Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tales from The Dark Side (of the Ramp)

When the sun is shining the aircraft are normally flying. Some maintenance is performed during the day, usually just enough to get a bird airborne. Many a time the aircrew will simply check that there are no red "Xs" in the aircraft 781As (the aircraft maintenance forms), talk to the crew chief about any minor problems and if the bird is safe for flight and the "right" systems are okay, do their pre-flight and launch.

For my old career field, if the jet was scheduled for air-to-ground (mud moving) and the inertial navigation system and gunsight functioned, the crew would be on their way.

BAD Write-up, the Red X in the upper left corner means the aircraft is NOT safe to fly!

An "OK" write-up, it's up to the aircrew whether or not to take the jet.

Air to air was a different story, though in a pinch, if there were Sidewinders loaded, they'd go without a radar. AIM-7s? A different story, need the radar for that bad boy.

What about guns you ask? Sorry, the F-4C and the F-4D didn't have an internal gun. The weapons weenies could mount one on the centerline station and usually did. But the early Phantoms were mud movers and missile shooters primarily. Juvat, Dave and Virgil can tell you all about that. (Being pilots they probably will, if you're buying and they've got room to wave their hands around!)

Nah, that couldn't be Virgil on the left and Old NFO on the right. Could it?

So when the sun was up and the birds were singing (if you could hear them over the roar of the J-79s) all was right in the world. But, when the sun went down...

AN/APQ-109 Radar Package

The real Weapon Control System (WCS) gorillas would come out to play.

For we loved the night, no jets a flyin', no officer-types wandering around, very little in the way of brass or the multi-striped could be found at night. (Well, Chief Colona was around. He was the finest Chief Master Sergeant I ever met, I swear he never slept. Ever.)

So we could get our work done with very little harassment.

But there was a legend on Okinawa in the mid-70s. A legend of a terrible and fearsome beast who stalked the flightline after dark. Preying on the unwary. Seeking out those who violated the one rule that this beast prized above all others.

Now look back to that lead-in photo. See that yellow thing sitting underneath the left intake? That, my friends, is a utility hydraulic cart, what I learned to call a Six Cart, or Dash-6. We WCS types used this beast to provide cooling air to the radar package and hydraulic pressure to the aircraft's utility hydraulic system, which provided motive force to the radar antenna. (That blue thing up above.)

Yes, made for the Navy but used by the Air Force too.
(Hhmm, that company name looks awfully familiar...
Where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, on my paycheck.)

Now according to the rules, we were supposed to unwrap the cable all the way, the air hose as well. Then the cart should be placed away from the aircraft, for safety reasons. Made perfect sense. But in my entire time in WCS, I never saw it done that way by anyone.

Well, not anyone but that fearsome, semi-mythical beast which I mentioned before.

Now the legend had it that this was the undead spirit of a Tech Sergeant (TSgt) who had been killed in a horrifying Six Cart accident. Seems his airman had placed the Six Cart under the aircraft and when the TSgt dismounted from the built in boarding ladder, that TSgt tripped over the Six Cart, hit his head and joined the "choir invisible." (Blog buddy Murph has some experience with F-4 boarding ladders with which he annoyed a docent or three at the USS Midway out in Sandy Eggo, and which, for some reason, he blames me!)

Dash-60, essentially a mini-jet engine used to provide aircraft ground power
and bleed air for engine starts (that gnarly looking hose on top).

Stop looking at that jet. It's a SECRET, okay?

Now the legend has it that this fearsome, undead TSgt hated poorly placed Six Carts. So in the middle of the night, when all that could be heard on the line was the roar of the mighty Dash-60 power cart and the incessant whine of the Six Cart, this monster, this, this...


...would emerge from the shadows and (when no one was looking) rip the Six Cart out from under the aircraft and fling it off to the side. Away from the boarding ladder.

Of course, the WCS guys would experience a sudden loss of hydraulic pressure and wonder, "What the Hell?" Only to look out of the cockpits at the blur of their Six Cart being flung to the side.

Now if this wasn't bad enough, then, on some nights if the moon was just right, they might catch a glimpse of the creature.

For given time and sufficient opportunity, this fearsome monster of the night would lean over the Six Cart and suck the hydraulic fluid right out of it.

Hard to believe?

Yes, I know.

But I saw the beast one night, this beast we called...
The Drapire*

I shudder even now, lo' these 3o some odd years later at the thought of this horrid beast.

The horror...
The beast and his innocent victim.

*Okay, the real "beast" was an actual guy, a TSgt named Draper. He didn't actually "fling" Six Carts, nor did he suck the hydraulic fluid from them. He wasn't actually undead, he just acted that way. He and I had many a run in before he moved on from Kadena.

But he would disconnect a Six Cart with little or no warning. Until one day, he did it to the Chief! But that's a story for another day.

Some say he went to Holloman and one day wandered into the desert.

Some folks say, "he's out there still..."


  1. So where's the button to swing open a Phantom's nose like that?

    1. I'm guessing that I will probably regret telling you this, but...

      Here goes -

      There are four bolts holding the radome closed. If you stand facing the aircraft, those bolts are on radome nearest the fuselage at roughly the 2, 4, 8 and 10 o'clock positions. These are a female type receptacle, the size and shape of which I cannot remember clearly. A fella with a standard English system tool box would probably have the right tools to open the radome.

      On the right side of the aircraft, there is a small door, which if opened will reveal a cable which one attaches to the radome to hold it open. Extend that cable and plug it into the proper hole in the radome.

      If anyone asks, you didn't get this from me.

      (Will I be getting complaints from the docents on the Midway?)

    2. If not them, then someone else eventually. What can I say? I'm curious. But if they didn't want me touching stuff, they'd encase 'em in glass or something.

    3. Good point.

      You'd be amazed at the stuff we used to "play with" on the jet. We managed to figure out how to get the radios up and would listen to the tower freq (and others) when we were running a long test. Someone may have mentioned to us "don't do that" and here's how you're not supposed to do that. Believe me, I understand the curiosity angle. Mostly because I've "been there, done that."

    4. I should probably re-blog the story about the time that I got thrown out of Wright-Patterson AF Museum back when I was younger. And about half of the ship museums that I've ever been on. And a mine tour. And yes, there's a pattern there.

    5. Oh, definitely re-blog that. Sounds like a fantastic story!

      You sound like a old-timey kind of American, the kind that wants to know how everything works. Sadly there seem to be too few of those around now-a-days.

  2. Any
    the text
    beyond the
    be me.

    1. Interesting. It might just be you, or it could be that Blogger put some "special" characters in the post that I can't see.

      I take it this is the first time you've seen this problem Cap'n?

      I've looked at the post on two separate computers and a smart phone and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I will investigate further.

    2. I don't get it. We use the same tool for blogging. Everywhere else lets me CTRL+ to increase the size of the font and retains the page image while expanding the print. This one is unique. It doesn't. When I embiggen, the margins go all the way to Maine.

      It has always been thus and if it's just me, well, that's life. Up with that we can put.

    3. I just tried the Ctrl + and sure enough, the margins don't stay within the confines of the monitor.

      I think part of the problem is that I have a much wider layout than some (most?) other blogs. Quite honestly I set things up for my monitor at home and for my laptop. Things seem to be okay on my smart phone as well.

      I think it's the wide layout I use. I went to your place, started zooming in and the font got pretty big and your margins were still visible.

      I may experiment in the near future with a modified layout. Particularly using a larger font as my default. We shall see.

  3. Worked on these for years in the USN. Our radar was the APQ-72, older than this one. F-4B.
    Used a 1/4" speed handle to open and close the radome fasteners. Had a radome come off in
    flight and we realized that the fasteners needed to be torqued. I damn near got knocked off the
    flight deck opening one of these at the bow. Night time, underway and as I started to fold back
    the radome, the wind caught it and slammed it around, with me hanging on to it. Swung my feed
    off the deck. Time to change my skivvies. Carrying the transmitter or power supply section up
    and down steep ladders was always a thrill. Lots of memories, not all good, but most are good.

    1. I found this info out there on the web -

      Initial model, designed for the US Navy F-4A/B Phantom II. The 19th aircraft built replaced the AN/APQ-50 radar set with the evolved AN/APQ-72, which had a larger antenna that required fit of a new and bigger nose.

      Improved AN/APQ-72, designed for the US Air Force F-4C Phantom II.

      Radar based on the AN/APQ-100, but with enhanced air-to-ground modes. Used in F-4C/D/E Phantom II. The AN/APQ-109 was an improved, more reliable "hybrid" version of the AN/APQ-100 with solid-state components in the low-voltage sections.

      I worked on both the APQ-100 and APQ-109 radar sets.

      Wind catching the radome is a problem on land. The same thing on a carrier is what I'd call a MAJOR problem. Holy Crap! I can imagine that a change of skivvies was in order.

      I hadn't thought of the need to lug those heavy units around a ship. It's not like you could put them on a truck and drive them to the shop is it? Damn but that must have been a "thrill" (like you said).

      The 1/4" speed handle. Thanks for reminding me! One of the big deals for us was when you were made a 7-level (usually around the time you made E-5) which meant that you were pretty much fully trained. Which gave you the privilege of torquing those radome bolts and clearing the forms.

      It's great to hear from a Navy guy who had essentially the same job as myself. Stop by anytime Dick!

    2. We used a 3/8" ratchet with a 3/8" to 1/4" adapter. The 1/4" fit the bolt heads for opening and closing the radome and the adapter was switched to a torque wrench to torque the bolts to spec. If you remember, only a 7-level could torque a radome!

    3. Sounds about right.

      You remember a lot of that stuff Russ! I did remember the 7-level torque the radome thing. I even remember what it sounded like. Odd that.

  4. Ok, now that's just funny! Especially the rudder and Holloman connections!

  5. I used to butt heads with the Drapire at Luke AFB in '72. He ran mids and used to line up his troops at the beginning of the shift for full inspection. Uniforms had to be clean and freshly pressed, boots polished and hair better be exactly within 35-10 standards. I then had the privilege of facing him again at Kadena. I always wondered why he practically lived at the shop and then one day I saw him at the BX with his wife. She looked like Dick Butkus only she was bigger and had a better mustache!!

    1. I knew he was a freaking alien!

      (I'd heard his wife was NFL ready.)

  6. LOL, 'I' only did debriefs in air-conditioned spaces... :-)

  7. You guys used WUCs (Work Unit Code) and JCNs (Job Control Number), too? Coolness.

    Did you ever get the "RADAR will not transmit in standby" gripe? Or any of a hundred other ones that were fixed with "well, yeah, did you read the manual on how to operate that aircraft before you took it out for a spin?"

    When The Wife and I toured the Old Grey Lady (aka USS Midway CV-41) I ducked under the chain so I could visit my old rack (aka bunk). B36 in compartment A-107-1L if you're interested. Still had the chewing gum I'd left on the light fixture. I got nabbed by one of the museum folks on my way back out, and only got a "you're not supposed to be back here".

    1. Radar not transmitting in Standby - check.

      My favorite? Radar will not transmit in O.F.F. mode. Seriously.


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