I vividly remember one of the first lessons taught in VT-10, the primary training squadron for Naval Flight Officers. It was taught to us by an F-14 RIO- LT Phil "Fess" Parker, as a way of encouraging us to study hard, work even harder in the cockpit, and ensure the pilot preferred us over a bag of gas.
What he meant was for us to be invaluable to the guy in the front seat- anticipate what he needed so the aircraft and crew was one- kind of zen-like- a single fighting machine that worked seamlessly to effect the mission. For an NFO-centric aircraft like the S-3 or E-2, it's not so much an issue. The pilot just puts the plane where the NFO needs it, and occasionally we'll send a waypoint or aimpoint up to monkeyboy in the front seat to keep him happy. If the NFO isn't doing his job, the aircraft is useless.
|A VS-29 Dragonfire NFO conducting pre-flight checks of the computer system. WIKIcommons|
Throughout the NFO syllabus, and especially when we started the low-level portion, we learned how to feed the pilot info that was useful to him- what was coming up next, what features on the ground could help him find his turn-point, or what have you. "Two minutes from the turn, outbound heading is 235, outbound course - 230, wind is NNW at 10kts. Turn-point is a power-plant smokestack 500yds right of course." It became even more apparent during the BFM- or Basic Fighter Maneuvers fam phase. This was where two mighty T-2 Buckeyes would be pitted against each other with the NFOs calling out bogey positions to help the pilot keep the other guy from getting into a firing position.
To be perfectly honest, I hated BFM. Keeping sight of a guy behind you while strapped into an ejection seat wearing 30lbs* of flight gear and an O2 mask was tough enough, but while pulling G's? It just sucked. Never worked so hard in the airplane, sweating through my flight gear, wrenching my neck around with the mask/helmet under G-loads fighting me the whole time. I was happy to be in the "Overwater Jet Navigator" syllabus, knowing that I'd never have to hunt bogeys for a living.
But I digress...
Even though I hated it during Flight School, I remembered the bag 'o gas lesson when it came time for DCM- Defensive Combat Maneuvering flights in VS-41, the S-3B Fleet Replacement Squadron. The Viking was no fighter jet, but we could possibly get into a situation where we'd have to attempt to out-maneuver a SAM or an enemy aircraft, and the Hoover, with those long straight wings, had an excellent turning radius. I think we only had one or two flights, but that was plenty. It was another sweat-ex with me shifting around in the seat to see as far behind the jet as I could, calling out clock-codes to the instructor pilot. I think I did okay on that grade-sheet, but probably because he saw how hard I worked to maintain sight, not that I actually helped him.
|Flicker- Phil Arommore|
I suppose that's one advantage of a 2 seat fighter- the NFO adds another set of eyes to the problem, helping keep the pilot informed and the bad guys off your tail.
Another advantage of having an NFO over not having one, is much better in-flight footage. Sure, you can strap a pencil camera to your helmet, or a Go-Pro to the canopy, but those videos tend to be a little boring in their focus- all one view pointing back at a narcissistic pilot, one that's constantly shifting (and inducing motion sickness) because it's on his helmet, or locked into a single view from where the pilot straps it down. Whereas an NFO can actually hold the camera and get some varied and much more interesting footage. You're never going to see your wingman, or follow a bomb as it falls off the wing, with a strapped down Go-Pro. The NFO is a built in cinematographer for the Navy!
Not that that's a reason to trade a human being for a bag of gas, but without NFOs, I wouldn't be able to see really cool videos like this. Which is really why I wrote this entire post.
I'm sure there's some attached Go-Pro footage in there, but there's a lot of hand-held too, which just makes for better production value in my opinion.
|That's just a big-ass camera he's carrying.|
* Sorry Skipper, I just can't write it as "lb", it just looks awkward that way.