Monday, August 18, 2014

Rain, Rain...

It’s been an interesting week, still no rain around here, but evidently it’s still available in other areas of the country.  Sarge saw fit to give Rain a duet of posts complete with photos (to which he owns the copyright).  Meanwhile, Aaron has a bit of an issue with some flooding to which Proud Hillbilly provided some additional photographic proof (She also owns the copyright).  So, given the circumstances, and to follow up last week’s weather related tale, I shall relate another “adventure” in aviation weather.

By Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Allen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s a few years after the W0X0F episode, and I am now flying an F-15, (The finest fighter ever made, thank you very much), have been promoted to Major and commensurate with that promotion is the requirement to check out as a Supervisor of Flying.  The SOF is the person who makes the decision whether the weather is good enough to fly at all, on restricted missions, with a higher fuel reserve or unrestricted.  He coordinates with base agencies in case of emergencies. Since he holds the Wing Commander’s future stars in his hand, he is frequently second guessed while things are happening and is always included in any accident board investigation. Fortunately, at this time, the Wing Commander is a very talented leader and Fighter Pilot.  Went on to retire with Three Stars and deserved each one.  He didn’t tend to get into his people’s business.

Typically, a SOF tour was about 4 hours and would start about an hour and a half prior to the first briefing.  This would allow the SOF to make an informed decision about the weather and every so often issue the beloved “Roll Over” call to pilots in the first go.  “Flying is cancelled, go back to sleep.”  The Wing’s flying schedule was staggered throughout the day, so one squadron would launch their sorties and as they were recovering to the base, the next squadron would launch, then the third, then the first, second…

So, There I was…..* Last SOF of the day.  The tour started with Base Operations, where you would speak to the various agencies to find out if there were any potential problems, a barrier down, broken fire equipment, whatever.  Rarely was this a factor, but you never knew.  The final place you visited was Weather.  Flying from an island where the usual divert base was 8 miles away and the next closest was 400 miles north, meant paying attention to the weather.  I’m talking to the weather NCOIC, an E-7 (Buck and Sarge know what that is) and, having dealt with him before, I’m comfortable in his competence.  The forecast for  my flying period is VFR with short periods of intense showers.  I ask him how intense and how short.  He says, very and no more than ten minutes with intervals of 30 minutes to an hour between.  Not good, but good enough to fly.  I set a high Bingo, Not high enough to divert 400 miles, but high enough to hold for a while until the weather improves. 

As I’m sure, you, the reader is picking up, this turns out to have been a mistake.  But Hindsight is 20-20.

So, we launch my squadron’s 12 sorties, all two ships, so 6 flights.  The other squadron’s flights are starting home and I am settling in as SOF having done the handover brief with my predecessor.

 A short pause, to describe the settings.  Kadena’s tower is exceptionally high, perhaps 150’ or so.  I was sitting in a glass room and can see the entire base.  It’s a pretty exceptional view. I’m joined in this setting by the tower crew.  4 people, all enlisted, The Ground Controller, The Tower Controller, The Tower Supervisor and another person, an E-3 who’s probably in training.  Served several tours with this particular team, and the Supervisor is one of sharpest I've seen. (E-7 also.  I don’t think they hand those stripes out in Cereal boxes.)

So, I’m settling in, and give a quick 360 look around to see what there is to see. To the south off the approach end of the runway, I see a rain squall.  Looks pretty heavy to me, but there’s nobody in the pattern and the closest flight is still 10 to 15 minutes away.  I call them on their secondary radio and tell them about the squall and advise them they may want to slow down a bit and stay high.  I’ll call them when it passes through.  The squall hits and my understanding of the word “intense” changes.  It is raining so hard that I can’t see anything outside the tower, no buildings, lights, not anything.  The island could have sank leaving only the control tower , but I’d never have known it.  Sure enough, it blows through and although the runway is wet, the field is clear, I tell Approach to get the returning flights headed inbound.  One flight comes in and lands, and I see another squall approaching.  Hoo Boy! Hold High and wait for my call.  It passes,  I get the second flight on the ground when Tower Supervisor tells me that the winds have changed and are now coming in consistently from the south.

 She recommends changing the runway.  My call. However, there is that thing about ALWAYS being part of the Accident Investigation. Not taking the advice of the Tower Supervisor would probably not reflect well in that case.  The problem is, landing to the north, there are instrument approaches for both runways.  Landing to the south, there’s only one for the western runway. Changing runways effectively turns the field into a single runway airport. Since the weather system is approaching from the south, we change runways.  About this time, I get a call from the Weather Man who says, the system is intensifying and will be more intense with longer duration and shorter interval.  I get on Guard and have all flights contact me on the SOF freq.  They all check in.  I explain the situation and have them all RTB at max endurance.  I get a fuel check from each and pass a holding stack  plan to Approach.  Our plan is nobody leaves holding until the previous flight is on the ground.  That way if they miss approach, RAPCON can vector them around without having to worry about spacing. 

This works quite well, we have a couple of jets who have to go missed approach, but in general we are getting folks down without too many problems.  Except it’s now dark.  I’ve got my last two aircraft starting the approach.  It’s a 1LT on his Element Lead Check Ride and my Operations Officer as his wingman in Radar Trail.  On Rollout, the previous flight had reported that getting the jet stopped was becoming difficult because of the volume of standing water  on the runway

I called the Barrier Crew and told them I wanted them to head out to the runway and not wait in their office.  My last two jets had been up for a couple of hours and were getting low on gas.  They’re on 10 mile final when the storm blows through the base, they run into it on about 3 mile final, come out of it and report runway in sight.  I watch the 1LT touch down and realize he had done a normal F-15 landing, flared the jet into a soft touchdown. In order to avoid hydroplaning and potentially running off the runway, he should have had minimal flare and a firm touchdown (AKA a standard run of the mill Navy landing) to break the surface tension of the water and get the wheels in contact with the runway.  Sure enough, he’s not slowing down very fast.

It was a bit unusual but time seemed to slow and while I’m watching him roll further down the runway, I think back to a Mentor telling me that in an emergency you have to plan your words, so that if any of them are blocked, your message will still be understood.   So, I key the mike on SOF and Guard frequencies and say “PUT YOUR HOOK DOWN”.  I’m watching and don't see anything happening.  However, the E-3 who’s watching through Binoculars, says “Hook’s Down”.  I see it engage the barrier and stop the jet.

I pick up the phone and call RAPCON and tell them the runway is closed and to vector the last jet around.  I ask the Ops Officer how much gas he's got left. He’s got enough for one pattern. But….

This wouldn’t be a problem on an Aircraft Carrier, they get guys out of the barrier on every landing.  However, PACAF regulations say that the aircraft must be shut down and towed free of the barrier and runway, then the barrier restrung before the runway can be reopened. 30 minutes minimum.

The PACAF Way
 #2 doesn’t have that much gas.  

I call the Weatherman and ask about Naha, the close divert.  Weather is below minimums and that’s headed our way.  I make my decision.

 I contact the Barrier crew and tell them we’re going to slingshot the jet out of the barrier.  He starts to balk and bay.  I finally tell him that this is the only way we’re going to get the runway open before #2 flames out and unless he’s got a faster way of opening the runway, that’s what we’re going to do.  He asks for my name, I give it to him. 

About this time, my phone rings, I glance down at it.  It's got buttons to connect me to or be contacted by almost any flying related agency on base.  The top left button is the hot line to the Wing Commander.  It's lit. I'd spoken to him earlier when I'd recalled the jets and had them hold, he was ok with that.

"Shogun Six, Major Juvat speaking Sir".  "Major, what's the plan?"  He'd been listening to the radio and so knew about the barrier engagement.  I explained the fuel situation and my plan to slingshot the aircraft out and the impending radio call to the 1LT on procedures.  He agrees with me.  I've got top cover!

 I get on the radio and talk to the 1LT, and in very plain English, tell him that the Ops Officer’s life rests on him, that slingshotting the aircraft will seem unnatural, as the aircraft will begin rolling backwards and that the absolute worst thing he can do is use the brakes.  If he uses the brakes, the aircraft momentum will force the tail of the aircraft down and potentially standing it on its tail.  At that point, the runway will be closed for a very long time.  I tell him to put his feet on the floor and control the rollback with small power advances.  We’re all ready, the barrier chief tightens the tension, the 1LT adds power, then cuts it, the aircraft rolls back , the hook clears the barrier.  The chief gives him the hook up signal and he taxies across the barrier,  The barrier chief restrings a few doughnuts and retensions the barrier and as the Ops Officer calls runway in sight, the runway is opened.  The Ops Officer lands, HARD, gets the jet slowed to taxi speed before the barrier and taxi’s clear.

I clean up my station, and get ready to call it a day.  Went to the Tower Crew, shook their hand and told them great job.  (I also called their commander the next day and told him the same thing, the Tower Supervisor had a big grin on her face the next time I saw her.)

Headed back to the Squadron, checked the schedule and saw I had an early flight, so I left.

Got home…

Evidently, there had been just over 7 inches of rain in the 6 hour tour I was SOF.  My wife, 5 year old son and most of the people from my wife’s office, were building a sandbag wall to try and keep the water running through the drainage ditch behind our house from running through our house.  The day ain’t over, til it’s over.
The foundation of Chateau Juvat is all that remains.


As I looked for pictures for this post, I realized there was a bit more to the story than I thought.  The battle to keep the water out of the house was lost as was carpeting and assorted furniture.  When I filed my claim for reimbursement, the housing office disapproved it, saying that the flooding was a normal occurrence.  I countered with “If flooding is a normal occurrence, then the house is uninhabitable, and you should move us to a different house”.  They paid.  However, as I looked on Google Earth at Kadena and did some reminiscing, I noticed that the house we’d lived in had been demolished and not replaced.  Guess my words were heeded.

12 comments:

  1. Great story Juvat. I can testify to the intensity of the rain on Okinawa and its fickle nature.

    I remember standing on the loading dock of our building with a nice view out over the East China Sea, watching the rain marching our way.

    Seconds later it's coming down in buckets. Wait a few minutes and it's sunny again (but now it's steamy as well!)

    This tale sure brought back some memories.

    Thanks Juvat.

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    1. Thanks
      Course we also had droughts there. Towards the end of the tour, I remember having to save laundry water to flush toilets, it's always something.

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    2. Really?

      I don't ever recall not having enough rain when I was there. Strange.

      In fact, it always rained from about 1500 on Friday to about 0700 on Monday. Every damn weekend. (Those Friday squalls that Alemaster mentions below!)

      Of course, that might just be the way I remember it.

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    3. Yeah, at one point about midway through my tour, you couldn't wash your car, water your lawn. Had to save your laundry water and dishwater for toilets. The Japanese were doing modifications to the reservoirs and a couple weren't available hence the restrictions. It was pretty bad. I remember deploying to the PI for Cope Thunder and walking into Chambers Hall, into my room and into the shower, still in flight suit.

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  2. I've "hit" Kadena more than once in time for the Friday squalls while flying green and white C-12s out of Seoul AB. When it's an adventure it's a real adventure. regards, Alemaster

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  3. No pressure there...

    What a story - thanks!

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  4. Actually the stress level was highest when I got home. Just sayin'.

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  5. (E-7 also. I don’t think they hand those stripes out in Cereal boxes.)

    Well, they didn't USED to be found in cereal boxes. That said, it's been nearly 30 years since I retired so things may have changed, mainly coz I see a lot of awfully young looking MSgts whenever I go out to Cannon. Come to think of it, the colonels look awfully damned young to me, too. ;-)

    Nice post.

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    1. Thanks. Got to agree with you. We get a lot of Active Military visitors here due to the proximity to San Antonio and Ft Hood. Some of them look pretty darn young to be doing the things they're doing.

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  6. At least you guys were smarter than we were... We launched in the eye of the typhoon to fly a SAR, figuring 'most' of the wind/rain would have died down when we returned... Beat the 's**t' out of us getting through those rain bands... AND flamed out one engine!

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    1. Had to sit through a phoon or two on Kadena, Amazing amount of wind and rain. Never felt the need to be a hurricane hunter after that..

      Flaming out an engine? Good thing you had a few in reserve.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)