VT-2 FLYING THE T-28On my first solo flight in the "Terror-28" I was feeling cocky. At the end of the runway I popped the gear up and climbed North to 10,000 feet over Southern Alabama. I lined up on a road and and attempted several unauthorized snap-rolls. As I leveled out I quickly noticed a red glowing light on the lower center of the instrument panel: SUMP PLUG WARNING LIGHT.
It had been engrained in our crammed minds that this meant that there was metal in the engine oil. The monster R-1800 radial engine could self destruct at any time - or the light might be bad!
The procedure was to declare an emergency and land at the nearest field ASAP or sooner. I pulled back the power and spiraled down for a landing at the outlying Santa Rosa Field, manned only by a crash truck. As procedures dictated I held my gear to the very last minute - in case the engine quit on final approach... you do not want to land in the dirt with your gear down because the aircraft will flip over and crush the canopy and the pilot within. The crash crew fired a flare to remind me I had not lowered the gear before I reached the 180 as you do on a normal approach. I landed long and hot because you land with no flaps in an emergency where the engine can quit at any moment. As the T-28 hurtled toward the end of the runway and I was contemplating raising the gear and sliding off into the pucker brush I decided to make a very high speed turn onto an intersecting runway. The gear did no collapse. I stopped, did my shutdown checklist: Gas, Battery, Mags Off, checked my skivvies and then looked around. The crash crew that had been screaming down the runway behind me was gone - busy putting out a huge grass fire that their warning flare had ignited.