While the Soviet Union was still the primary focus of the US Military, the Iranian Hostage Crisis had caused some of that focus to shift to the Middle East and specifically Iran. To address the problem, The Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) was established.
|Interestingly, I still have at least one of all the patches I've ever worn, just not this one.|
I’m sure somebody at the Pentagon made stars with the new idea to have military forces that could deploy rapidly to some trouble area. Who’da thunk? However, from my limited view of the world, it meant two things. First, I was required to have a deployment bag ready to go at all times. (We regularly had to bring it in and have it checked.) and Second, the wing had money for parts and flying time. We were flying our butts off on very realistic sorties and exercises. In my first assignment in Korea, I had participated in one Cope Thunder and had not dropped any live ordnance. During this assignment, I’d visit Red Flag 9 times. All of them were epic training exercises, but one stands out.
I’m sure it had some cool name like Red Flag 82-1, but it came to be known as RDF Red Flag. According to Benjamin Lambeth in “The Transformation of American AirPower”, its purpose was:
“…to determine combat capability requirements unique to that theater, in light of known adversary characteristics, operating distances, preconditions for ensuring force survival, the capabilities the designated rapid-deployment air forces actually had and what more they might need to meet combat requirements for Southwest Asia.”
What that translates into is that while we were at a Red Flag, the real purpose of the exercise was to determine the logistics requirements needed to sustain combat operations for the initial phases of an operation until formal supply chains could catch up.
To translate that into Fighter Pilotese, we were going to fly 5 go’s a day for 21 days straight, all loaded with an actual combat load (less air to air missiles) and had to expend all of that ordinance on every sortie, including all 640 rounds of 20mm.
Darn, I thought we were going to get to do something fun!
Several memories remain of the exercise, and a very large number of lessons were learned and relearned.
Lesson- Sleep is not overrated.
Lesson- Sleep is not overrated.
We divided the go’s into 2 sections and changed from mornings to afternoons to mornings (or vice versa) on the weekends. Even then, flying 2-3 pseudo-combat rides daily for 3 weeks, fun though that may be, is hard work. By the end of the first week, guys were coming down, debriefing and grabbing a bite to eat, doing some quick planning for the next day and hitting the rack. The Strip did not get much attention on this deployment.
Lesson- Strafe in a High Threat environment will get you killed.
Lesson- Strafe in a High Threat environment will get you killed.
640 rounds of 20mm is a lot of strafing. We very quickly found that the techniques we were using at the range did not work well in high threat combat. Rolling in from a thousand feet or so, holding fire until you were about 1200’ from the target and squeezing out 20-30 bullets didn’t accomplish very much, except to get some very good footage of you on the ZSU-32-4 simulator.
|Hiss! Bad juju! Entirely deserving of Maverick love|
Simulation aside, we didn’t have enough gas to make that many passes to completely shoot the gun out. The other thing, discovered by our DO, was that after a few days all the targets on the Nellis range had been attacked by large numbers of aircraft with large numbers of bombs. Evidently not all the bombs exploded on impact. The DO rolled in on a target to strafe, squeezed off a healthy burst and was very surprised to see the target explode in front of him. Fortunately, he had the airspeed to do a Max G+ pull and avoided the frag pattern. The edict from then on was high angle strafe only. Even then, my back seater had to count for me. He’d call fire at 11K’ and count one potato, two potato…6 potato, cease fire. Just so we could get the rounds out.
Lesson-Everything a crew chief does is important.
There was another aspect of shooting the gun that much that didn’t get appreciated. The last day of the exercise (aka ~67,200 rounds), I’m RTB’ing after a particularly long ride, I don’t remember anything specific about it other than a pre-strike and post-strike tanking, so am returning after sunset. I’m on short final and get sent around by tower. On the go, the SOF asks me if my gear was down. Huh? Yes, I do check that. Come around again, and he calls me and asks me to check it again. I glance in, I’ve got 3 green. He says, your landing light isn’t on. I check the switch, it’s on. I get cleared to land, and as I touch down and lower the nose, I see that the landing light doesn’t actually appear to be on. Taxi back to the chocks get out and talk to the crew chief about the light. Well, turns out there was so much gun smoke on the landing light, that it wasn’t putting out any effective light.
Lesson - Show your support crews some love.
We also got to drop some live precision guided ordnance. Eglin’s range was cleared for inert LGB’s and a 500Lb or even 2000Lb hunk of cement will put up a large puff of dirt when it hits the ground at about 600K, but it’s not as exciting as dropping a live one. My target was a “SAM site” on an “Airfield” on the Nellis range. I had one of the newer modified Phantoms that had a videotape in the jet which would tape, either the gunsight or the radar/video display depending on switch settings.
On this particular sortie, the Pave Spike pod must have been new because the display from it looked like it was HD in quality. Most of the pods had been used for a while and taken a fair share of bug strikes, so the pod optics were somewhat pitted. In any case, I reached my pop point which was behind a hill about 5 miles from the airfield. Popped up and found the target and started my roll in, but the back seater calls that he’s tracking. The avionics gods were smiling on us, the WSO had the target in the INS (of course), and slaved the Pod to that point. Most days, that was only good enough to get the laser in the same county, and the pilot would have to point the jet at the target for the WSO to acquire. Anyhow, he’s tracking and I confirm target acquisition. Hit the pickle button and start the pull. I’m dropping a 2000 pounder today and thankfully it’s on the left wing. I have to pull off right in order to maximize the time available for tracking the target without blanking the target out with a part of the aircraft (the pod is in the left front Aim-7 well). The computer determines we’re at the release point and the bomb releases. 8000 lbs (2000 lbs x 4 G) releases off the left wing and I’m instantly in a right bank. I pull until the WSO calls “masking” meaning that the pod is looking as far aft as it can and will soon lose the target to the belly of the aircraft. I bunt the aircraft over to zero g which moves the tail back up out of view, but we’re also not flying, but floating toward the ground. I’m watching the ground very closely at this point, as well as maintaining visual lookout in all quadrants for threats, rejoining with my wingman and watching the time of flight indicator for the bomb. These all become my responsibility because the WSO’s sole responsibility for the next minute or so is to guide the bomb. Suddenly the WSO lets out a Whoop and says “Splash”.
|Not my bomb, nor even at Red Flag, but thought it was a cool pic|
The bomb has hit the ground, I can now maneuver to avoid doing the same. I pull out of the dive and begin the egress. We pick up normal responsibilities and I ask him how’d we do. He said he watched them go right in the side of the bread van that was simulating the SAM Radar. Reviewing the video back on the ground showed exactly that. When we had the end of exercise party and had all the deployed personnel there, we showed that film so the non-aircrews could get a feeling that they’re busting their humps hadn’t been for nought. Seemed to work pretty well, there were a lot of ear to ear grins that evening.
Lesson relearned- Never fixate on a target.
I also got to fire a live Maverick. Even though I was a Maverick (and Pave Spike) instructor, I had never actually fired a missile. I was giving the final check out ride to a new WSO and we’d be firing it on this ride. Now, the back seater in the F-4 can only pickle off two weapons, a Nuke and a Maverick. (Just as an aside, I’ve never dropped a live Nuke either, have no real desire to do so.) So, being the thoughtful Fighter Pilot I am, I told him in the brief that he could fire the Maverick once I told him to “Shoot”.
We’re out on the range, popped up and am pointed at the target. I call “Tracking” (I’ve got the target in the pipper.) He says “Locked”, I glance in at the display and confirm that is the actual target and the missile is in fact locked. It is, I say “Shoot”. He asks me to confirm the target lock. I glance back in. The lock is steady and the target is what we’re supposed to shoot. I say “Shoot!”. He starts to say something else. I push the pickle button. We’re pointed at the target going about 540 and only have a couple of miles range. We don’t have time for discussion. In any case, I’ve hit the pickle button and the display goes black. That’s never happened with the training missiles, so I pause for a heartbeat thinking something’s gone wrong.
|Depending on range to target, at about this point after launch, the missile will pitch up so as to have a better probability of kill.|
Duh, the TV camera in the missile is no longer attached to the jet. I glance up and to the left and see the missile begin its pitch up, rocket motor firing. Glance back at the target and can now clearly recognize a USAF blue late 70s Dodge Ram pickup truck. I pull on the stick, HARD! Nose is above the horizon, altimeter is climbing, so I roll the jet to see the target.
|Not a Dodge Ram Truck|
The missile hits, explodes and the hood of the truck with the large silver Ram on the front of it is tumbling end over end upwards towards us. Burners in, I am pushing away from it as it tops out and starts back down to the desert. We are well above the frag pattern max altitude. When I got back on the ground, I went back into the weapons manual to check. After a thorough scouring, I noticed a foot note that said data contained in the chart reflected blast and fragment pattern for the weapon itself and did not include any fragments from the target. No kidding!
Lesson relearned again-Never fixate on a target
We've been at this a while and dropped ordnance from most delivery methods. The weapons officer decides his two ship is going to drop Mk-82 High Drags (AKA Snake of Snake and Nape fame) from a level delivery on his airfield target. Consults the weapons manual and finds that the minimum altitude for a level delivery with MK-82 High Drags is 1000' AGL. Minimum altitude at this point in the exercise due to unexploded ordnance is 500'AGL, so not much difference. He figures all the weapons settings and is going to ripple 12 as he and his wingman cross the runway at about 45 degrees. The sortie is launched, and he's approaching the runway, as things worked out, his wingman is going to reach the release point first. As he's watching things unfold, he sees motion behind his wingie.
An F-5 has just completed his conversion turn and is about 7000' back, just out of missile range, but closing. Just as Lead starts to key the radio, he sees 12 live high drag's come off of #2. So does the F-5. Who pulls for the vertical, HARD. He manages to avoid any damage except probably to his shorts. He'd been so fixated on getting the shot, he didn't realize that he was in the target area and the F-4s were beginning weapons delivery.
Lesson relearned- Sleep is not overrated.
We’re near the end of the exercise, and everyone is dragging. I’ve got another Pave Spike sortie scheduled. We’re at the popup point. I start the pull, acquire the target and start the roll in. Call “Tracking”. The WSO confirms acquisition and laser firing. I hit the pickle button and start the pull. The tone goes off, and I feel a small thump, but it’s not big enough to be a bomb release. We egress and do a quick bomb check. #2 confirms that I have a hung live 2000 lb bomb. We go over to the jettison area and try again to get it to release. Nothing. Worse, now that we’re no longer playing combat, # 2 comes into close formation and tells me that it looks like it’s a “one lugger”, meaning that one of the release points had released, but not the second. Worse still, the front lug had released, but not the back. At speed, the bomb is aerodynamic enough to align itself into the wind, and so was mostly parallel to the rack. As I slowed down, it potentially could drop further from the rack and rip itself loose, or the nose of the bomb could hit the ground on landing. I contact the SOF. He advises me to jettison the entire pylon. I get that set up and push the button, nothing. I head to a tanker as he calls the McD folks for ideas. He finally gets back to me and says that McD thinks it’ll be alright to land as long as I don’t plant the landing. (Meaning I’ve got to do this USAF style, not Navy and it’s got to be a real good USAF style.)
Come on in, carry a few extra knots on final and grease the landing. Roll out, and am met by EOD in the arming area. I shut down, safe the seats and leave the area. EOD safes the bomb and weapons downloads it from the aircraft and takes it back to their area.
Come to find out the reason the bomb didn’t release, and the jettisons didn’t work was procedural. The weapons release signal fires a shotgun shell in each of the lugs which forces them open and the weapon falls free. However, on the previous sortie, the dearm crew did not remove the spent shells and indicate they had done that by putting the chamber cover on backwards. A backwards cover is a visual confirmation that the shell needs to be replaced. A cover on correctly means the weapon has been properly loaded. That cover is checked by the Pilot, WSO and crew chief during preflight, but the only persons who can open the cover is weapons.
Exercise complete, we return to Moody, all present and accounted for. A successful use of the Taxpayers money as many lessons were learned and relearned.