Monday, October 10, 2016

Just another day at school

As a Fighter Pilot, there was one group of folks that I was glad they were around, and very glad that I never needed them.  That group would be the Search and Rescue folks.

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again (mostly in jest... mostly).  "There's only one time it's good to see a helicopter in flight.  When it's hovering above you and the extractor is coming down to pick your pink butt up."

When I was a 2LT going through F-4 School at Luke, the wing had a graduation exercise where the nascent F-4 and F-15 Fighter Pilots flew  on the wing of experienced flight leads/IPs in a large force on force exercise. 
I love the "soft focus" used in this shot to romanticize the Phantom.  A clean F-4 is a thing of beauty.
Source

 The airspace and targets were on the USAF Ranges south of I-10 in southern Arizona.  The F-4s were attacking, the F-15s were defending.

I was on the early go, and so, hunkered down in my sturdy F-4C, I was flying low and fast on my ingress into the target area. I was about to rain inert death and destruction on a dirty, ratfink, commie airfield.  
No, the Arizona desert is NOT this green.
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We're approaching the target area, so I'm getting the aircraft ready for dropping bombs.  Switching the F-4C from Air to Air to Air to Ground was overly complicated.  The switchology improved as I progressed through F-4s from the C to the D and finally to the E.  Switchology in the Eagle was a dream comparatively.  The C, as I recall, took several switch changes, most of which were down by my left hip.  Head inside the cockpit is never a good thing.

In any case, I've gotten the aircraft configured and I'm back outside looking for the hillock we're using as an IP to start our attack.  Just as I spot it, over the radio, I hear a call  "Fox 2 kill, right hand F-4 over  xxx".  That would be me.  I look around behind me and sure enough...
No, this was not me! (Thankfully)

My experienced flight lead and his inexperienced WSO's lookout wasn't as spiffy as it should have been.  Ah well, something to be learned.  Continue in to the target, drop bombs and egress the target area and RTB.  Get done with the debrief and hear a call over the intercom.  "Lt Juvat, report to the duty desk with your flight gear."

Oh Boy, another flight!

Not so fast, juvat, not so fast.  Literally.

Yes, I'm going flying, just not at the controls.  Seems the exercise also included A-10s from DM doing close air support as well as the CSAR Jolly Greens doing a combat extraction.  Since I had gotten "shot down", I was the logical choice to be the survivor.

Did I mention this exercise occurred in late August?

So, I board a Huey and am choppered down to the range and deposited on a hillside and told someone would be coming for me eventually.

So, I find me some shade and watch the airplanes over head.  I don't remember having a radio, so I suspect that someone had decided that having a newbie on the radio with 50 percent of the pilots over head being newbies also, might violate a safety constraint or something.  I do have a safety observer keeping an eye on me, an E-4 from Fairchild.  Since I haven't been through survival school yet, I'm not of much interest to him.  He asks me some basic questions about survival and E and E.  I don't have many answers.  That changed a month or two later.

As I said, I'm watching the A-10s dropping bombs and strafing trucks on the range a mile or two away.  They're being controlled by an OV-10, so there's several airplanes in the vicinity.  I've been there for a couple of hours and except for being a little hot and dusty, I've been having fun.
Whole lotta uranium being depleted there.
Source

Pretty soon, I notice another flight of A-10s enter the area and start making dry passes much nearer to my position, I also notice that the OV-10 is orbiting nearer to my position. The E-4 has handed me a flare, pointed to the day end and tells me to light that when he gives the signal.
Unguided Mk-82s from a high altitude level delivery.  Hope he's aiming for.....Arizona!
Source

Meanwhile, the A-10s are getting closer and closer to my position.  They make another pass and as they pull off, from behind me comes the loud roar of a helicopter.  About this time the E-4 give me a nod, I pull the pin and hold the flare over my head.  Very shortly thereafter, a very large ugly object comes over head, hovers briefly there and then sets down in a flat spot a hundred yards away or so.  The E-4 tells me I've got about 30 seconds to get on board or it's going to be a long night in the desert.
Not overhead and the winch isn't deployed.  So doesn't fit the criteria for "when is it good to see.."
Source


I make it with plenty of time to spare.  The HH-3E Jolly Green takes off, levels off immediately and makes for home.  I look out the door and there are the A-10s flying formation.  Half an hour later, I'm back at Luke sippin on a beer, purchased by the WSO who'd been in the back of Lead's F-4. 

Reflecting back on the day, I realized that while i'd had fun, it very probably wouldn't be fun if it were for "realsies".  I also realized that a lot of people hung their own pink butt's out in order to return me to that cold beer.  That was the beginning of my becoming a fighter pilot rather than a person who flew fighters.

Every time thereafter, I saw a Jolly Green guy in the bar, I'd buy him a beer.  My version of "Pay it forward", I guess.

This story was supposed to be a preamble to a different type of post. It got a little longer than I'd envisioned for a preamble.  At this point, it would detract from that post, so I'm going to post that one next week.  See you then.



19 comments:

  1. Being an old F-4 guy, I love seeing pictures of those birds. Almost makes me want to break out the toolbox and tweak the radar set! FWIW, here is the fate (according to Joe Baugher's site) of the two Charlies you have in the post:
    First Phantom : SN 63-7675 with 550th TFTS, 58th TFTW crashed on Luke Range, Arizona Jan 23, 1974.
    Second Phantom: SN 63-0806 Currently preserved at Nellis AFB, Nevada, at the gate, on a stick.

    As to the post itself - love hearing about the SAR folks. Brass ones, even the girls. Well done.

    Not too sure how I would have felt about being dumped in the desert. Though that would have been better than being dumped in the Gulf of Mexico so the SAR types can practice. (The WSO got to do that. At least the water's warm.)

    Great post Juvat.

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    1. Thanks, The WSO in the Gulf, reminded me of a story......

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    2. Hhmm, "WSO in the Gulf," kinda sounds like the title of an old timey folk song.

      Oh, last thought, 675 isn't totally clean, she's got what appears to be a travel pod on the left inboard pylon.

      Oh dear, I'm being picky today. (But she is abnormally clean for a Phantom. Truth be told...)

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    3. Yes, well...I saw that. Figured she'd come in to Nellie from Luke. Don't need much gas for that, but you ALWAYS need clean unders.

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  2. Somewhere near Prescott Valley on an isolated, treeless dirt road, our family red Volvo wagon got a high-speed pass from the rear. No warning. Just "Boom!" Thrilled (!) us all, especially the kids. We poured out to see WTF. He made a leisurely second low and slow pass 50 yards to the side and waved back to the kids. If anyone claims that, I'm buyin'.

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    1. The day after I got my F-4 assignment, I was driving to Lubbock to a friend's wedding. I'm way out in the boonies of West Texas on a State Highway. I'm driving along and I see an F-4 coming from right to left. He's a mile or so ahead of me and moving fast. I'm thinking "this is an omen". So I'm watching him and feeling excited that I'm going to be doing that shortly. As I'm dreaming (at 75 mph) he crosses the highway about a mile ahead. His wingman, who's a mile or so south of him, passes directly over me, probably just under the Mach. I flinch a bit, stop the car, just in time for the trailing element to pass directly over head. I was pretty jazzed for the rest of the drive to Lubbock.

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    2. Man, that's cool. I was north of Big Lake on the way out west, when I saw a C130 coming in low from dead ahead. I was the only car on the road. I flashed my headlights at him, and got a wing rock in response. That made my day.

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  3. Watched, almost daily, the 'angel' hover aft of the bird farm during CarQuals
    It had to suck, chasing that ship all over the ocean

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    1. Probably wasn't the most exciting flying they did, but it was probably the most important (at least to those folks that didn't quite achieve flying speed before running out of deck).

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    2. Their most exciting was probably the last day of deployment on the carrier.
      IYKWIM

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    3. I would think that would be the most exciting one for all hands.

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    4. I did something like 1,700 hours in Starboard D and plane guard and had a pair of rescues in that time. S-3 off the cat and a Tomcat abeam at the 180. Hours and hours of hours and hours poured over hours and hours. Every hour worth it. Got a good hands on course in ASW too.

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  4. I suspect in Vietnam A1 pilots and Jolly Green pilots rarely bought any drinks. They did some amazing rescue stuff...

    The more I have read about dogfights the more amazed I am at how fast they occur - 30 seconds? The other thinkg - even looking at a WW2 Mustang information film - the switches and checks the pilot had to go though you'd wonder how they had any time for combat. I'd imagine the newer fighters automate a lot of that?

    Bill

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    1. Yes, Changing weapons in the Eagle took almost no thought whatsoever. Granted it was optimized for Air to Air, but I sat in a Sim and played with the AG switches, they didn't require any heads down time either. I can't imagine what switchology in the F-22 or F-35 is like. "Aw S4!T, I wish you were dead!" "Yes, Master!" Whoosh, Bang!?

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  5. Rescue motto: You have to go out, you don't have to come back... And many haven't... May they rest in peace.

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  6. Rescue motto: You have to go out, you don't have to come back... And many haven't... May they rest in peace.

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  7. Instead of the waterproof survival cards they should include an E-4 in the seat pan kit!

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  8. Found you another CMH holder to look at. Only non-AF to be buried at the Academy.

    http://ijr.com/2016/10/705140-air-force-cadets-dismissed-him-as-grandpa-who-swept-floors-until-student-found-out-his-hero-past/?utm_source=iheart&utm_medium=referral

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  9. Nice post.

    A former survival instructor.

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