Obviously, I survived due to “blind” luck or I would not be writing this story. Do you remember the drill for an initial solo in a T-38? My instructor and I went out to the aircraft together. Upon arrival at the aircraft, we completed the exterior pre-flight inspection together before I climbed the ladder into the front cockpit. My instructor helped me get set up by connecting my g-suit hose. He also gave me the required eyes-closed test to locate every important gauge and switch in the cockpit. Little did I know at that moment how important being able to fly a T-38 with eyes-closed could be during my initial solo. Engine start, taxi, takeoff, and climb out were normal, at least for an initial solo. Upon arrival in my assigned airspace at about Flight Level 240 where I was to practice acrobatics, I prepared for a split-S maneuver into the airspace which was below me.
I started the maneuver by rolling the aircraft inverted and increasing stick back pressure, eventually pulling the required 5-Gs toward the earth. At the point that I was now vertical with respect to the earth below and rapidly approaching 400 knots straight down, I lost my vision. I had no sight in either eye! (For my non-pilot classmates and friends, blood flow to the eyes can be lost in a high-“g” environment resulting in temporary, but complete blindness. Vision can be returned; but only by reducing g-loading. A g-suit prevents loss of vision by inflating around the pilot’s legs and waist, thus allowing blood flow to continue to the eyes.). I immediately realized that my g-suit was not functioning. I also knew that I would die very soon (i.e., impact earth at very high rate of speed) if I released the back pressure while accelerating towards the earth to get my eyesight back before continuing the maneuver. I realized that my only option was to continue the maneuver in the blind until enough time had passed that I guessed that I was near level flight again. After “finishing” the maneuver in the blind, I then released the stick back pressure and waited a few seconds until my vision was restored. It turned out that my guess was close enough and I was able to quickly return to level flight.
When I then checked the g-suit connection, I found that it had not been completely connected. The connection came apart when I picked it up. After re-connecting the g-suit and checking for proper operation, I continued my first solo opportunity until it was time to return and land. Remembering that my instructor had completed that connection for me during pre-flight, I eventually returned to our squadron area where I had a brief “chat” with my instructor about the proper technique to connect a g-suit. Although I told him what happened and was allowed to fly solo again, I made the g-suit connection on future flights! Fortunately, I lived to tell the story.