By Norm Goyer
It’s a real shame when one of the best looking primary trainers is a problem child, to the extent of being involved in many fatal accidents. I have owned and flown a PT-22 Recruit and almost was a statistic. My solution, sold it the next day, and never allowed any of my children or me to fly in one again. Sounds a bit harsh but when someone talks to me repeatedly, I damn well listen. The background of this story is a perfect case of a committee screwing up a project, that didn’t need fixing. The project was the Ryan ST-A Sport Trainer which won a National Aerobatics trophy when flown by Tex Rankin in the middle 1030s.
The Army Air Force thought that the ST-A would make a very nice primary trainer and ordered a number of the PT-16s, both on floats and wheels. But as usual somebody complained that the Menasco engine was not reliable. Maybe so, but there were plenty of small radials or inlines to replace it. No, that would be too simple. Let’s redesign the airplane so our poor cadets can be more comfortable. Well, you know how that went. A very good airplane got neutered so badly it was labeled the cadet killer. They redesigned the fuselage so the main spine was on the outside of the fuselage and then they widened it a bit. The engine of choice appeared to have been borrowed from a John Deere tractor, a 160 hp Kinner five cylinder radial engine swinging a huge wooden prop at a low rpm. At top rpm it was turning about the same as a Continental or LYcoming radial at high idle. The exhaust stacks were routed three to one manifold and two to another manifold giving the engine a tractor sound. When flying low over farmlands the famers complained that the cows would hear the PT-22 flying over and all headed to the barn for milking.
The committee also decided to sweep back the wings so that the plane would balance better with or without a second occupant. Somewhere along the line they forgot about washout in the wing or changing the airfoil towards the wing tip to help keep air flowing over the ailerons so the wing tip would stall after the root allowing for some control during slow flight or a stall maneuver. This slow flight control problem was probably the reason for the stall spin accidents that followed. This is no secret in the Warbird world as the PT-22 has been written up by many journalists and this problem is always discussed. In my experience, excess altitude saved my butt and I was able to pull out minus a few square yards of wing fabric. The son of the Mayor of my hometown was killed in a Recruit, the corporate pilot of a large phone company died when he attempted a roll and stalled the Ryan and in it went. The two brothers I sold my PT-22 got it too slow landing and over the top and into the ground it went.The son of an aircraft museum owner and Reno race pilot was playing around in a Ryan and stalled it and down it went.
The accident rate in schools using the Recruit got so bad that Ryan was contacted and they set up a separate school at Hemet/Ryan field to teach Army Air Force cadets how to safely fly their aircraft. According to the scuttlebutt, Ryan was not the culprit in the design change but the “committee” were the ones demanding the changes. In my opinion, the problem was the way the Ryan was flown, if it were flown as a Ryan and not as a standard Piper or Cessna the Ryan was perfectly okay, it was just different, and demanded you fly it by Ryan rules not normal rules. I also have many hours in Texans and would say that the PT-22 pretty much flew like the Texan with one exception. If you needed help in the Texan you had 600 Pratt & Whitney horses which would haul your butt out of trouble. In the Ryan you had squat.
In my experience, I tried to loop the Ryan after being told that it did not loop very well due to lack of power. So I started at 6,000 feet AGL and, well they were right I fell out of the loop at the top and fell inverted fighting a flat spin entry and finally got out of it but way too fast and peeled some fabric off the wing. Of course it was 100% my fault. What a shame, the PT- 22 is real pretty fun to fly John Deere Tractor.