|Partially Deployed F-4 Phantom Speedbrake, Looking Forward|
|Partially Deployed F-4 Phantom Speedbrake, Looking Inboard|
The dangers are even more real around military aircraft which are designed to carry (and later dispense) things which are apt to go "BOOM" also by design, or sometimes by injudicious handling practices. And in my days of yore, I had the opportunity to witness such injudicious handling practices from time to time. Also had the chance to see what could be labeled "just plain stupidity" in the presence of inanimate objects which had the rather large potential to kill or otherwise maim those unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of "people doing stupid things around aircraft".
This, gentle reader, is such a tale.
In those photos above, you can see what the speedbrakes look like on the Phantom. There are two, one under each wing, slightly inboard and aft of the main gear struts. In the front cockpit, where the chap who flies the aircraft sits (and in those days ladies were not allowed to fly the Phantom), on the throttle quadrant there is a small toggle switch, accessible by the pilot's left pinkie finger, which will cause those speedbrakes to move.
As you might gather, these are used to help slow the aircraft down, when such a thing is desired. As I am not competent to address when that need might occur or why, I won't. Perhaps juvat or VX (both having been Phantom-drivers back in their heyday) might enlighten us someday. For now, it's not crucial to the story.
And they move with, shall we say, a certain alacrity. It's not a gradual movement like you'd see on a commercial airliner's flaps when one is in the process of either landing or taking off (for those of you who notice such things), no the movement is sudden and rather violent. Sitting on the ground you can feel the thud when they close.
So if a speedbrake was to move and you were close enough to be "touched" by said speedbrake, it would be over before you had the chance to say "Oh crap". Though you might get the "oh" out before those around the aircraft noticed that you had been either killed or maimed by the speedbrake.
Suffice to say, there were parts of the aircraft we Weapon Control Systems (WCS) types stayed away from when hydraulic pressure was applied to the jet. And when we worked on the jet, we normally applied hydraulic pressure via two hookups underneath the bird to the utility hyrdraulic system. For to cause the radar antenna to sweep back and forth. 'Twas all part of the job and some of those details would no doubt cause you to weep with boredom and frustration so I won't go into that.
Now it was customary, back when I worked the flightline, to not attempt to work on, around or under an aircraft upon which someone else was doing maintenance. In addition to being impolite and rather bad form, it was, quite simply put, dangerous as hell. Particularly an aircraft to which power was applied and which had the juices flowing in the utility hydraulic system.
So there I was, one fine day on Okinawa, sitting in the front seat of the mighty Phantom observing the pilot's front scope display while my colleague worked the radar controls in the back seat. The Dash-60 was roaring (this was used to supply electrical juice to the aircraft on the ground, it did other things but that's a "whole 'nuther story") and the Six-Cart was pumping hydraulic juice into the bird for to sweep the parabolic dish antenna what was bolted to the front of the radar package. When I saw (sensed?) something in my peripheral vision.
Head out of the cockpit, I looked around. There to my right front, about ten yards from the jet, was a maintenance van. Full of BB-Stackers it was. Now a BB-Stacker was one of the semi-official names for the airmen of munitions maintenance. The good folks who stored and transported the things which the aircraft could carry which went "BOOM" (as discussed above) and also maintained the systems onboard the aircraft which would hold and then (hopefully on the pilot's command) release the things which went "BOOM". (In general, this meant the pylons which could be bolted onto the jet to carry external stores.)
I watched the BB-Stackermobile for a moment before returning my attention to what we were working on ourselves. Then there it was again, movement in my peripheral vision. I started getting that old "WTF" feeling, so I told the guy in the back to stop what he was doing and put his hands on the canopy bow where I could see them. (Thus ensuring he wasn't playing with switches or the aircraft controls while I did my little extravehicular excursion.)
Climbing to the ground, I noticed that the BB-Stackers were all clustered around the right inboard pylon and were doing "something". All without having checked in with us first. It was then that I had an "oh crap" moment. For the leader of this merry band of weapons weenies (another name we had for folks of that ilk) was leaning on the fully deployed right speed brake. Kind of watching what his minions were doing.
Striding manfully to where Sergeant Doofus was perched I yanked him away from the speedbrake and then proceeded to shoo him and his minions away from "my jet". As he started to take umbrage with the way a lowly two-stripe airman was berating him in front of his minions (for he had three stripes, I, a mere two) I invited the young sergeant to help himself to a steaming cup of STFU and "watch the speedbrake numbnuts, watch them closely"!
All this was said at full bellow due to the noise of the Dash-60 and such. Well, I think it may have had something to do with my being "mildly upset" with the BB-Stacker sergeant as well. I have always been somewhat, er, "exciteable" at times.
At any rate, once I had his attention, I went back to the jet and climbed up the boarding ladder. Once up, I reached into the cockpit and hit that little toggle switch on the throttle quadrant. THUMP went the speedbrakes and nearly to the ground went the young Sergeant of BB-Stackers as his knees suddenly went all watery-like.
For he now realized that he had been dancing with Death while leaning on that speedbrake. I doubt very much that he would ever (ever) do THAT again. It also became known that if I was on the jet, you stayed away until such time as I would let you near. For I was young and fiercely territorial in those days.
And I preferred not to have to watch careless people get hurt / killed while doing my job. Not that I'm squeamish mind you, it's just that the investigations and testimony would have required me to wear my "nice" uniform and not my fatigues. I don't like to dress up. Unless it's for a parade. And they don't have parades for stupid people. At least not back in my day, not in this country. But you do have to dress up for inquiries and such.
I like to avoid those. Then and now.