Monday, August 25, 2014

Guns, Eagle Style

A while back, Murphy’s Law was pining away about how he was going to spend his lottery winnings and buy an F-86.  A worthwhile expenditure to be sure, but MSgt B joined the discussion with a comment about knowing a guy on Okinawa that had one that he used to tow targets for the F-15s. 
This would be that Jet
Photo copied from Here
And that comment fired the synapses that bring forth this story.

So, There I was……*  I’m at Kadena having been checked out in an F-15 in the short course  at Luke AFB, 3 months and probably about 50 hours. Soloing in a jet on your first ride is thought provoking that’s for sure.  At least they save the AB takeoff until a little bit later.  Release brakes and punch it is eye opening.  Even on a hot Arizona afternoon, by the  time you’ve checked the engines, (Why?  I’m mean really, it’s quite obvious to the most casual observer they are functioning beautifully), anyhow, by the time you check the engines, you’re at rotate speed.  A small touch of the stick and you’re airborne, you keep pulling on the stick to keep the airspeed under control (yeah right) and avoid overspeeding the gear.  Slap them up, and you’re still pulling back on the pole waiting for the gear light to go out.  You’re now about 45 degrees nose high and tower tells you to contact departure.  (Phoenix is a busy place airspace wise).  You’re still pulling as you contact departure and they tell you to level at 18000’.  You think, piece of cake, until you look at the altimeter.  A quick increase of the g, and your vertical climb turns into an immelman and you’re level, inverted but level, at 18000’.  You’re first cognitive thought is “Gawd, what an airplane!”

So, anyhow, I’m at Kadena, been there a couple of months, deployed to Kwanju for Team Spirit, so kind of settling in.  My flight commander, in a rare turn of events, happened to be one of my students at Holloman.  He’d been an F-4 WSO and been selected for Pilot Training.  Got an F-15 as his assignment, gone through Holloman and had been at Kadena for about 2 and a half years. Pretty good guy and a decent stick. Let’s call him Jeff.  The schedule has been posted and I’ve got the first go flying on Jeff’s wing for a Dart ride.

Juvat, what is a Dart ride?  Words do not convey what a Dart Ride is.  Take all the awesomeness of flying the F-15, break out your awesomizer ray (you have one of those don’t you?) and run it completely out of awesomizer stuff, and you might have a description of a Dart Ride.  Ok, I might have gotten a little carried away on that.

A Dart Ride is an opportunity to take a pair of F-15 Eagles and shoot the  M-61 Vulcan 20mm 6 barrel cannon at an airborne target!  6000 rounds a minute.  A 100 rounds a second. 954 rounds on board, well, fully loaded. We get 200.

I’ve fired on the Dart before and frankly had a problem.  Coming from an Air to Ground background, I’d learned to strafe and shooting the gun in a strafe mission is different than shooting the gun on an Air to Air mission.  In a strafe mission, killing the bad guy is a good thing, but there are usually a lot of them, so keeping their heads down and disrupting their plan is also important.  So, in a strafing pass, you usually try to fire as few rounds as possible.  20 rounds or so is desirable, all on target of course.  Not so in air to air.

In Dan Hampton’s book “Lords of the Sky: Fighter Pilots and Air Combat, from the Red Baron to the F-16” (a great book, you should read it)   his description of the various aircraft includes a description of the firing rate, number of guns and weight of the round and adds a number that tells you the total amount of metal the aircraft throws at the opponent. That took me a while to learn.  Strafe, you squeezed the trigger and released, then the gun fired.  Here, you needed to squeeze until you heard the gun and then release.  You really wanted about a hundred rounds each time.  Bullet density is going to get you the kill.

Jeff and I have the first flight of the day, we’ll actually take off before sunrise, so our brief starts about 0400.  We’re about ready to step to the jets, and I copy down our tail numbers.  I notice that the tail number assigned to me is the jet with my name painted on the side.  (“My jet” is not acceptable vernacular around here and calling it "The Crew Chief’s Jet" while technically true does not convey the meaning I desire.)  It is a great jet, Radar works well, it flies well, straight and true which is not always the case.  The crew chief and assistant crew chief are good at what they do and I have a good relationship with them.  Things are just falling into place.

It’s starting to get light as we start the jets and it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, light winds, and good visibility.  We’re in the arming area, with the gun safety pin and warning  flag showing, telling the arming crew that we’re going shooting. On more normal missions, the safety pin is inserted inside the gun door, so doesn't interfere with flight.  Guns hot, master arm switch triple checked off,  we take the runway.
Departure from Kadena was easy.  Take off, put the gear up, turn toward your assigned airspace and once over water, cleared all altitudes.  We’re taking off about 10 minutes ahead of our target as we have to perform the safety check and make sure there are no surface vessels in the area.  Typically, we would climb to a medium high altitude ~25000’ or so, but not today. 

Today, as soon as we get feet wet, Jeff sends me out to tactical spread formation, about 9000’ line abreast and with an altitude split of a couple thousand feet.  I move out and start to climb a bit, but he’s pushing over and levels off at about 500’.  In a low level situation, the wingman does not take an altitude separation so as to not highlight the formation, so I level off with Jeff on the Horizon.  I notice that Jeff has not pulled the power back either, we’re still in military power, so the ocean is passing by at a great rate.

We’re approaching the eastern edge of the operating area, the sun is beginning its climb and we hear the target check in on the frequency.  Today, we’re not using any GCI, to help us with the intercept, we’ll be relying on our own  radar to handle that.  Jeff has briefed that first radar contact will run the intercept and first visual gets first shot.  Not all flight leads are that lenient. 

The target calls that he’s in the area and we are cleared to turn hot.  Still headed east, I notice Jeff’s burner’s light.  This is not hard, as it is still dark enough to see the bright white streak coming out of the back of his jet.  I light mine and am instantly through the Mach.  I watch Jeff begin to pull and I match him in a gigantic accelerating immelman, rolling out headed west at 38000’.  I glance at the radar and have a contact about 70 miles on the nose, check the squawk and it’s our target.  I get to run the intercept.

He’s at 20k and as we get to about 40 mile range, I get the "Reno" (I've got a target formation breakout on my radar) on the actual thing we’re going to shoot, the dart about 1500’ in trail of the F-86.  That’s a great advantage, since when we get to lockon range, I can lockon to the actual target and the target box on my Heads Up Display will appear over it instead of the F-86.

We’re still in the high 30’s when we get to lockon range.  I lock and my jet’s systems are spot on.  I catch a flash of sunlight off the dart and can make out the F-86 also.  I call visual, Jeff and the target call No Joy.  I talk Jeff’s eyes on the target and am starting my vertical conversion and tell the target to start the turn and look up.  I pop a flare.  (We can’t shoot unless he sees us)  All have a tally and we’re cleared hot.  

Master arm hot.  Finger off the trigger (Rule 3 applies).  I’m now almost vertical in my dive and he’s slightly off the right side of my nose.  He’s got two choices, turn into me, which would put him on Jeff’s nose or turn away from me, putting him on my nose.  At this point it really doesn’t matter, I am pulling lead by rolling the jet and he can’t deny me turning room as I’m well above him.  He turns away from me, I make a small roll to establish lead and begin the pull out of the dive as I close the range.

The pipper is settling down and the range is closing rapidly, I’m in gun range ~2500’, but pause.  I’d been making that mistake before, and didn't intend to make it again.  1500’, one last check of master arm.  It’s hot, finger on the trigger. 1200’ Squeeze and hold.  The pipper is dead steady as I hear the Gun fire.  Release the trigger and pull on the stick, still have a lot of overtake, so immediately roll to keep the target it sight.  Look back high to find Jeff and prepare to reattack when out of the corner of my eye, I see an amazing array of flashes.  The target had disintegrated and all the tinfoil parts were fluttering in the sunlight like little mirrors as they made their way to the ocean. 

Tow pilot calls “knock it off”, and we clear out of the way.  Without the aerodynamics of the dart to stabilize the cable, he needs to jettison it quickly before it has a chance to do anything bad.  He lets it go, and we head home.  Jeff does a quick battle damage check of me,  nothing, and because it’s required, I do one on him.  Not surprisingly, he’s fine. 

I, however, am higher than a kite.  I’m ready to take on anybody and everybody.  We pitch out, land, dearm and debrief the jets with maintenance.  Pull the VCR Tape and invite the crew chief and assistant to the flight debrief to watch some “really cool S**t!”.  Walking back to the Squadron, Jeff tells me I owe him a beer since he didn't get to shoot, but , he says, “I just wanted to do that once with someone who didn't start in an Eagle, someone who might recognize just how much better this jet is than anything flying.  Guess I did!”

*What's the difference between a fairy tale and a war story, a fairy tale begins "once upon a time.  A war story begins "so, there I was".


  1. I used to see those Tracor Sabres in Kadena or Korea all the time Juvat. Remember seeing three depart Kadena one day, probably headed for contract work with the ROKAF. Nice looking Sabres; I figured it was a bunch of retired fighter pilots living the dream of being ex-pats and still flying fighters. The ROKAF was still flying F-86s out of Seoul AB (and no telling where else) when I was there too. Some of the ROK fighter pilots probably had 20 years in the same fighters. Cool story you told of great shooting. regards, Alemaster

    1. Yeah, my first assignment was at Kunsan and we did a little informal Dissimilar training with the F-86s there, as they were the approximate size and characteristics as the NORK Mig-15s. They were tough in a lot of different ways, not the least of which was the experience in the jet.

  2. Excellent! One wonders... did you have to stop midway through typing this to get your fingers back on the keyboard? I'm told there is much hand waving and watch-checking during the course of stories like this. ;-)

  3. What a grand story to wake up to on a sunny Monday morning. One where I don't have to go to work I might add.

    Serious awesomeness here Juvat. Serious.

    (Yup, kids are still in town. I'm still goofing off.)

  4. Two three day weekends in a row? You're going to become spoiled. Glad you're enjoying the downtime (and the post).

  5. Aw, man...and it's still actively registered! It's a Canadair MK.6, currently registered as N186PJ to Lewis Fighter Fleet, LLC, (Lewis Air Legends) in Bexar, TX. It still flies, and in pretty good company, looking at their website.

    1. Murph, Think you need to come up with some contingencies. If you win a partial lottery, go O-2. If you're the lone winner, F-86. If it's big enough, both. Really Big? Both plus G-5 (for getting around in style). Just sayin'

    2. I was thinking A-26 Invader for those times when I want to fly with friends. Those things were hot, and still fairly affordable...for a lottery winner.

    3. Can't disagree, and since you've added the F-4U to your lottery wish list, that pretty much takes the G-5 outta play anyhow.

  6. Not as exciting as riding the dart I'm sure, but I have a similar story. The Airwing was scheduled to bomb the spar during flight ops one day on deployment. The spar was a target towed about 1500' behind the carrier to provide the pilots some graded bombing practice in the open ocean, observed from the tower. For some reason we were in the pattern first and my pilot rolled in using our extremely unsophisticated bomb sight and windscreen pipper. He pickled off a Mk-76 practice bomb and hit the spar right were the cable connected it to the carrier. The cable parted and the spar sunk, ending all further bombing for the day. The rest of the wing wasn't happy, but we did score the only bullseye that day.

    1. A carrier as a tow ship? My how the mighty have fallen. What's the attack axis? Parallel or perpendicular to ships course?

    2. Perpendicular, but I think I remember more of an oblique run.

  7. Great story, and I wondered about that F-86 that sat over there... Now I know! :-)

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