Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

The French Flight Examiner

Marty Bushnell

I think my first check flight while a student at the French Test Pilot School was not a typical flight examination. I was a single engine jet fighter pilot with more than a thousand hours in the F-100, so I think the idea was to see how versatile I was. The fleet in the school varied from helicopters, trainers, and fighters, to transports of all sizes. My check flight was to be in the Nord Noratlas, which resembled a C-119.

The flight was right after lunch. Lunch, of course, is the main meal in France and it’s not unusual for the French pilots to enjoy a few glasses of wine with their meal. I observed that my flight examiner availed himself of this custom; however I don’t think it impacted his judgment or coordination.

I pulled on to the runway and held the brakes while I began to run check the giant reciprocating engines, one at a time. I thought it a little unusual that my flight examiner had opened his side window, lit a cigarette, and propped his feet up on the instrument panel. Upon completion of the checks, he flicked the cigarette out the window and shut the window, and assumed a more conventional seating posture… we were ready to roll. The tower cleared us and off we went. As soon as the aircraft was above the minimum single engine airspeed and the available runway remaining was insufficient to put the plane back down, he shut an engine off. My French flight mechanic’s jaw dropped. You just don’t do that. You can pull an engine to idle to simulate a failure, but you don’t shut one down. I feathered the dead engine (not the other one), lifted a little flap, and watched the runway disappear below me. I couldn’t raise the gear because the gear door drag would have put us back in the ground and I had no altitude to descend and accelerate. We groped our way up for several minutes before we could nose it over and safely retract the gear. The tower was calling on the radio in a very concerned tone of voice, asking if we were OK. It didn’t bother me all that much, since I had been flying single-engine airplanes for my whole career, but it took another five miles of climbing to get the altitude that would allow a nose-over and acceleration to the speed that we could spin up the dead engine and restart it. From then on, everything was normal.

I had an American flight test engineer as a partner during the course, and he always flew with me if there was more than one seat on the airplane. That afternoon He insisted that we stop for a beer on the way home. We had more than one.
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