Monday, April 6, 2015

Scramble!

Pappy Boyington* is quoted as describing flying as “…hours and hours of boredom sprinkled with a few seconds of sheer terror.” Well, a couple of weeks ago, I told of an adventure I had while traveling via C-130 from Kadena to Osan to sit PARPRO alert.  While there was a second or two of mild concern described in that post, where we were going and what we were going to do more closely fit the hours and hours part.  

Usually.  

Except when it didn’t.

Juvat, before you get started, what’s this PARPRO thing?  Does it have anything to do with Golf?  No, Grasshopper, not directly. Indirectly though, when we were off duty, we would frequently visit the second thing built on an Air Force Base, the Golf Course.  That statement is, of course, contrary to the sadly mistaken but closely held belief of members of the other Services that the Golf Course is the first thing constructed on an Air Force Base.  Not so!  USAF General Order 1 clearly and specifically states Air Force Base Construction order will be Runway, Golf Course, Club House for the Golf Course (complete with Bar and Air Conditioning, of course), then other facilities as required.  But, as usual, I digress.

PARPRO stood for Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program, and was conducted worldwide to keep an eye on nations that may not have had our best interests in mind.  Many of the blogs on the sidebar are written by folks with in depth knowledge of the program.  

EP-3

RC-12N

My role as an F-15 pilot was to prevent those nations from interfering with the mission of those assets.  To put it in Fighter Pilotese, there were airplanes up whose job was to make sure that if the Kim family wanted to vacation in the South, the facilities there would have enough notification that the visitors would be given a warm welcome.  The Eagles were there to make sure that notification would not be interrupted.

So, what did sitting alert entail?  Well, as my children can tell you, I can pretty much recite verbatim the script for Caddy Shack, Animal House, 10, any of the Lethal Weapon series, and virtually any other Mid-80s movie that had explosions.  Hours and Hours of Boredom. 

The requirement was to launch two combat loaded F-15s within 5 minutes of notification any time day or night, 365.25 days a year.  We would put a flight lead and wingman on alert for a 24 hour period. There would be a handover brief at the end of that time and a new flight would come on duty.  Typically we deployed with 5 guys (2 on alert, 2 off and   a spare pilot to sit alert if the primary scrambled).  That 5 guys would usually pull alert for a two week window and then rotate home.

The handover briefing would cover the GCI/AWACs availability, frequencies for control agencies, the assets that would be airborne during the alert period, approximate location and times on station. It would also cover ROE to include Airspace, identification and weapons employment, as we were loaded for bear.
Loaded for Bear
Wikipedia

 Once the briefing was concluded, the 4 pilots would go out to the jets and the ones coming off alert would climb into the jet while their relief preflighted it.  

Once preflight was complete, the old pilot would grab his gear, climb out and the new pilot would climb in and strap in.  He’d then set up the cockpit the way he preferred it and then unstrap only his leg straps and chest strap, leaving the harness hooked up to the seat to minimize time required to properly strap in.

My muscle memory of how to strap on the jet during a scramble is still vivid. I'd climb the ladder and as I came to the top, I'd lean in with my right arm.  I'd slide it through the right strap and then reach for the JFS handle (jet fuel starter, a small jet engine that would pump air into the engine to get it started)  by my right knee which I’d pull as I  as I sat down in the seat.
Eagle Start up

The crew chief would be right behind me on the ladder and as I sat down, he’d grab the left strap and my arm and force it through the strap.  By now the JFS would be on line and the right engine would be at about 10% RPM.  With my left hand, I’d lift the right throttle and start the right engine.  As this was happening, the crew chief would climb down the ladder, and take it away.  While that was going on, I’d connect my leg straps and chest strap  and put my helmet on.  At that point, the right engine would be started, I’d shut the canopy and lift the throttle on the left engine, and as that was spooling up, I’d turn the Radar and the INS on.  Total time from Horn to this point is about 2 minutes.

With both engines on and the Radar warming up, I’d check in my wingman and then the Command Post on the radio .  While waiting for the Command Post response, I’d have a pencil out to copy the scramble instructions onto a 4 X 8 notecard strapped to my right leg.
 
It was not uncommon for my right leg to be bouncing up and down with adrenalin.  The Command Post would transmit a code word which would be the first indication that this was or was not an actual scramble.  While waiting for that code word, I usually had time for a quick prayer.  “Dear Lord, please don’t let me screw this up! Amen.”

Whether real or practice, we would taxi out to the runway.  If it were a practice scramble and we were lucky, as we cleared the shelter, tower would clear us for takeoff and we got to go fly!

Not only that, we got to do a max performance takeoff and climb.
Source: Wikipedia


Not only that, we would takeoff opposite traffic. Since the prevailing winds at Osan were from the west, normal takeoff direction would have meant a couple of minute taxi to the opposite end of the runway from the shelters making the 5 minute airborne time impossible to achieve. With the excess thrust available in the Eagle, we could take off even with a considerable tailwind.  But taking off opposite traffic meant every other aircraft had to hold short until we cleared the area, which meant everybody on base was watching.

The Alert Facility and shelters used to be in the oval. (It's not there any more). North is at the top.
Google Maps

It was fun.

Except….

A practice scramble was authorized if there was at least a 4 hour gap in between when PARPRO assets were on station.  That 4 hour window was sufficient to scramble and fly a 1 hour mission, then return and get the jets back on status before the assets were back on station.  Since we were briefed asset on and off station time, a flight lead could tell if they were going to fly. As the window approached, the pilots and ground crew tended to move closer to the jets.  In the spirit of realistic training (and pulling a fast one on your buddies), it was not unusual for an outgoing flight lead in the changeover brief to invent assets which would appear to close the window.  Then when the Klaxon went off, there was a heightened sense of urgency (usually epitomized by "Oh S41T! as the crews started their sprint) .  Another way a practice scramble might happen, would be if an asset actually aborted the mission and wasn't airborne.  The Command Post would be the only ones who knew this and they enjoyed working the system this way.

This old video shows a scramble from OSAN and was taken about the time I was at Kadena.  The jets belong to the 44 TFS and contrary to the comments on YouTube about the video, these are F-15Cs outfitted with conformal fuel tanks.  The Bats (the 44 TFS was known as the Bats) tested this configuration and found that the high gross weight of the jet would not allow it to taxi to the runway as quickly as was necessary to make the takeoff time requirement.  Sorry there's no audio, although that's probably a blessing.  The Klaxon is annoying! The video was taken in the pre-Go Pro days and only the first minute or so is the scramble.  

So, just like Pappy Boyington said, alert was hours and hours of boredom sprinkled with a few seconds of sheer terror.

So there I was….**

My wingman and I (although Bones was on the deployment and was my assigned wingman, I wasn't sitting alert with him that day) have gone through the handover procedures and are finding ways to keep occupied.  My wingman was a laid back country boy from Mississippi who’d put himself through College by flying crop dusters in the Delta.  A very good stick, he could put the airplane exactly where it needed to be when it needed to be there.  But very laid back.  This is his first Alert deployment and he hasn't been scrambled yet. According to the changeover brief, we've got multiple assets airborne all day.  Doesn't look like we’re going to get airborne today.
 
He’s laid out on the couch, I’m at a desk doing some paperwork.  We’re on the second movie of the day.  Coulda been Caddyshack. Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac…”

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA………………….The horn goes off.

There’s that first quarter second of heart stoppage, and then I kick back from the desk.  Spin around and catch a glimpse of my wingman.  I’m pretty sure his clenching butt muscles  had levitated him off the couch, because I saw him about a foot in the air, body parallel to the ground and feet moving toward the door.  I kid you not.

It’s a practice scramble.  The rest of the mission is lost to memory.  But I haven’t laughed as hard during debrief at any other point in my career.

It’s a different day in the deployment.  Again, there doesn't appear to be any holes in the schedule, and, if fact we sit tight all day.  It’s about 10 at night and I’m about to turn in, such as it is.  We've still got the 5 minute airborne requirement, so, while I will be lying down on a bed, I've still got my flight suit, boots, flight jacket and g-suit on.  Not really conducive to a REM filled sleep.  But…they never do a practice scramble us at night. 

I'm soon in a restless slumber.

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA………………….The horn goes off.

I’m outta bed and out the door into the truck before I even think to look for Bones.  Turn and there he is.  Truck slams on the brakes at the shelters and we’re out and running for the jets.  I’m up and in mine and hear Bones JFS spin up and keep on spinning up.  The JFS would spin until the engine got to a specific RPM and then it would disengage.  But occasionally, the starter shaft would shear and the JFS would continue to accelerate.  It had to be shut down, and the aircraft aborted.  

Bones would be jumping to the spare.  

I on the other hand would be taking off and taking on the Godless Hordes by myself.  “Dear Lord, please don’t let me screw this up! Amen.”

I contact the Command Post and get the code word for Practice.  Huh?  Night PRACTICE scramble?  Oh well… Taxi clear of the shelter and get the takeoff clearance from Tower.  

Now, remember I’m taking off opposite direction.  Get on the runway, light the AB.  It’s cold outside, nice thick dense air going down the intakes.  I’m airborne in feet.  Gear up, flaps up. Gear lights out.  Level it off a few feet above the deck, going to look for 600 or end of the runway before I pull.  600 it is, 6 g pull into the vertical.  VVI is pegged, can’t even see the altimeter hand, it is spinning so fast. I want to level at 40K.  Coming up to that altitude,  I kick the left rudder to get the nose headed back down while rolling 90 degrees left and pulling the nose back to the horizon.  

As I get the nose down and start looking around, I hear Bones call airborne.  Good, I’ll have something to do.

For two reasons, CDD Cognescenti will note something awry in the above story.  First, because that’s usually what happens at this point in my posts. However, they can also be discern the problem from the situation description above.  Go ahead, you can reread it, I’ll wait here.



As I do a quick check of the jet on level off, I glance at the HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator, a $500 word for “the compass”).  There is a big letter N on the top of the dial.  It should say S.  Crap!  I’ve got an HSI failure!  I glance at the Whiskey Compass (the backup compass that has no electronics in it, so should be generally reliable no matter what).  It says N also!  Crap! I've got complete navigational failure!

Then it dawns on me. Crap! I’ve got total Pilot Situational Awareness failure!  A 90 degree left turn from an easterly heading will result in a northerly vector.

Ok, we’re in SOUTH Korea.  Osan is 40 miles SOUTH of the border with NORTH Korea.  North is NOT the direction I should be going.  I do a 9g break turn until I see S on all my Nav instruments, just as Bones comes up on the radio asking my position as he can’t see me on the radar.  I call for him to come 90 right to west and rejoin on him

Debrief was entertaining.  Fortunately, I had not penetrated the Prohibited airspace above Seoul or near the DMZ, which would have been serious.  This was just embarrassing.  So, I bought drinks as penance when we came off alert and had a bit of laughs.  Bones and I did discuss a bit about what should be done in a straight from sleep to airborne in 5 minute situation.



·         * If you don’t know who Pappy Boyington is, we need to talk, but click here for a starting point.  One of my first heroes.


18 comments:

  1. As a non-golfer (yes, I admit that publicly) I often wondered about the whole "which came first, the runway or the golf course?" Now I know.

    As to the non-golfing thing, The Missus Herself once suggested that we should take up golf, me being semi-retired and all.

    My response was: "I have enough sports that I suck at, no need to add another to the list," Besides which, I used to caddie, cured me of golf forever.

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  2. I played for quite a few years, but for the same reason as you (caddying) never really enjoyed the sport. I mostly did it for the camaraderie and the beer. Played a couple of times after retiring from the AF, but people took it way too serious which made it not any fun. Haven't played in years.

    Besides, I sucked at it also.

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  3. I didn't discover I could play until I didn't have time for it.
    Then when I had time it was too late to become any good.
    I play in an occasional scramble with others who won't take the game too seriously.
    What I like most is golf seems to take my mind off of everything else.

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    1. Seems like the golf gods were conspiring against you.

      Agree with you about golf taking my mind off of everything else. Unfortunately, it usually focused on how bad I was sucking at it that round.

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  4. Much excellence here Juvat. "600 or the end of the runway," man, that is a cool line. In the Sea King it was 60 or the end of the runway! Even in a clean Intruder it was never more than 250 at the end of the runway. I guess you can get to the wrong place in a hurry with that kind of smash. And that moment when your internal gyro realigns from 180 out at night -- doesn't get much better than that.

    Pappy. I shook his hand one time at MCAS Yuma, probably 1981. It was an amazing thing to be there in the desert, watching Pappy touch the Black Sheep insignia on an A-4M, surrounded by the hard-charging Marines of VMA-214. I had the sense that we were all standing simultaneously in two times and places, 40 years and 6,500 miles apart, and that those Marines would have unhesitatingly followed Boyington if he'd said "let's go" and scrambled up into the jet.

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    1. Thanks.
      "I guess you can get to the wrong place in a hurry with that kind of smash". We used some different words to describe the same thing, "All velocity, no vector".
      I would have loved to meet him. And I think you're right, those Marines would've gone without even thinking about it. Given a couple of numbers and shown the starter. Pappy probably would've held his own also.
      I had a similar situation happen while at a National Museum of the Pacific War shindig. I think I'll do a little research and do a posting on that. Thanks for the idea.

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  5. Pappy Boyington was something of a fixture at gun shows and fly in breakfasts in the Pacific Northwest. I bought one of his books and he autographed it. Very approachable, and a good sense of humor.

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    1. I'm with Murph in the officially jealous column. I'd bet he did have a sense of humor given what I've read about him. (As well as the fact that he didn't spike the TV show outright).

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  6. Robert Conrad introduced me to Pappy Boyington at a young and impressionable age. Later, I bought books and got to know the real one as best as you can through books.
    And as a bonus, I got a copy of "Tonya",the one fiction book that he wrote, from a used book store on-line, and when it got to me, I found out that it was AUTOGRAPHED, something that the seller had missed. Would have loved to meet him in person. WSF, I am officially jealous of you.

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    1. Didn't know he'd written fiction. Might have to see if I can find it. That's cool that your's arrived autographed. I'm hoping my autographed copy of Jimmy Doolittle's bio is still around the house somewhere. I'd be a bit disappointed if it got dispensed with while someone was cleaning.

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    2. His book was meant to be a fictionalized version of his Flying Tigers days, complete with plenty of digs at his former nemesis, Harvey Greenlaw. Be forewarned: "Tonya" is probably one of the worst books I've ever read. He may have been a great pilot, but Mickey Spillane he was not.

      He's buried in Arlington Cemetery, Section 7A. I seldom go there without stopping by. His "neighbors" are Lee Marvin and Joe Louis.

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    3. Hmmm, well thanks for the warning. But it's only 4 bucks on Amazon. It's on its way.

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  7. Pappy used to go to the Reno Air Races and sell his book and posters - I bought a poster of his. It is inscribed to me with his name and the date - my schtick is to tell visitors that "Pappy was a personal friend of mine" but then have to tell them that he asked me how I spelled my name again ;-)

    How long would it take for a scrambling F-15 to cover 40 miles?

    Just think - you could have been still there praising the "Dear Leader"!

    BTW was reading the above comment I didn't find his autobiography bad reading but did learn that he had a rather sad life post war between battling alcoholism and menial jobs (including a wrestling referee).

    He was small in stature - something that I have heard a lot of aces have in common - easier to turn and look in the cockpit?

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    1. Well assuming 600 K ground speed, I cover 40 miles in 4 minutes. Which would have given lots of people lots of time to correct the error of my ways. As it was, I began my break turn south about 5 miles north of the base, which is why I was able to rejoin with Bones soon after he got airborne about a minute behind me.

      Had an interesting weekend here over Easter, complete with lots of pictures courtesy of my Son and his new camera. Small in Stature will be a major component of that post. Stay Tuned.

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  8. Oh, it wasn't Tonya that I read but his autobiography. Might add for awhile the Japanese pilot who shot him down was up at Reno too. I guess in the subsequent years they became friends.

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    1. That happened quite a bit and would be worthy of some thought and study. Since I never fired a shot in anger, nor was shot at, I'm not sure I know enough to think that through. Would be interesting to talk with someone who had though.

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  9. I met Pappy and hung out with him some years back, at the Nut Tree in Vacaville, California, and then at Travis AFB, with the air show crowd. He was insaaaaanely fun!!!!!

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)