So....There I was*
At the very end of my second operational assignment. I'd been flying the mighty F-4 Phantom for 3 and 1/2 years at both Kunsan and Moody. I had made a point of breaking radars regularly whilst at Kunsan so as to keep a certain young (well at that time at least) Sergeant gainfully employed, but other than that had enjoyed flying that fighter.
|I've flown this jet on this range.|
Official USAF Photo
However, now one of the F-4 squadrons in Korea was standing down so as to finish the transition to the Lawn Dart. In order to signal to the North Koreans that this event should not be seen as an opportunity to vacation in the south, the Air Force directed my squadron to deploy to Taegu AB Korea to assume their responsibilities.
The squadron, and I, were excited to be given this assignment. Flying in Korea at this time, the beginning of the Reagan era, was virtually unrestricted. Getting jumped on takeoff by fighters, both US and ROK, was a commonplace occurance. So, it was good training, and fun.
Additionally, for a young guy like me, the trip over would mean I'd add a significant amount of flying time to my operational total. I was somewhat mystified when I volunteered to fly over that I was accepted with no problems. I mean, I was a fairly junior flight lead at the time, apparently volunteers were a bit sparse.
Little did I know.
The flight from Moody AFB to Taegu AB will be accomplished in 3 legs. The first will be Moody to Hickam via Santa Barbara, a distance of ~4600 miles. Flying time is expected to be 10.4 hours. The first half of this, of course, will be over the Continental US, so divert bases won't be a problem. Additionally, since we can divert if fuel fails to transfer, we won't be flying on the wing of the, much slower, KC-135s. From Moody to Santa Barbara, we'll only need to tank once, and will rendezvous with the Tankers over Oklahoma.
We've got 26 airplanes. We'll rendezvous with the tankers and the 24 primary aircraft will fill up. Assuming that is successful, the two remaining planes will divert to Tinker, gas up and return to Moody. The 24 primary aircraft will continue on and rendezvous with another group of tankers over Santa Barbara. Airspeed up to this point, except when tanking in Oklahoma will be .9 Mach. Once we join up with the tankers and refuel, we'll stay with them the remainder of the way, tanking often so as to maintain the capability to divert, either back to California or on to Hickam, as the distance to each changes. But, we'll be flying that leg at the Tanker's cruise speed, about .82 Mach. SLOWLY we'll fly, step by step.....
We're over Santa Barbara and been airborne about 5 hours. We've tanked and all 24 have successfully filled up. We'll drive for about an hour before tanking again, as the divert to California distance isn't that much. After that, we'll be tanking about every 15 minutes for about 2-3 hours until we get within single fuel load of Hickam.
I'm not crewed with my regular back seater, whom I've always given plenty of stick time (under the "I won't need him to know how to fly the aircraft until I need him to fly the aircraft and then I'll need him bad!" theory). The guy I'm flying with is fairly young and inexperienced, and for the most part, this flight is boring, so he's getting a considerable amount of stick time. But, he's been flying it for a while and I've noticed that he's getting increasingly off of the altitude. Initially, I write it off to fatigue, but it's getting worse, and as we're # 3 in our 4 ship, I've got a wingman out there I've got to worry about.
I mention altitude to him, and he responds with an "I'm trying". OK, that's a red flag!
"I've got the jet."
"You've got the jet."
I give the stick a little wiggle, to physically signal the transfer and feel the stick get very nose heavy. The jet is out of trim. I think to myself that my backseater hasn't been trimming the aircraft to compensate for the center of gravity shift forward due to the fuel consumed. A newbie mistake.
|The center of lift is roughly where the front edge of the wing tank pylon and where the wing tip is light colored, so those three front fuel tanks are forward of it as is the wing tank and belly tank.|
One of the biggest differences between the F-4 and the F-15 was the fact that the fuel in the F-4 was primarily loaded fore and aft whereas the F-15 was loaded right to left. When fuel burned from the F-4 the center of gravity moved forward of the center of lift and the nose got heavy. There was a little switch on the top of the stick that would power a small motor to adjust the position of the tail slab to compensate for that weight shift and reduce the pressure on the switch. The switch was called the trim switch, and most pilots learned that trim was your friend on their first flight and certainly no later than the second.
In any case, I've got control of the aircraft, and have started clicking that trim button to relieve the control pressure. It doesn't seem to be working. There's nothing in the checklist for this type of malfunction, but we put our thinking hats on to see if we can find what's wrong, before we notify the whole world that we've got an issue.
I have the backseater check the circuit breakers to see if something's popped and sure enough, one is. We reset the breaker and....AHHHH! The trim button starts working.
Which is good, as it's time for our go/no go refueling.
Lead tanks, then I do. I've now got a full tank of gas, we are committed to Hawaii, although, I can't get there yet. Which brings up a small diversionary substory to this riveting tale.
We were in the briefing that morning and the DO, who will be riding in the 141 leaving a little later than we do, stands up to give us his final guidance. He says "Guys, I want you to write down this frequency" and gives us a TACAN channel and a radio frequency. We dutifully write them down. He says, "that's the frequency and TACAN for a Carrier"
(I think he gave us the information for CVN-64 USS Constellation, but it's been a while).
|USS Constellation (CV-64) circa 1964|
"If you get in trouble, dial that in, contact them, then go over and land on it."
You coulda heard a pin drop!
Yep, If I got in trouble, I'd dial that in, call them up and fly over to them. Then I'd fly by and when I saw a helicopter take off and orbit near by, I'd fly back by and when I was in the vicinity, I'd consign my fighter to the briny deep (me and the backseater would put our faith in Mr Martin and Mr Baker).
In any case, there was much mumbling with words such as dumba$$, imbecile and such being spoken soto voce.
Back to the drama.
I've filled up the aircraft, so the fuel is distributed along the fuselage, and the trim is fine.
The tankers have left us and headed back to March AFB.
We're driving on and burning gas. After a while, I notice that the aircraft is getting heavy again, and won't trim out. I ask the WSO to check the CB, and, yep, it's popped. He resets it and, almost immediately, it pops again.
Repeated attempts to reset fail.
We try the altitude hold (a rudimentary autopilot, it will only maintain altitude). It will stay on for a minute or two, then kick off. We're going to have to fly this jet manually.
Now, I've got my arm bent about 90 degrees, and there's a fairly considerable force trying to pull it forward. I have to strain to keep it in place. Basically, I'm arm wrestling the airplane and it is not getting tired. I am.
I hand the aircraft back over to the WSO and straighten and stretch my arm, trying to give it a break. After a bit, he tells me to take it back. And we trade off like this for a while. I've notified my flight lead of the problem and what we've tried. He's got nothing to add.
Meanwhile the mission is rendezvousing with the tankers out of Hickam. We've got do a couple of more tanks before we've got the fuel to make it on our own.
|There were two options, over the top of the canopy bow, which this guy is doing. Or underneath, I usually went underneath.|
But refueling will be exceptionally sporty. Refueling the F-4 is sporty even on a good day, visibility around the canopy bow is not good. There's the aforementioned requirement to trim for fuel load and at altitude, maintaining position fore and aft with the engines is challenging. Depending on how high the aircraft is, there might not be enough thrust in mil power to keep from falling off the boom. If that situation happens, the prescribed procedure is to light min burner on one engine and control fore and aft with the other engine. As I said...sporty.
But we're rendezvousing with the tankers, and I get a visual on the tanker at about 60 miles. Now the 135 is big, but not 60 mile big. I call the visual to the mission lead and he calls that he's got it too.
He asks the Tanker lead what their flight makeup is. He comes back with 6 x KC-135s and 1 KC-10. We'll put a flight of 4 on 5 of the 135s and one flight on the KC-10. The remaining tanker is the spare, in case someone can't pass gas.
The tankers have been on the frequency for a while, and know about my issue. They recommend that my flight, and me specifically, refuel off the KC-10. One, I'm further away from the aircraft, so chances of something bad happening are reduced a bit.
Secondly, the boom flight controls are much bigger, so exert considerably more force on the receiving aircraft.
|The boom flight controls are basically as big as the F-4's slab.|
I've refueled off the KC-10 a couple of times already, and it is a much easier aircraft to refuel from than the 135.
Mission lead approves.
We rejoin with our respective tankers, and when I hit the contact position and the boomer plugs in, I can very definitely feel when he's doing his thing. The flight controls are much, much, lighter. So, we do the next couple of hours with my flight cycling through the tanker, keeping topped off and when done, I reconnect and fly close trail formation hooked to the boom.
We get close enough to Hickam and the 22 ship departs and lands at Hickam.
We've turned off the external tanks for refueling to minimize weight and are only filling the fuselage tanks to maintain the Center of Gravity. The Tank drops me and my wingman (as chase) off at about 50 miles and I burn off what's left to get down to landing weight. The Phantom is getting heavy again, I set up for a straight in, and plant the aircraft on the runway.
Cancel the emergency, taxi back to parking and shut down. I'm met by the Mission Lead who sticks his hand in to shake mine. I can't lift my arm. It's been 10.6 hours since I've stood up. My butt and arm are numb.
We check in to the VOQ and head over to the club. The Tanker Crews are there, including the KC-10. They're in civvies, so the boomer is there. He drinks free that night. I drink with my left hand.
Sometime, very late after standing all evening, feeling starts to return to my Butt!
We're at Hickam for 2 days, then it's on to Kadena...
To be continued......