But this is not a rehash of old posts. Nor is it a discussion of this formation.
|Missing Man Formation|
Which if you google "lost wingman" under images, returns a lot of hits.
No, this is a discussion of the other meaning of lost wingman.
Lost wingman is a set of very specific procedures that are performed in the event that you are flying formation in the weather and actually lose sight of the other members of your formation. Given that you are flying very close to another aircraft at usually 350K indicated, to lose sight of that aircraft can be, shall we say, exciting!
But, I've only performed the official lost wingman procedures one time "for realsies". Practiced it many times and typically, on an instrument check ride, the check pilot would direct you to go lost wingman at some unexpected time and you'd perform the maneuver. Let me tell you, it's much different in real weather.
And just to get this straight. Lost wingman procedures do not include maximum burner and maximum g. No. They are comparatively easy, instrument specific gentle procedures that are designed to quickly gain separation without, hopefully, inducing vertigo and lose of control or a midair. I probably don't need to specify that both of those outcomes are "bad". Here are the procedures for a T-6. They are essentially the same as they were for all the aircraft I flew.
So....There I was*
We have successfully flown from Moody AFB Georgia to Hickam AFB Hawaii with 24 F-4Es. A 10.6 hour 4600 NM (or so) flight where I outlasted my airplane in an extended arm wrestling duel. Properly crew rested, rehydrated with both hydrogen and grained based fluids and replenished from the bounty of Hawaiian cuisine, we are about to embark on the second leg of our journey, Hickam AFB to Kadena AFB Okinawa Japan, about 5000 NM.
My sturdy stead has also had some TLC applied to it by members of the Hawaiian Air National Guard ("Shaka, Brah") who replaced a burned out trim motor with one for F-4Cs. "No sweat, Brah, it should work".
Since there are only 3 places to land on this leg of the trip (Hickam, Wake and Kadena), we will be stuck flying at the slower .82 Mach speed of our tanker escort. Interestingly, the KC-10 who was so helpful on the previous leg will be accompanying us on this leg. More to follow.
The first tanking will take place about an hour after takeoff and if anyone is unable to take gas, they will abort back to Hickam. Then there will be a couple of hour window where we'll have to tank almost continually in order to have enough gas to make it back or on to Wake if problems arrive.
Fortunately, there are no problems and the KC-135s from Hickam pass their last gas and break off and land at Wake.
As we approach the Atoll, the WSOs, bored to tears, have switched the radar over to Air to Ground Mode and are engaging in a little friendly competition to see who can get a radar contact on the island first. This is important, Beer is at stake!
Contact is called by someone other than my WSO and that little bit of entertainment is followed by competition among the Front Seaters on who can visually see the Atoll. We pass over the Island, source of so much trouble in the early 40s, and seeing a little bit of land in the middle of the Deep Blue Sea is somehow reassuring.
|Not much to look at, but it's nice to see a runway again.|
But onward we fly, ever westward, our High Protein, Low residue lunches warming on the top of the ejections seat almost ready to be consumed with a wonderful swig of.....Water.
Wake has disappeared
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a greenish gray mist appears ahead of us at altitude. The radio starts producing static sounds and as we enter the mist, all power is lost to the engines. The entire formation is lost forever giving rise to the legend of the Bermuda triangle. Oh wait, wrong ocean! (That was just for ScottTheBadger's entertainment.)
We're still about 5 hours from Kadena, and we're rendezvousing with tankers from there. The KC-10 has continued on with us while the 135s from Hickam landed at Wake. Better navigation abilities, I guess. In any case, we split up and head for our individual tankers while the 6th 135 rolls out in front of the KC-10 and plugs it.
That was HIGHLY entertaining. If you took a picture of the relative size of an F-4 refueling off a 135 and then look at a picture of a KC-10 refueling off a 135, the ratios are about the same, if reversed. It was very interesting to be flying off the wing of the KC-10 while it was gassing. If you looked very closely you could see the corrections being made by the KC-10, but they were much slower than those of an F-4.
In short, it provided about a half hour of something to watch other than the Pacific Ocean passing underneath. Did I mention that the Pacific is quite large?
Lunch completed and the refuse packed away out of harm's way in our helmet bags, we settled in for another 4 hours or so. Butts were already numb, having passed through the pain stage after about 3 hours. Nothing to see, or do other than fly formation and refuel. The WSO is playing with the radar to see if he can find ships or anything, but with refueling about every 15-30 minutes he doesn't get to spend much time doing that. (The boom operators tend to get annoyed when a large microwave is pointed at them from close range, reproductive health or something.)
Finally, we tank up and get told by the KC-10 nav that Kadena is on our nose for 400 miles. 24 sets of throttles go to mil power at the exact same instant without verbal command and the F-4's accelerate to .95 Mach.
Got to burn down to landing weight don't you see?
Pitch out, land and log another 10.7 hours.
Shut them down, check into the VOQ and head out to Gate 2 street. The Dollar was still strong against the Yen. There was electronics to buy, Kobe Beef to eat and Kirin to drink.
And we were leaving for Taegu early the next day.
The following morning, we're in the briefing and get told by the Weather guesser that takeoff and landing weather was well within parameters. However, there was a front between Kadena and Korea that we would have to penetrate. Thunderstorms and turbulence, dense clouds, yada, yada, yada.
By now, with 21 + hours of flying time strapped into a fighter in the last 3 days, our butts are dragging. Numb, but dragging.
There will be no tanking required on this leg (it's a mere 655 miles), so we can proceed at our own pace. Fire up the jets and we're going to take about 5 minutes separation between 4 ships, so Fukuoka Control will have to deal with about 30 minutes of trying to pronounce our call signs (one of which was "Killer", listening to that exchange with that lead trying to pronounce Fukuoka and the controller trying to pronounce his callsign was good for a sustained laugh).
We reach the Korean ADIZ about the time we enter the weather. Lead rocks us into close formation and we all settle in. He's trying to pick his way through, avoiding the heaviest radar returns, but it's pretty thick and bumpy. I'm really having difficulty seeing lead even though he's got every light on bright and flash.
I've moved back a little, down a bit which puts my wing tip below and behind his slab (aircraft touching in flight is called a mid-air collision. That's officially "bad"). The new formation allows me to fly a little closer. One does what one must. Because I can now see under his aircraft, I notice #2 is in the same position, and my WSO tells me so is #4. This is a good as it gets.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the already dark sky is getting even darker and as we enter that cell, lead disappears. I hold the aircraft perfectly steady expecting him to magically reappear.
"Three's lost wingman"
"Two's lost wingman"
"Four's lost wingman"
Perfect! we've got 4 Phantoms in close proximity to each other and nobody sees anybody.
I transition to instruments and begin a 15o turn away from lead, pulling the power back slightly to gain nose tail separation, hold that for 15 seconds then return to heading. Fortunately, my WSO was on the ball and had been monitoring instruments instead of formation. He tells me what the original heading was. Turning too far jeopardizes #4 and us, Turning too little does the same for #1 and us.
All I can do now is hope that all have done what they were supposed to do. We make a few confirmation radio calls about headings and altitude and it appears we're all deconflicted. Lead starts to coordinate with the Korean Controller about separate clearances and gets the standard reply "Stand by".
About the same time the controller starts talking again, we break out of the back side of the front, into blinding sunshine. 8 green visors come slamming down as we look for our other flight members.
Expecting to be looking for little green dots on the horizon, it was gratifying, and at the same time, horrifying to see the other members flying along in what would be a loose route formation (approximately 500-1000' horizontal separation, we had coordinated 500' vertical separation, so as long as that was maintained, we were relatively safe).
Lead rocks us back into close formation then kicks us back out to standard route formation and coordinates our penetration of Korean airspace.
Back over the Korean Landmass, we descend to 18000' and cancel IFR, proceed visually to Taegu, pitch out and land.
|Taegu AB, ROK|
I'm not going to sit down again for a week!
We have arrived halfway around the world 5 days after departure and almost 24 hours of flying time.
We'd be there for a month, and as expected, the flying in Korea was sublime. Fortunately, with the exception of the Squadron Commander and Ops Officer, none of the folks that flew over flew back. That was fortunate as that way meant they were flying against the sun. They took off in the dark and flew most of each leg in the dark so as to arrive at their landing base during the day.
That would not have been fun.
The day before we left, I led a 4 ship against 2 F-16s from Kunsan. The 2 Lawn Darts had a yellow stripe on the tail, meaning they were assigned to the 80TFS aka "The Juvats". That was my last flight in the F-4. I rode home in a 141 and PCS'd to Holloman shortly after returning.