|WSO's Cockpit in the F-4 Phantom|
Now in the F-4D Phantom, the model with which I am most familiar, my old job required things to be done in both cockpits. But the bulk of our switches and gizmos were in the back seat, also known as the "Pit" in Air Force parlance. (No idea what the Navy might call it, if you should one day meet an old Navy Phantom back seater, ask him. And it will be a him, there were no female Phantom crew-"persons" back when the F-4 was in Navy service. Not to my certain knowledge anyway.)
Now the bulk of my aircraft maintenance career (7-plus years) was in Radar Calibration. All F-4Cs and F-4Ds (we had both on Okinawa, only the latter in Korea) required (by spec) that their Weapon Control Systems (WCS) be calibrated once every six months. (I should also not at this point that back in the day we referred to the WCS and the radar virtually as the same thing. The cognoscenti know better, but I'm telling the story and that's what we called it, in my day.)
One of the things which had to be done prior to moving an aircraft into the Radar Cal hangar (or barn) (for such it was called in Korea, where we had an actual hangar, which was nice when the weather sucked. On Okinawa it was called the Radar Cal docks, only the front half of the aircraft was covered by a structure. And we had docks for two birds, hence the plural. And as the 18th was a bigger wing than the 8th, we tended to do two jets at a time there. But I see I've wandered...)
Yes, one of the things which had to be done prior to towing an aircraft to our little bailiwick was to remove the rear seat. Not the entire ejection seat mind you, just the seat pan itself with all the splodey stuff in it. Not for safety reasons, on the flight line we worked with the seat in all the time. Mind you that in each seat there were six safety pins. Before you slid your butt onto that seat, you made damned sure all six pins were in and in properly. More than a couple of maintenance types exitted this life at the "hands" of an improperly secured Martin-Baker ejection seat. (And at least one, to my second hand knowledge, actually committed "suicide by Martin-Baker". No doubt, very messy. But again, I see I've digressed...)
The reason for removing the seat was so that we maintenance types could get to this one box that was installed under the left panel, slightly to the rear of the WSO, on the floor of the cockpit itself. This box contained all of the magical electronics which controlled the two radar scope displays, one in front, one in back. For the life of me I can't remember the name of that box. It will probably come to me two minutes after I hit the "Publish" button. But it's not critical that you know the name, just that it's there. Also that's why we had to have the back seat removed. Those suckers always required tweaking around Radar Cal time.
In Radar Cal we'd place a small step stool on the floor of the rear cockpit, for to sit on in something approaching comfort. For calibrating the radar on the F-4 takes more than a couple of minutes. Normally we got the birds for two days, and that's operating 24-7. One part of the Air Force which truly is military is flight line maintenance. No, we don't carry rifles or sleep in the mud. But we did work long hours, in all sorts of weather. (And no, our airfields don't pitch and roll and all that. To my certain knowledge no one ever fell over the side of an Air Force runway and died from it. At least not from the fall. (Dammit, drifted off course again, I think I'm picking up a headwind as well!)
Now what triggered this story was something I read over at the Mother Ship, A Little Negative 'G' was the post, from back in August of '04. (Like I've mentioned elsewhere, I've been spending a lot of time over there in the archives, for the pleasure which is in it. The man was a brilliant writer and story-teller. It's inspirational I tell you.)
One of my pet peeves back then was our Day Shift. These guys were on Day Shift so Skip (of him this is the third mention, I also mentioned him here and here, he will get mentioned again and probably again no doubt. Skip was the best goddamned NCO I ever met. Bar none.) could keep an eye on them. He didn't exactly distrust them, but I doubt that he would let them use his car, if we had been allowed cars. Ever. They were just a little sloppy about a few things. One of which was telling us that a bird was all done, we just needed to close her up and call Job Control to come and take her away. And finding that the bird wasn't "quite ready" to re-enter the lists.
Now invariably we'd inspect the aircraft and find crap in the cockpit. Little pieces of safety wire, the occasional washer or fastener, what the Air Force (and the other flying services) call FOD. (Finally, he gets around to telling us what the heck that title is all about!)
"FOD" is an acronym, in my day it meant one of two things Foreign Object Debris, i.e. stuff what don't belong somewhere and would you please pick that sh!t up. NOW! Or it could stand for Foreign Object Damage, as in, I thought I told you to pick that sh!t up. Now someone's going to pay. Hopefully not an aircrew, because FOD can kill them. Something where it's not supposed to be and you're in this fix:
Okay, rolling in hot, good angle-of-attack, pipper's on the target. Now hit the pickle switch and pull up. Oh sh!t, oh dear, why is the stick not pulling to the rear?Well Ma'am, your husband died because Airman Schmuckatelli forget to remove that loose screw from the cockpit and it got kinda wedged in the controls. Yes, "crap in the cockpit", not good, pet peeve o' mine.
Other than just killing people it can be rather an annoyance as well. Pilot rolls the jet and all that dirt and crap on the cockpit floor is now on its way to the canopy, and yeah into the pilot's face as well. Trust me, that sucks. (Don't ask me how I know, I just do.)
So a clean pair of cockpits is something I always strived for. My day shift colleagues seemed to think that if they didn't make the mess, why should they clean it up? So if my shift didn't button up the bird, there were no guarantees that the cockpits were clean. Normally they were "okay", but still, their lack of attention to detail griped me. Wasn't like that in the old days, not when Gary and Tater were on the job, no Sir! (More on them someday, I promise. legends they were.) Skip couldn't be everywhere. Even though it felt like it at times. (The man could be downright scary at times. Think your Mom, with the eyes in the back of her head thing going on.)
Well, like I mentioned here, one day I was shipped off to Quality Assurance. Where, as it turns out, one of my assigned duties was inspecting aircraft coming out of Radar Cal. Gee, how about that?
The first jet I got to inspect had been buttoned up by the day shift. So could I come out and have a look before they towed it? Sure.
Uh, why is the foot long piece of safety wire in here? Is this your screw driver? Are you missing two bolts and three washers? Who buttoned up this jet? I WANT NAMES DAMMIT!The Deputy Commander for Maintenance found my two page report on the state of cleanliness of the aircraft rather interesting. The Day Shift Radar Cal supervisor, not so much. The crew chief for that jet (who had made the mess in the first place) found it even less interesting. Seems that was not his first offense.
Yes, Skip had unleashed an anti-FOD demon on the wing. I had a crusade and FOD was part if it. After that first time, I swear you could have performed brain surgery in those cockpits when a bird came out of Radar Cal. Seems Skip actually got ahold of a vacuum cleaner from somewhere. Nice.
I also got a couple of free steak dinners out of it. But that's a story for another time.