F6U-1 Pirate - Production Flight Test Incident

Written by H. J. (Hank) Merbler

Hank joined the Vought Engineering Department in 1941 and started work in the wing design group. At the time of this incident in 1950 he was assigned to Production Flight Test Operations for the F6U-1 at Ardmore Oklahoma. Hank tells the following story:

In preparing a pilot for a test flight one of the procedures that I always did was to strap the pilot into the seat and review the objectives of the test flight. Chan Chandler was the Navy Flight Test Pilot on this particular check flight. Chandler and I had worked together for some time and were good friends. He had been test flying many different types of airplanes  including the heavy Temco  modified military aircraft. While strapping him in I ask him if he had read the Pilot’s Handbook for the F6U. Chandler assured me that he had read the Hand Book and that he knew the objectives of the check flight.

Chandler began to taxi out to the end of the runway. I went into the radio shack where another pilot and I established radio contact with him. The radio shack was located to the side and about half way down the runway. From that point we could look across the runway to some trees. Past experience had shown that the wheels should be off the ground at the point that lined up with the trees in order to clear the mountain located just off the end of  the runway.  At  that time there were three of us on the field, the pilot in the shed with me and Chandler in the airplane. Chandler began his take off run. He kept coming along the runway at full power and raced by the point that lined up with the trees and on toward the mountain side. Suddenly the airplane went vertical in a very sharp 90 degree change in direction!

We were screaming into the mike, Chandler, Chandler, is everything ok? He did not answer for a  long time. Finally he said “Whew!!”. Chandler said that when he realized that something was wrong he looked down at the stick and saw that his glove between his thumb and his index finger had gotten caught in the trim tab wheel and had fed in nose down trim. He reached down with his other hand and jerked his glove out of the wheel and immediately the aircraft went vertical! The action of removing his glove from being caught in the trim tab fed in enough nose up trim to cause the sudden 90 degree pitch up. It is fortunate that he did not break his neck or damage the aircraft. He immediately came back and landed and when he got out of the airplane his flying suit was sopping wet. All three of us were shaking from the experience. Fortunately no one was hurt, nothing was damaged and the aircraft was in good shape.

More F6U:

Flight Test
Flight Test Incident - Paul Thayer’s Dead Stick Landing
Production Flight Test Incident