So. There I was…..* It is the day before the start of an ORI (operational readiness inspection). This event would serve as the wing and squadron commander’s report card as well as determine any future assignments/promotions in the USAF, no pressure.
Maintenance will begin generating the deploying aircraft first thing in the morning and as they are available, the squadron will deploy its 24 F-15Cs to Kwang Ju AB. The other squadrons are doing the same thing, although, they will only deploy to the Navy side of the base, a cost saving measure. I prefer the deployment option, less distractions.
On my last practice ride before the fun begins, I am flying an F-15C in a fuel conserving orbit somewhere in the low 30s with a mission to “protect” Okinawa from overflight by a Mig-25 that will supposedly make a run at the island. For this mission, the role of the Mig will be played by an SR-71. Being based at Kadena, they have to slow down and descend in order to land. While doing that, they pass through the parameters a Mig-25 would fly on an operational mission in Korea. The Habu Bubbas call it their “low, slow” profile.
|Brian Shul in flight|
An operational F-15 tops out in level flight at about 55K (centerline bag configuration, don’t know what it would be for the current two wing tank config). The SR-71 will be in the low to mid 70’s and in the high Mach 2’s. This mission’s success is a matter of arriving at a specific point in space at a specific climb angle with a specific energy state. A lot can go wrong and has, but a missed intercept on an ORI is bad juju.
As I was remembering details about this and researching, I came upon this article which talks about the maneuver I’m going to perform. It is called the Rutowski climb profile and is all about energy management. If you’re into complex math, go read the article. Some of you will undoubtedly be able to figure out the equations. Fortunately, there was a diagram I basically remembered.
I’m orbiting at Position C on the diagram. Once GCI determines the target is inbound and reaches commit range, I will begin flying the rest of the profile (C-E), trying to arrive at E with my nose about 45 degrees up, still above the Mach, at launch range and about 45K’. If I meet those parameters, I will have enough nose authority to keep the target illuminated for the time of flight of the missile(s). There will be 4 in flight.
|This is actually an ASAT test launch, but the parameters are basically the same.|
Since the SR-71 is travelling at about 1NM every 2 seconds, there is no time for error.
Commit range is about 250nm. I will turn hot at 350NM. Once I’m pointed at him, I will begin accelerating in Mil Power while beginning a slight climb to gain as much total energy as I can prior to commit. (Total energy is airspeed and altitude.) At 250NM, I will go Max AB and begin a zero g dive. This eliminates the drag caused by the aircraft’s lift and maximizes the velocity I can achieve, while minimizing the altitude (potential energy) loss. At 150NM, I begin a 4 g pull to a 45 degree climb and maintain that throughout the remainder of the intercept. Oh, and by the way, the F-15’s radar only goes out to 200NM, so while in the midst of this maneuver, I have to locate the target and lock on. GCI’s radar sweep is too slow to control the intercept. The closure rate will cause them to tell me to pull too late for a successful intercept.
As I said, there’s a lot going on and no room for error.
I get the call to turn hot, and am now on the attack vector, I’m just under the Mach and in my slight climb around 35K. I get the commit call, light AB and push over. I’ve got the radar run out to max range and get the first contact there. I get the lock on and, Mother Bear, this guy’s fast! By the time the radar is settled in, he’s about 180. I’m well above the Mach and down to around 27K. 150NM and pull. 45 degrees set, through 30K, 35K. Everything looks steady, target is steady in the HUD (a good sign, if he was moving up the HUD, that would mean I was behind on the intercept).
Coming through 40K, I suddenly feel as if a large nail has been shot through my jaw and into my skull. The pain is blinding and getting worse! I roll the aircraft what I think is about 180 degrees and begin a pull to get the nose coming back down. I recognize the symptoms from altitude chamber training in Pilot Training. I've either got air trapped in a sinus or a tooth. In either case, I’ve got to get the aircraft down below the altitude the incident occurred as quickly as possible.
As soon as I get below 40K, it’s as if someone flips a switch, the pain switches from incapacitatingly sharp to dull residual. I call “Knock it off” to GCI and the SR-71 and tell them I’m RTB. As I continue to descend, the pain continues to abate, so I come down initial and land. Get back in the squadron and find the Flight Surgeon. He runs me through an X-ray, nothing wrong with my sinuses, so sends me off to the Dentist. I've got a cracked filling on one of my molars. No problem. Drill it out and replace it.
Later that evening, I get a call at home from the Dentist. “I’m not sure I got all the air out. We should probably try an Altitude Chamber ride first thing in the morning.” Well, there went my deploying in an Eagle! Oh, and by the way, I’ll know if he didn't get it all with a repeat of this morning’s episode.
I’m in the altitude chamber, watching the altimeter climb. Just me and the technician in the box. 35K, 38K, 39K, 40K, 41K, maybe……42K BAM! Holy Crap this hurts! I don’t even have to say anything; the tech can see it in my eyes. We start back down.
To his credit, and mortal risk, the Dentist is waiting at the chamber door when it opens. I ask him what’s next and he says root canal. Perfect! Can this day get any better? I call the squadron and tell them I’m not going to be flying an Eagle up and what are the Airlift departure times? They tell me they’re all today. I ask the Dentist when he’ll be done with the root canal. I can’t fly in anything, until tomorrow morning.
|Coulda been this, instead....|
|I get this.|
Now, what? I ask the squadron to find anything going to Korea tomorrow, and then go have my root canal.
I find out there’s a C-130 leaving for Kunsan first thing in the morning and I make arrangements to be on it.
Wake up the next morning with the command post calling asking me to swing by the squadron to grab the mission planning computer that had somehow been left behind. So, I’ve got my A-3 bag with my gear, and I’m going to carry a late 80s era CPU? That would be ok, if I were getting off the 130 at Kwang Ju, but I have to take a taxi from Kunsan to the bus terminal, get on a bus to Kwang Ju. (Google Maps shows that to be 5 hour plus today, the roads weren’t as good back then). Hail another cab to the airbase and then flag someone down to catch a ride to the squadron.
I drive by the squadron, and the entire building is empty. Nobody around at all. My squadron is in Korea, the other squadrons are on the other side of the base. I am the last man standing. I grab the CPU and depart for the MAC terminal and get on the 130.
I make it to the Kunsan bus terminal, (in flight suit), get my ticket to Kwang Ju and actually find the right bus. I’m struggling a bit trying to get all the stuff going in the right direction, when a ROK Army Enlisted guy takes pity on me, comes up and offers to help. I ask him to carry my gear. (The computer is NoForn.) He does and on arrival at Kwang Ju, hails the cab and tells them where I need to go. (My ability to order a beer and find a bathroom in Korean being of no use to me at this point.)
I arrive at the front gate, the SPs let me in and call the squadron. The bread truck arrives and I load all the stuff on board and am climbing in, when the siren goes off.
Airfield attack, condition black! Welcome to the ORI, Juvat!