|Source: Source: es.wikipedia.org|
However, upon return from the exercise the Mirages were retired and replaced with F/A-18 Hornets (Australian pronunciation: Eff-Eye-Deen').
That squadron had deployed back up to Clark in their brand new Jets (at the time, our F-15Cs were 10 years old, they're still flying and are now 36 years old. In Fighter Years, that's ancient e.g. Fighting WWII with Wright Flyers. I know, Sarge, I know. I digress.)
The Aussies have asked us to get them up to speed in air to air with fourth generation fighters, to include a workup in Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) from BFM all the way through X v X maneuvering. All this to get them ready for their participation in a "super" Cope Thunder in 4 weeks time. In addition to our squadron providing Blue Air to Air, an F-15 squadron from Elmendorf will also be participating. Misawa and Kunsan will be providing F-16 strikers, a detachment of EA-6s and the Wild Weasel squadron from Clark will be providing SEAD support. A couple of USMC and USN squadrons will be participating from Cubi Pt NAS. The Aggressors and the Aussies will be providing Red Air the first week, then the Aussies will switch sides and the Eagles will switch to Red Air. It's going to be a lot of fun and an awful lot of training.
As I said Bones is my wingman, having settled in with refueling, and will be getting an element lead checkout while we are in this exercise. We've already gone through the 1 v 1 and 2 v 1 similar portion of the program and will continue with the multiple aircraft rides, 2 v 2s and up. As I said, an awful lot of training going on.
This exercise occurred in the midst of the Reagan build up, which meant that flying time was abundant. It also occurred at a time when most of the Squadron and Wing level leadership had earned their spurs as Lieutenants in Vietnam. While there were exceptions, these senior Majors, Lt Col's and junior O-6s were Fighter Pilots first, last and always. Political Correctness, so pervasive in current leadership, was not prevalent in most Fighter Wings.
One tradition that still held sway was well described in Ed Rasimus' book "When Thunder Rolled". that of a mustache making you bullet proof. Since we were deploying to "simulated combat", the Squadron Commander dictated that we would all grow mustaches. No exceptions.
So we did.
The workup with the Aussies is progressing well and while there was no plan for this, it appears that the natural tempo of air operations has gotten me and my flight in synch with a particular Aussie flight. We've had several flights together that went quite well and the fights were, at times, epic. I've learned that the Hornet has considerably more slab movement and so can sustain a lot more angle of attack and can get to that AOA a lot faster than an Eagle. He's learned that works well in a 1 v 1, but gets you killed real fast when there's more than one adversary out there. (Think Maverick in Top Gun. "I'll hit the brakes, he'll fly right by.") The problem with it is once you've parked, you no longer can maneuver, and if a missile is coming at you, you will have a hard time defeating it.
In any case, his flight and mine have hit it off and have taken to hitting the club and downtown together.
It's been a couple of weeks and my mustache has progressed from the "what mustache?" through the "itchy" and into the scraggly stage, but orders are orders. If it makes me bulletproof, who am I to complain?
Bones has learned that being a flight lead is a whole order of magnitude more difficult than being a wingman. Not only are you responsible for the administrative details of the flight, briefing, abort options, takeoff on time, navigation, fuel management, recovery etc, he's also responsible for the tactics and the execution thereof. One of the key "aha" moments is when he realizes the adversary gets a vote in how effective your tactics are.
Bones is leading me in a 2 v 4 against our Aussie friends. While the Aussies generally use similar tactics as the USAF, my counterpart was not above pulling a fast one. We've got contact on our adversaries at about 50 miles. Two radar returns about a mile and a half apart. It was not unreasonable to assume that we had the two element leads on the radar with the wingmen in close formation so as to mask their number. Bones targets me on the element on my side while he targets the other element. He also tells me to commit on my element since his element has begun cooling off the intercept by putting Bones about 45 degrees off his nose. (45 degrees will slow his closure by 50 percent, it's a geometry thing.)
Commit means my priority, which up until then was maintain formation. defensive lookout and then offensive situation awareness (looking at the radar) in that order, is now do whatever it takes to kill the bandit,
Bones turns to keep the bandit on his nose which takes him away from me. I'm at about 20 miles when I see the element split into two contacts, the wingman has deployed. I'm in range so squeeze the trigger to "launch" an Aim-7. Simultaneously, I boresight the Aim-9. The Aim-7 has about 30-45 seconds time of flight to it's target and I can't acquire and launch a radar missile at another target until that time is up or it loses its guidance. So I've got to find the second guy with my eyeballs, then point at him, get a good tone from the heater, and launch. All the while, closing at above 1000 knots, and employing defensive countermeasures. That last 10 miles to the merge are intense!
Meanwhile back over to Bones. He's still pointing at his bandit, the bad guy is still stiff arming him. Bones makes a critical mistake at this point and misses the fact that he is no longer targeted as the bandit's aspect angle (the difference between where the bandit's nose is pointed and Bones) is greater than the 60 degree limit of the bandit's radar. In other words, the bandit is a decoy and is staying out of range and drawing us apart.
Back to my jet. I'm glancing in at the radar to monitor the missile status and looking through the HUD to find the second bandit. There, I see him and since we're inside 10 miles, pull the throttles to idle to cool the jet, making a heat shot more difficult. The Eagle cools very quickly and against that generation (Aim-9M) was an effective tactic. Point at the second guy and get a good tone. "Fox 2", reacquire, good tone, "Fox-2 Kill southern bandit". Look in at the radar and notice the first bandit has turned to put me on the beam and descended. The missile will fail. I'm looking to acquire him visually when I hear my RHAW gear start to squeal from my beam.Close! Chaff and Flares, break into him which coincidentally (not!) puts the first bandit on my beam. Holy S4!7! Where did this guy come from? Pass close aboard and start the turn, letting Bones know that I'm engaged with 2 live bandits after killing a third.
Bones is Blind (which means he doesn't see me, he doesn't have any vision problems). I am in a world of hurt, because my RHAW gear starts to squeal again as my original target is entering the fight. I've got one guy high on one side of my jet and another low on the other side of the jet. There's a lot of 9G turns going on and over the next eternity expend all my chaff and flares.
We get back on the ground and review the tapes prior to debriefing with the Aussies. The tricky dogs, had put 3 Hornets in one cell and 1 in the Decoy. Plan worked like a champ. We bought the beers that night.
The four week workup is over, the Aussies are doing quite well. Bones is now an element lead and has been my #3 for several rides in the last week. He still makes mistakes, but rarely twice and anyways, that's what training is for. We're now ready to start Cope Thunder.
My mustache is almost to the point of being groomable.
Cope Thunder goes quite well, although as small as the airspace was, the biggest lesson was learning to assume that there WAS someone in the airspace directly in front of you, you just didn't see him yet.
It's the final Saturday of the deployment, we'll redeploy the next Saturday, so we're having a bit of a get together. The Air to Air players have preplanned this party and brought provisions from our various bases. The Alaska guys have brought Salmon and Halibut (of course, and mentioned just in case Sarge dictates a continuation of Food Week). We've brought down cases of Kirin, Sapporo and Orion beer. The Avionics bay of an F-15C will carry a lot of beer. The Aussies brought Victoria Bitters and Black Swan. A great time was had by all.
The final week, the Eagles played Red Air, which was kinda cool, as we would sit in the arming area until we got the launch call from GCI. Gear Up, Flaps up, and we're in the air space. Fight like banshees until bingo. Throttles to idle, gear down, flaps down and land, never leaving sight of Clark.
It's Friday night, we're at the Clark club. My mustache is a work of art. It's late and the bartender calls last call. There are only 7 people in the club, the bartender, the Aussie 4 ship, me and Bones. The Aussie lead says there's a tradition in the RAAF called "Afterburners".
|Not Exactly, but it seemed to fit!|
He proceeds to demonstrate by getting a shotglass full of whiskey, lighting it on fire and then throwing it in his mouth, quickly turning the shotglass back upright with the remaining vapors still on fire.
Well.....I'm just anesthesized enough to welcome the challenge. He hands me a shotglass and lights it on fire. I get ready to drink, but he stays my hand saying "No Mate!" and proceeds to regale me with the history of this RAAF Fighter Pilot tradition all the way back to "the War to end all Wars", all the while the alcohol is burning. Finally, he ends with a hearty "Mate! To the Queen and the President!". I throw the flaming, and now superheated, alcohol at my open mouth. As the first molecule hits my tongue, there is an involuntary slamming shut of my lips. I, however, am only concerned about turning the glass back upright and having it be still burning. It is and I start to celebrate when the Aussie to my left starts slapping me on the face. I look at him quizzically and he states "You're on Far, Mate!"
I wake up the next morning and look in the mirror. I have a full mustache on the right side of my face and nothing on the left. Fly home and am met at the Jet by Mrs. Juvat who takes one look at me and says "You're an idiot!". With great love and affection of course.
*Skip calls them Sea Stories, I call them War Stories, but the only difference between them and a fairy tale is a fairy tale starts with "Once upon a time", the other starts with "So,...There I was".