Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ma Vie Militaire (Part V)

AN/APQ-109  Radar Set
That beast in the photo above is the reason I was at Lowry AFB, Colorado in the summer of 1975. (Was that really 37 years ago!) For I was to be trained in the care and feeding of the Weapon Control System (WCS) as mounted in the F-4C and F-4D aircraft.

While refreshing my memory of those days of  yesteryear, I came across something called the "Harpoon Database". For those who don't know, "Harpoon" is a naval simulation. The database I came across is apparently associated with the simulation. In the interests of full disclosure, the database claims that the AN/APQ-109 was only used on the F-4D. Wrong! It was also used on the F-4C. I would know as I worked on both variants of the F-4 while assigned to Kadena AB, Japan. Just thought I'd mention that.

Update: I do believe I am incorrect. F-4C carried the AN/APQ-100, so that there Harpoon DB is correct. My bad, the Sarge, 20 March 2013.

Oh, and for the acronym-challenged. AFB = Air Force Base. AB = Air Base. Don't know why, but Air Force bases in the good old US of A were called Air Force Bases, those overseas were called Air Bases. Don't know why, don't much care. It is what it is. Or perhaps was. Now-a-days I keep seeing references to "Joint Base Something-Or-Other". Guess that's for when multiple services occupy the same geographical location. I also would guess that this kind of thing also requires a staff of 30-40 people at the Five Sided Puzzle Palace (the Pentagon) to keep track of. That office is probably right down the corridor from the Office of Acronyms and Obscure Terminology. Your tax dollars at work. (There is, to my knowledge, no  such thing as the "Office of Acronyms and Obscure Terminology". If there is, it probably has a less obvious name.)

Now the Tech School at Lowry was rather long. I arrived there in July of '75 and departed in January of '76. While much of this time was consumed with technical training, I did manage to find time for youthful hi-jinks and other forms of entertainment.

But as I mentioned in my last installment of this series, the staff at the school actually treated us like human beings and potentially valuable members of Uncle Sam's Aerial Follies. I say potential because Basic Training didn't really give us any, shall we say, "marketable" skills upon completion. To my knowledge there are no paying jobs which require the ability to fold underwear to exacting specifications and the ability to march. For the former, they have machines. For the latter, you usually need another skill to go with that, such as being able to play a musical instrument.

The first part of the school covered basic electronics. How to follow a wiring diagram. What a resistor is, what a capacitor is, etc. etc. I don't remember all too much of this phase. Other than that for me, it was fairly simple. Of course, the intent of the course was not to make us all Electrical Engineers, but to give us enough knowledge to complete the second part of the school. Which was learning about WCS on the F-4.

My memories of this second part of the school are somewhat misty after all this time. But I do remember the odd bits and pieces.

The strongest memory was of my instructor. He was a Staff Sergeant (paygrade of E-5 for those of you keeping score at home) and as I recall, he was a very big dude. The kind of guy you don't want to piss off, the kind of guy you want to have your back in a donny-brook. He was also one of those "gentle giant" types. Amicable and genuinely interested in having us succeed at our chosen profession.

Problem was, those higher up the food chain thought this knowledge was best acquired by tracing out schematics with colored pencils. I kid you not. We spent very little time actually doing hands-on things with the actual equipment. Most of our six-hours in the class room evolved around "now take your red pencil and starting from plug J5, trace pin 5 down to where it goes into plug P5." I mean we did learn some, but not enough to actually work on the system. We wouldn't gain that knowledge until we were actually standing in front of the jet, with a crusty sergeant asking us, "So which unit would you check first if such-and-such is not working?"

Our instructor did try as much as humanly possible to get us on the system trainers. These were composed of actual aircraft hardware mounted on a test bench. Now as you may well imagine, the schools did not have the same priority as the actual fighter wings when it came to getting replacement parts. So when a trainer broke down, it would typically stay broke for weeks, if not months, at a time. So time on the trainers was much sought after, but hard to get.

Nevertheless, learn we did. At least enough to graduate from the school and at least enough for those crusty sergeants on the flight line to have something to work with. (At the very least I could tell the difference between a Synchronizer and a Target Intercept Computer, and so on and so forth.)

Other things which occurred at Tech School were more memorable due to the humor involved.

In those days my best buddy from high school was also at Lowry going through a different (and much longer) Tech School. We would hang out as much as possible given our being in different squadrons and having different schedules. Typically this was on weekends.

One weekend we went forth to downtown Denver. (I should also note that he had a car, I did too, but it was still in Vermont.) We found this hobby shop and there I found something I just had to have. It was a non-firing but very accurate reproduction of one of these:
This bad boy (the MP-40) was the standard weapon carried by German Army infantry sergeants during WW-Deuce. This sucker looked and felt like the real thing. Even field stripped the same way as the real thing. (Note: Having had the opportunity to handle the real thing, I know of what I speak.) So of course, I had to have it. So I bought it for the then princely sum of 100 American dollars.

When we got back to base I just had to show it off. My buddies all thought it awesome and cool, etc. etc.

Now we had this one a$$hole who lived on our floor in the dormitory (that's Air Force-speak for barracks by the way). Seems like every Saturday he liked to go out and get completely messed up. Then return to the dorm and make lots of noise regarding his dislike of the Air Force and all who were in it. (Why the hell this punk ever enlisted is beyond me. They should have thrown this clown out a lot sooner AND put his recruiter in jail. He was that bad!)

So there it was, a Saturday night (actually it was probably Sunday morning) and our local a$$hole comes back from downtown with a snoot-full and decides it would be funny to wander up and down the corridors banging on doors and shouting at the top of his lungs. Bloody hysterical, to him, I'm sure. But his reign of a$$holeness was about to end.

My roomie and I both woke up, unhappy campers at having our beauty rest interrupted. As we're about to go deal with His Royal Pain-in-the-Ass, roomie says to me "Hey, grab your fake MP and let's scare the crap out of this a-hole".

So yours truly grabs his MP out of his locker and out into the hallway we went. 'Lo and Behold, Airman A$$hole is just about ready to pound on our door. He's right in front of us. He's paused in mid-knock when the barrel of the faux machine pistol is presented to his drunken mug. As his alcohol-addled brain is trying to process just what the heck is going on, yours truly racks back the charging handle and says, "Prepare to meet your Maker, you drunken bastard."

At this point, Airman A$$hole literally wets his pants. Then crumbles to his knees and starts begging us not to kill him. This is how the rest of the conservation went, near as I can recall:

Roomie: "What do you think? Should we let him off this time?"

Moi: "Why, so he can just do the same thing next weekend?"

Airman A-Hole" "Please, please, please don't kill me. I'll never do this again, I swear!"

Moi: "I dunno roomie, he seems really sincere."

Roomie: "Ah screw it, just blow his head off so we can all go back to sleep."

Airman A-Hole: "No, no, no, no, please."

Moi: "Ah what the hell. We can clean the mess up in the morning. We'll tell the First Sergeant we caught him trying to break into our room."

Airman A-Hole" "Please, please, please don't kill me."

Roomie: "Hold off for a minute..."

My roomie grabs the guy by his shoulders and says, "We're tired of this crap. If you ever pull this sh!t again, we will kill you. Now beat it!"

At this point Airman A$$hole scrambles to his feet and heads down the hallway at near-Olympic qualifying speed.

Upon returning to our room, my roomie realizes that we could be in awfully deep doo-doo for this night's little episode. Pondering this, I realized that yeah, we could be facing some pretty serious crap. We both went back to bed a wee bit nervous over what the "Powers That Be" might do to a pair of airmen who had threatened the life of a fellow airman. Even though it was with a fake weapon.

The next day, Airman A$$hole was telling everyone about the seriously weird dream he'd had the night before. Seems that he'd had a dream that the German Army had taken over Lowry and that the GESTAPO was just about to execute him when he woke up. As he told it, the dream was so realistic that he'd actually wet his pants.

Dude did not stop drinking. But he did stop his antics in the dorm upon his return from his drunken sojourns downtown. He was later dishonorably discharged for drug use. I suppose that's a happy ending for the Air Force, if not for him.

Oh, and we never ever ever told anyone else who wasn't there about that night. But I think the First Sergeant knew. Especially after he'd asked to see my new toy. After praising its coolness and authentic look, he turned to roomie and I and said, "Just don't shoot any drunks with it. Okay?" And walked off.

I'm hear to tell you, a good First Sergeant doesn't miss anything. He hears all and sees all. But he also knows when to let things slide. Usually after a nod and a wink which means, "Don't you EVER do that again."

Roger that First Sergeant.

Roger that.


  1. Great war story, that! We had waaay too many drunks at tech school back in the day; it was sorta like college freshmen with their first-ever experiences with alcohol, only worse (IMHO).

    You're oh-so-correct about First Shirts. I think there's a corollary about bad ones, though, even if I can't remember it. ;-)

    1. I hear ya on the college freshman angle. I went in at the ripe old age of 23. So I'd been away from Mom and Dad and had already done the college freshman, first time exposure to booze thing. So at least that was out of my system. But "Oh My Lord" having to supervise some of these wet-behind-the-ears types when I became a Staff Sergeant, that was an adventure at times. And that was just the butter bars! (I kid, but just barely!)

    2. And that was just the butter bars!

      Heh. I KNEW it was time to hang it up when the 2Lts looked like my kids. And acted like 'em, too.

  2. In case anybody wonders what the difference between the APQ-100 (F-4C Weapons Control System) and APQ-109 (F-4D WCS) was, the -109 integrated with the AN/ASG-22 lead computing optical sight system (LCOSS) and the AN/ASQ-91 weapons release computer system (WRCS), which both used inputs from WCS, flight instruments, and the inertial navigation system (INS). The -109 also had more solid state components than the -100 did, which made it lighter and theoretically more reliable, although the mean time between failure (MBTF) rate was about an hour for both (i.e. after an hour's flight, half of the F-4s would have bad or degraded radar).

    F-4Cs had a manually-adjusted sight reticle that was "by guess and by God" accurate. The F-4D system integration used the radar/LCOSS/WRCS/INS combination to compute lead angles for firing the external 20mm gun at air and ground targets, and for bombing. The sight reticle (assuming all worked as advertised) would position itself so the pilot merely steered in the direction of the reticle: if it was high and to port, the pilot turned left and climbed to bring the reticle to center. While the D model was a much more accurate bomber than the C model, I remember the allowable distance (to count as a hit) was in hundreds of feet (I remember 500 feet, but that may be wrong). We still had a lot of "misses." Compare that to F-16s, which consistently drop bombs within 50 feet of their targets.

    The WRCS computer was under Door 19, behind the back-seater, occupying space cut out of the foremost fuselage fuel cell. I want to say that the LCOSS had a separate computer, but I don't remember. Maybe it was part of the radar synchronizer.

    1. Wow, does that bring back some memories!

      Thanks for the data, that reactivated a bunch of little used brain cells...

    2. When were you at Kadena? I worked Radar Cal Docks and Mockup there Oct 1977 - Oct 80. The coolest thing about Cal Dock was you could drive out to work on the taxiways.

    3. Bruce, it all comes together now. You made SSgt on Okinawa, right? I was on Okinawa from '76 to '79. I remember you now. Do you remember Russ Kinion?

      I remember you stopped by my house when you were TDY to Kunsan, where I went after Kadena. Damn, good to get back in touch!

  3. Yeah, that's me. The guy we had a special name for (I won't mention his name or 'special name') was very unhappy when I beat him to staff, somebody told me. We used to hang out with Bumpus, Sager, and Jaskowitz in the barracks now and then. I don't remember Kinion.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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