Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Bag of Gas



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
For a Tomcat, a Marine Hornet 2-seater , or a Rhino (F/A-18F), it's a little different.  I would say that those are more pilot-centric aircraft (not to diminish the role of the RIO/WSO), where the NFO can be either a help, or a hindrance to the pilot .  If those two aren't working well together, or the NFO isn't pulling his weight, it's more likely that the pilot would rather trade the guy or gal for 500lbs of JP-5 - supposedly the weight the seat and the NFO-  "A Bag of Gas."

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.

15 comments:

  1. Tuna, Excellent Post! It was nice to hear about similar missions from a back seater point of view. The "bag of gas" euphemism was also used in the USAF. First assignment at the Kun when flying time was so limited, scheduling was more by who needed to fly the most, both front and back. Crew coordination wasn't a big objective. However, when Reagan took over, and flying time was readily available. Formed Crew scheduling was emphasized. I'd estimate my crewed backseater and I flew together at least 80% of the time. We got to be pretty good at reading each other's minds and were pretty good at employing the jet as a system.
    Glad to have another person confirm that BFM is hard work. Didn't want anyone to think I was wussin' out.
    Would have loved to have today's video equipment back in the day. Holding a 10lb shoulder mount camera up at 9 Gs was difficult to keep the subject in the frame.

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    1. Looking through dad's logbooks, prior to deploying to Vietnam, he flew about 80% of training hops with one NFO, and a smattering of a bunch of others. But when he got on the line, it was always with the same B/N, though he switched B/N's about halfway through the cruise. Dunno why, but it appears crews were stabilized as much as possible through the deployment.

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  2. Great post, and we were 'good for something'... :-)

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  3. Tuna, I think WSOs, RIOs and NFOs everywhere owe you a drink. You explained things very well.

    (I'm still trying to get my head around BFM between two War Guppies. It looks so 1950s.)

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    1. Not only BFM...There's a third plane (at least) in this fight, so it's ACM at a minimum. Although the "thinking two dimensionally" film clip from earlier this week applies.

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    2. It's the aircraft, not the situation Juvat. The WSO learned much of her trade in the Mighty War Guppy.

      They seem almost prehistoric.

      (Yup, gotta be at least one more bird in the fight, someone had to take that photo.)

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  4. I've always said in explaining what an NFO does this way. An NFO is a platform warfare expert. The Pilot flies the airplane, the NFO fights the platform.

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  5. Great post. And that video - I have seen it before and think it is one of the best produced flying videos anywhere. No pounding rock music, just the sounds that the crew hears. Which is the best music.

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    1. Bill there are three flight videos that I like that have music. One is the FA18 Magic Carpet Ride (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=me3kl2kXe6c&feature=player_embedded) , the second is the 67th Fighter Squadron (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NdAPP3Ac7Y) and number 3, the best of them all, Two Days in the Life ( https://vimeo.com/35405910 )

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    2. I had never seen the third one. Miss that guy. Thanks for the link.

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  6. A good read, thanks Tuna. Being in the sixties USAF, my GIB upgraded to AC and had his own tour in the front seat. We are still in contact after fifty years and plan to celebrate our lucky day this Summer sometime. It somehow seems more complicated now. I am pretty simple. Thanks again.

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    1. My pleasure. How often does an Air Force WSO get a transition to Pilot? Pretty rare in the Navy, but there are a few out there.

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    2. Out of the 16 guys in my UPT class, two had been Navs, one on a 141 which he went back to, and one in an F-4. He got a F-111. In my Eagle squadron, there was at least 1 and I think another, but can't remember for sure. There were also a couple more in the wing. Not all that common, but it happened. Back in Dave's day, they were pilots in the back seat, and unless they really screwed up, they were usually upgraded to AC.

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    3. Thanks. We had a few pilot transition guys in VT-86 (Advanced NFO Sqdn). These were guys who didn't get through pilot school, but were skilled enough to become NFOs. They usually just didn't make it at the boat or weps phase, but nothing that would end their flying career. Knew one guy who landed the Tomcat at the boat in the RAG, but was found out to have too short of a trunk height for the jet, so they made him a Hoover pilot.

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