve for the suit air conditioner to full, hoping this would help. During these events we are in the run and the pilot kept on asking me over the intercom if I had locked onto the target yet. All I could do was give him a double click on the mike button. The cold air helped but the run was blown.

"Also, by this time the ground people gotten into the act and wanted to know what was happening because they were not receivng any instrumentation signals. All I could do was concentrate on not barfing and click the mike button. Needless to say, when I could talk I told the pilot and the ground crew what had happened.

"When we landed I had a frost burn on my side from the cold air coming into the suit. On future flights the pilot either told me when he was going to do that manuever or he eliminated it all together. AFTER ALL, how good was his reference from 80,000 feet!"

"This next incident happened very early on in the flight test program while we were still at "the Ranch." The pilot [name withheld by request] and I were on a mission quite a distance from the Ranch when he started to get a fluctuation in one of the four hydraulic systems. He decided to abort the mission and head back to the airport. On the way back this hydraulic system failed. The aircraft was designed such that the other three systems took over the work of the failed system. Then another system started to fluctuate and failed. This put a heavy burden on the other two.

"Murphys Law was hard at work because we started to get fluctuations in one of the remaing two systems. We were close enough to the base so were not sweating too much....that is until this system failed. We were on final when the last system started to fluctuate. JUST as he flaired out for landing the last system failed. THE AIRPLANE WAS ON ITS OWN!!! My pilot had no control over the airplane, brakes or anything. The bird touched down on its own and as the speed bled off the nose whell came in contact with the runway. the airplane went its own merry way, veered off the runway and headed out across the dry lake.

"The temperature was over a 100 degrees and it took the ground crews some time to get to us. In the meantime we just sat in the airplane in our pressure suits which now were PERSONAL SAUNAS. When we got back to the hangars and out of our suits the techs turned them upside down and poured water out of them. We both lost quite a few pounds."

"I am sure you're familiar with the term "wind shear..."

"Returning from a flight on a HOT day we were on final approach off the end of the runway...

"AND encountered a wind shear! So at 500 yds short of the runway we suddenly found ourselves on the ground. THAT WAS BAD It just so happened that runway lights were located 500 yds off the runway. We plowed through the lights and just as quick were airborne again. THAT WAS GOOD

"However, what we didn't know was that ALL tires on the main gear were blown and shrapnel from the lights had punctured the main fuel tank. THAT WAS BAD

"Needless to say, it made for a very interesting landing and roll down the runway ( if you could call it a roll ). Actually , it was more like a man with splints on both legs trying to run a sprint. Why we didn't cartwheel we will never know--again, thanks to the low volitility of the fuel there was no fire. THAT WAS GOOD"

"One of the problems experienced with the "birds" was in absolute control of the engine intake 'spikes.' There was both computer and manual control. If a spike was not positioned just right it could cause the engine to have a compressor stall [or "unstart"].

"On one flight over the northern Sierra mountain range in California we experienced this problem. First one engine would stall which would cause the airplane to yaw violently in one direction. This then would cause the other engine to stall and the first stalled engine to unstall causing the airplane to yaw in the opposite direction.

"This happened so rapidly that the round radar scope looked eliptical and my helmet beat a machinegun-like staccato on the sides of the cockpit...

"NATURALLY, the airplane was also falling out of the sky because it had no forward thrust. Actually, we were dropping like a rock! The altimiter was unreadable. If the pilot did not get control of the spikes it was 'GOODBYE AIRPLANE.'

"The pilot had turned on the BAIL OUT LIGHT and I was tightly clutching the bail out handle because the pilot had instricted me that when he verbally gave the "BAIL OUT" signal I had better be gone on "BAIL" because he was leaving on "OUT."

"Fortunately, the pilot regained control and we didn't have to leave the plane. I was real glad of that because all I could see out of the window was snow capped rugged mountains. The pilot told me he was within seconds of giving the 'get out' signal.

"We were lucky because on one of the early test flights of the SR-71, the stalls happened in a turn and the airplane just disintegrated around the crew."

- all stories courtesy of Ray Scalise

click here for these and other stories from Ray's web site at yf12a.tripod.com

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