Competence porn


After that blustering buffoon badgering bison, it would be nice to see a thoughtful man behaving competently. How about this? Mark Levy was one of 21 pilots flying WWII aircraft in a British airshow, when the engine on his P-51 conked out, and he had to sputter to a landing in a cornfield. And best of all, there’s full cockpit video of the whole thing! You get to watch these magnificent old planes flying in formation, and then crisis as the engine begins to fail (and you know the pilot is going to be fine).

It’s less than two minutes between engine failure and grinding to a stop in a cornfield, but the video goes on for over a half hour as the pilot discusses what he was thinking and what he did and what his concerns and priorities were. I don’t know about you, but I love this stuff: glamorous machines and thoughtful people behind them.

I’m also even more impressed with the WWII pilots. Imagine managing this beast while other airplanes are shooting at you, over ground with big anti-aircraft guns intentionally trying to knock you out of the sky.

Comments

  1. thelastholdout says

    This is a great video, and goes to show just how fantastic a well trained pilot can be. It’s reminiscent of Sully landing in the Hudson.

    And I have mad respect for the old combat pilots. Granted, the P-51 was an incredible plane to fly, but it could still get shot down, and combat typically occurred after hours of flight time had already passed.

    Fun fact: nearly all pilots these days who affect a slight drawl and maintain calm in emergencies are copying Chuck Yeager, who not only was one of the most legendary test pilots out there, but was also an accomplished P-51 ace.

  2. cysyajads mf says

    I don’t know if this plane was a bomber or not but if you want to talk about admiring pilots and crews for bombers in WWII in Europe consider this:

    Bomber Command crews also suffered an extremely high casualty rate: 55,573 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4 percent death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war.

    I’ve also ready before the tail gunners were hit by fire so often that they were almost guaranteed to die if they flew very many missions. This is hard for me to get my mind around. Compare that to the guy with a joystick and screen in Arizona guiding a drone 1/2 the globe away.

  3. whheydt says

    Talk about coincidence… A Junkers JU-52 (sort of the German WW2 equivalent–at least in roles–of the DC-3/C-47/Dakota/R4D/Skytrain) crashed in Switzerland yesterday.

  4. whheydt says

    Re: cysyajads @ #2…
    The P-51 is a fighter. The “P” is for “Pursuit”. It’s sort of a beefed up “Americanized” Spitfire.

    There is an account of a P-51 pilot who misidentified the German plane he was chasing. He thought it was a Bf-109 with wing tanks. The chase started at about 35,000 feet. The German pilot dived to get away (which was a really bad piloting mistake) and P-51 pilot followed. The American shot down the German at about 5000 feet. Then he limped home with a blown engine. When the gun camera film was developed, it was pointed out that he’d been chasing an Me-262 jet.

    Estimated speed in the dive: 540 mph.

    The German pilot should have just opened his throttles and run away from the P-51 in level flight. It was a signiificantly faster plane.

  5. wzrd1 says

    As the pilots said, when confronted with a sudden emergency, adrenaline can interfere with thinking. So, one engages in a familiar task and lets one’s mind clear of incipient panic.
    While he admitted to missing a few tasks, none were critical tasks and honestly, I’d have retained the canopy out of concern for my tail and rudder assembly.
    The aircraft owner is to be applauded for having the correct attitude. An uninjured pilot is more important than any damage to an aircraft.

    I’m also willing to bet that a certain farmer removed the concrete posts from his fields.

  6. Thomas Scott says

    Note to North American readers: A “cornfield” in Britain means barley corn field.

  7. microraptor says

    whheydt @6: The problem was that by the time the Me 262 was being utilized (late 1944), Germany was suffering from such a severe fuel shortage that they couldn’t afford to actually train pilots by having them fly and many of their experienced pilots were being killed. On top of that, German metalurgy was severely suffering and they’d abandoned quality control (on top of using slave labor by POWs for construction of war materials) so they had numerous issues with performance and reliability of the 262’s engines.

    Despite that, the 262 still managed to be fairly devastating against American planes. It’s quite impressive that a P-51 pilot managed to shoot one down while it was airborne.

  8. gorobei says

    Re: cysyajads mf @ #2:

    I grew up in England in the aftermath of WW2, my history teacher had been a Lancaster bomber tail-gunner, and my French teacher got to wing commander of a fighter squadron (like commanding 60+ planes and hundreds of people.)

    They did not talk about the war to us. They had both seen hundreds of their peers die. I admire them to this day for self-treating their own trauma by spending the rest of their lives devoted to teaching children.

  9. davidc1 says

    @6 It is strange the combat took place at such a height ,they usually liked to attack the ME262’s when they were taking off or landing ,the Germans used piston engined FW190’s to protect he jets ,the FW190’s were painted red with white stripes underneath to warn the German AA not to shoot at them .

  10. whheydt says

    Re: 9 & 11,,,,
    Yes, Chuck Yeager claimed to be the first US pilot to shoot down an Me-262, which he did by getting into their landing pattern.

    I once met a gentleman–Astrid Anderson Bear’s first husband–who had been the flight engineer/top gunner on a B-17. He described hammering at incoming Fw-190s and watching the sparks as the .50 caliber slugs bounced off the armored engine cowling.

    I find the biggest irony of the Me-262, designed as a fighter, but Hitler insisted that they be set up as bombers (and it’s what got Adolph Galland bounced from General in Command of Fighter Forces to…squadron leader). The Germans built a jet propelled bomber. It was the Ar-234 Blitzbomber and was used almost exclusively as a photo recon plane.

    The one heavy bomber the Luftwaffe had, the Fw-200 was also pretty much only used as a recon plane.

  11. says

    Whheydt, the Fw 200 wasn’t a heavy bomber. It was an airliner converted to long range maritime recon. They would shadow convoys and report their locations for U-boats. Check out Catapult Armed Merchantman for the desperate measures the Royal Navy resorted to. Germany did finally start to build heavy bombers, but they were either technical nightmares (Heinkel He 177) or too late to be put in production (Junkers Ju 390).

  12. says

    Intermittent power is the worst.

    The pilot made the right decision, and at the last possible moment. At 2:23, you can see the end of the runway just on the other side of the highway as he banks left, and he undoubtedly thinks, just for a split second, that he can make the runway. Then he thinks better of it as he sees the ground coming up fast and hears the air whistling over the gun ports, a sort of low-rent stall warning horn on the Mustang, apparently. He rolls it level and puts it down in the field like a pro.

    I am 100% certain that if he’d tried to finish that turn to final, he would be dead now. Lots of pilots make the wrong choice in that moment and die.

  13. whheydt says

    Re: jimatkins @ #13…
    One of the roles for the FW-200 Condor was “patrol bomber.” Like a lot of the larger Luftwaffe aircraft, the original design was–at leat nominally–as a commercial passenger plane. The first miliatary version was built at the request of the Japanese.

    The bigger problem was that only 270 were ever built…really not enough to mount an effective bomber force. While the FW-200 was fairly early (designed beginning in 1936), it is typical of many German WW2 aircraft in being too little (in numbers) and too late to have much effect.

  14. AussieMike says

    The most critical time in this incident is that moment he decided via the aid of external ques and training, that rolling level and using the paddock was the best life saving option. The reason it was critical is because that is the very moment many pilots have let a singular focus on that runway threshold draw them into a very dangerous maneuver.

    As an aircraft rolls, the pilot must pull back on the stick to offset the extra drag and the lower vertical lift vector. This increases the G loads. A casual bank angle is 30 degrees. A tight turn is 60 degrees angle of bank. At 60 degree angle of bank the plane is pulling 2 G in a coordinated turn. The speed at which an aircraft stalls increases based on it’s weight or G loading.

    So when low and turning towards the runway, the temptation to turn and pull harder to get to the landing point is exactly when the stall speed increases as the G load increases and eventually the stall speed goes past the airspeed and your done. In a Mustang, which has unforgiving stall characteristics, it will stall the wing on the inside of the turn first, roll upside down and nose in.

    This has been a training challenge ever since the first plane. It applies to a light Cessna and a Boeing 747. It also killed a lot of war time pilots as they were progressed through training at a fast rate in order to supply the front lines with crews. There is some horrible footage of a USAF B52 doing exactly this and crashing in a fire ball while showing off to visiting family members. That pilot was a cowboy. The post crash review relieved a pilot who was a like the Bison guy. Poor impulse control even after years of training.

    The Mustang pilot did well and it was only thoughtfulness and training that allowed him to avoid that scenario. But, listening to him, it’s clear all those things were going through his mind. He was fighting instinct.

  15. EigenSprocketUK says

    Pilots didn’t get much training in WW2, and the casualty rates were high. I found it very scary to discover how many fatalities there were within just a few miles of where I live. (Miles from anywhere important). None of them actual combat, mostly early in training or in support missions. The only German one was probably 100 miles off-course, the bomber crew never reached its target. It’s all utterly tragic.

  16. davidc1 says

    @16 I wondered why he didn’t try and make for the Airfield ,thanks for the answer .

  17. says

    Aussie Mike- there is a book called Darker Shades of Blue- the rogue pilot. Analyzes that B-52 crash in massive detail. The pilot was beyond cowboy- was known to be dangerous and crew would refuse to fly with him. He was also the STANEVAL officer for that unit. That’s standardization and evaluation for those of us that speak English. He was in charge of training to fly without deviation from Strategic Air Command established standards and procedures. A few people lost their jobs and careers for that. He was practicing a demo before an open house/air show at Fairchild AFB.

  18. blf says

    Great video, and interesting follow-on interview.

    The P-51 is […] sort of a beefed up “Americanized” Spitfire.

    Not exactly. The P-51 was designed for the British and, in its most successful versions, powered by a British engine (the Merlin). However, it was designed “from the ground up”, including the wing and fuselage / cockpit aerodynamics. The mind-boggling thing is it was only 100 days or so from initial order to first prototype.

    At the time the British needed fighters, and no existing States model was adequate. What I don’t know — and possibly am also misrecalling or misunderstanding — is why Spitfires (e.g.) weren’t produced under license.

  19. =8)-DX says

    Just stop it, pharyngulites: being extremely knowledgable and charmingly lucid aobut the intimate details of whatever topic is in the OP! Stop it!
    (Just kidding, lovely comments, and thanks for sharing that video, PZ!)
    =8)-DX

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