Monday, October 20, 2014

Cope Thunder

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Cope Thunder was up until recently, PACOM’s version of Red Flag.  With the eruption of MT Pinatubo and subsequent evacuation of US Forces from the PI, Cope Thunder was moved to Eielson AFB AK.  The exercise has been renamed Red Flag Alaska.  It’s airspace is 67000 sq miles as opposed to Nellis with 12000. 

Cope Thunder was both my first and last advanced aerial combat training exercise.  (The terminology is from Sarge’s official source.  My definition is “closest thing to combat without real missiles”.)  In between, I participated in a bunch of Red Flag and variations thereof (stories to follow). 

The other big difference in the exercises was airpace,  Nellis was big and for the most part over uninhabited desert.  Cope Thunder was not very big. 

Cope Thunder Airspace is essentially everything to the left of the black line
BTW that Heart Shaped object on the left side are the Spratley Islands 530 nm from Hong Kong, 180 nm from Clark

The measurement line on the map above is 95 miles long.  That’s forever in Rhode Island terms, but 10 minutes at combat speed in a loaded F-4.  It also was highly populated and thus restricted to subsonic.  Which the guys understand, but… the difference between high subsonic and transonic (where the supersonic shockwave starts to form and the sonic boom begins, but the aircraft isn’t technically supersonic) is only a few knots apart.  The technical difference between transonic and supersonic is lost to those on the ground for some reason.  

That restriction had the effect of further reducing the airspace.  Most missions were planned for a west to east attack axis going feet dry at Iba with a north west egress to the east of High Peak until feet wet.  Made the bad guys planning effort a bit easier. (They capped Iba and High Peak)

The other unrealistic airspace point was it was next to impossible to get into fuel problems.  In last week’s episode, I describe a low altitude high speed chase that terminated with a simulated kill just as Betty lets me know it’s time to go home.  Out of AB, steep climb to the high 40s, exit the airspace, turn south, enter initial, pitch out and land.  All without touching the throttle, except to pull it to idle in the flare.  Not realistic, even in a Korean Scenario.

I've heard that is not the case in Red Flag Alaska.  Fuel awareness is a big deal when you’re 500 nm from home.

So, Juvat, if it takes airspace the size of Alaska to conduct this exercise, why do we do this?

There’s a well-known phenomenon about aerial combat.  The most likely time for a pilot to be lost is the first 10 missions (the second most likely is the last 10, but "get-home-itis" is hard to train for). Both exercises attempt to train pilots as realistically as possible to get them the equivalent of those first 10 missions.  As such, the exercises were each about 2 weeks long. All three of the squadron’s I was in when I participated in the exercises deployed early in the week prior to the start. 

One of the coolest feelings I’ve experienced is to be the Mission leader of a hundred ship package at the end of the runway at Clark.  Takeoff time is fast approaching.  The last of the package is finishing arming and you can see that flight’s #4 salute the arming chief and pass a thumbs up to his element lead who passes it to #2 and just like the tumbling dominos the thumbs up races through the package and arrives at your wingman who passes it to you.  You’re a go!  Advance the throttles to get rolling, on to the runway and into burner.  Gear up, flaps up, out of burner.  #2 joins to tactical spread, #3 and 4 join to spread on the other side.  A wall of Eagles and we’ve only been airborne a couple of minutes.  Gotta love it!

But, how do you get to this point?  The Saturday prior to the Monday startex would begin with a mandatory aircrew meeting.  That would begin with the typical hoorah speech about great training, but…restriction this, airspace that, no supersonic, no lowfly, blah, blah, blah.  In one ear, out the other, no contact with brain matter in transit.  Cope Thunder found a way to get our attention. They showed us this video. The crowd was yucking it up at the start but got very quiet by the end. I apologize for the quality. The training is realistic and mistakes have real costs.

Ok, Boss, you got our attention.

Two other videos from Cope Thunder, taken about a year before I got to Kadena, some pretty cool cockpit stuff in both. The first has some pretty good HUD video of gun kills.   The second is taken from the back end of a 67TFS F-15D, and given the beeps and squeeks coming over the intercom, the pilot didn't give any breaks to the back seater.  As Buck would say, when you got nothin', roll film.

 Rest in Peace, Trout 21


  1. Excellent as always Juvat. I'll have to watch the videos when I get home.

    I went to PI once for a Cope Thunder. I remember most of it.

    1. Yeah, the Filipinos were a hospitable people, the countryside is beautiful and an ice cold beer after flying was wonderful.

    2. An ice cold beer after maintaining was also very nice.

    3. I think he was the patron saint of occasionally really good and most often okay not great, but better if Ice frickin' cold Beer. But I could be wrong.

    4. Or alternatively, the patron saint of warriors fighting evil throughout the world.

  2. "The measurement line on the map above is 95 miles long. That’s forever in Rhode Island terms, but 10 minutes at combat speed in a loaded F-4."

    True story right there. And they want to a federal grant for a *street car system*...

    1. Thanks, I wanted to put it in terms that Sarge could relate to. He talks about loading up for a dinner trip to Connecticut like it's a safari. (And, depending on traffic, it may well be).
      Can a street car get up to speed before it crosses the state line? Maybe that's why they need "Federal" money, interstate transport.

    2. Gentlemen. Need I remind you that we used to live out on the Great Plains (Omaha). We'd regularly drive down to Louisiana / Florida to visit the kinfolk. We have been known to drive to Maine for lunch.

      All that being said, any trip to Connecticut is a safari. Traffic on I-95 in the Constitution State can be vexing.

      As to the 95 miles, heck, Little Rhody would fit a couple of times along that line (48 miles north to south at the longest spot, 37 miles east to west at the widest spot.)


    3. Dang, I'm going to have to ramp my game up a notch. Only one Harrumph? I was expecting at least two!

    4. Driving I-95 in the Constitution State isn't vexing; it's an outright pain in the ass. I could regale you with stories, but it's best summed up by the morning of October 27th, 2007.

      My dad is in the hospital in Ohio, and about to be transferred to hospice. I'm heading out on my twice-monthly trip to spend time with him before he leaves this plane, and am going against the grain at 6:15. I split two hours earlier, and am making damned good time on my way from SE MA to Akron. Everybody out is going East, and that's just fine by me.

      Then nobody. I am completely alone as I'm passing through Bridgeport. It's like, seriously- dead silent out here as I am formated with the Sun.

      Just as the signs are saying "Norwalk", I see what looks like first responders across four lanes. Nobody is getting through. It gets all sort of "Silence of the Lambs"-y in the passenger cabin. I'm alone, both in the car, and on the road, so I'm going to rubberneck a bit to see what's happening. Indeed- all lanes of travel are stopped. More emergency vehicles than I have seen in one location ahead of an accident in years, and I figure it's got to be huge.

      I pass the cordon, and there's a good fifty yards between them and a full size panel truck, curled up in the automotive fetal position on the far guardrail. The cab is shoved right, ass-end of the frame hanging out left, with the trailer cranked back to the right- twisted like a red vine and snapped behind the cab where the trailer abutted. Cab is still in good condition, all things considered, so I figure the passengers made it out okay.

      As I ponder the Chinese on the side of the trailer, I'm wondering why the stopped all traffic for this. I gaze ahead, and see what appears to be a hog's carcass lying in the middle of the road. The back is facing me, and it looks as though the legs have already been removed. It's in the middle two lanes, and has been worked over fierce by impact from other cars. It still has me wondering why they haven't just moved the thing out of the way and let people get on about their affairs, but, I tell myself- "I'm in Connecticut- common sense ain’t standard".

      At this point it dawns on me I've been gawking at this display from in the high speed lane, dawdling at five miles per hour, for a good 90 seconds. I check six to make sure I'm not about to join that slab, and put the throttle on the floor to get back up to optimal cruise.

      A quarter of an hour later, I'm almost to the New York line, and something else hits me- I haven't reached the end of the traffic. The volume of Stamford, and everything out of NYC, is hitting a veritable brick wall¸ all for a piece of ham. I shake my head and smile.

      I go directly to the hospital, check in with the old man; his lucidity has begun to waiver, when just a day before he was still his solid self. I get the conversation with the doctors out of the way to make sure the "i's" are dotted and the "t's" are crossed for Monday's transfer. By this point, the reality of things is setting in and the stiff upper lip is starting to falter, so a phone call to the better half is in order.

      "Did you happen to see the traffic on 95 this morning", she asks.
      "Sure did. Looks like the whole Western half of Connecticut shut down for a hog that got tossed out the back of a trailer."
      "No, that wasn't a pig..."

      With everything going on, my brain never registered the possibilities. And I'd gotten a fairly good look into the cab, because the door was flung backwards.

      "No? What was it then- a calf?"
      "The driver."


    5. (Continued)

      A lot of people would have been horrified. For me, it just gave me an odd sense of balance- here I was, looking at having a finite number of days left with my dad, and somewhere now 700 miles away, someone else's family had run completely out of time, never knowing the clock was on its last revolution. The thought gave me my sense of blessedness back.

      None of the above really gets into why Connecticut is the Sarlacc Pit of bad drivers; nor does the fact that the driver, whose name I have long since forgotten, was indeed ejected from the cab as he lost control as he failed to wear his restraints.

      Nope. All of that pales in comparison to one glaring fact: police dogs found his DNA, along with portions of bone, skin, and at least one full limb, strung along fifteen miles of highway. And the damage to the main cavity was such that the coroner's report was inconclusive as to whether or not he was dead at the time of ejection, hitting the road surface, or "later".

      Think about that- we've all hit an animal behind the wheel. Happens to everyone at least once. Squirrel, chipmunk, dog, cat, bird- you feel the impact, the thump of the wheel, and you pull over. You look. You hope it wasn't real, but you look. Consider the number of vehicles that it would have taken to push a bit of him fifteen miles away. According to the reports at the time, nobody stopped. Sure, a few called 911, but no one stopped to confirm what they'd hit.

      That boggles my Midwestern mind, and reinforces the fact that Connecticut drivers are literally a pain in the ass.

    6. What Fringe said vis a vis Connecticut.

      (Juvat - harrumph again.)

  3. "Real costs," indeed. I assume that was Trout 21 in the last sequence of the first video...

    In re: the second vid. Now we know that cheesy music in plane pr0n videos dates back to AT LEAST 1982. Thank you, SMSgt Perry Ashby. (/sarc)

    And then there's this... "Cope Thunder was both my first and last advanced aerial combat training exercise." I participated in more than a few Cope Blunder exercises in the Pee-Eye, specifically Angeles City. Ingress was pretty easy, just load up about eight or ten San Miguels while reconnoitering the range, where targets of opportunity abounded. Egress was sometimes problematic and often involved filing a travel voucher where the mode of transportation was "government hands and knees." I managed to survive ALL of those exercises without (serious) harm to life or limb.

    Great post, great vids. Me likee!

    1. Now, that's funny there, Buck! I must confess to similar mission characteristics in Angeles City. What always got me was the quality control of the San Miguels. One day you could drink 10 in a row and be sober as a judge, the next 3 or so and you were knee-walkin'

      On a serious note, yes. That was Trout 21. I saw that video in my first Cope Thunder, summer 1980. Young and immortal in my own eyes. Gonna show these old farts how to drop bombs. So. The video served its purpose.

  4. Re trout flight: A couple of days ago you said, "Which meant, if you pickled at 350k at 1200', your aircraft was going to impact slightly long of the target, but was not going to fly away. Physics is an important subject and is one of those immutable laws of nature."

    Don't know if he pickled or not, but his nose didn't start moving until about what, 400'? Long on the target, wings level, slightly nose up.

    VA-147 I believe.

    1. Yep, reattacks are always problematic, spur of the moment planning against a now fully alert target, not much good is going to happen. Not that I've ever come anywhere close to getting fixated on a target.

  5. About that A-6 dropping his drop-tanks in the first vid? (hello Harvey Hamfist) Once, during an ORI at Bentwaters-Woodbridge in the UK we were on the range with a mixed gaggle of birds from all three squadrons (for reasons which now escape me) loaded out with both a gun pod for strafe and a full load-out of practice bombs--the drill being getting rid of the bomb-load first before beginning the strafe events. Well, I was #3 on the downwind backside as # 1 (from the 91st, with, the Head ORI IP in back, iirc, chuckle) rolled in hot and--you guessed it--I watched in a mix of supreme amusement and disbelief as he pickled his gun-pod off as I watched it tumble end-over end. "Well" I said to my back-seater, "that's it, this exercise is over, we're going home" as I began to methodically safe everything. "What do you mean we're going home? " my NAV replied, (who evidently had had his head momentarily in the cockpit and missed the "minor faux pas") we just got on the range! "TRUST ME," I replied, this little exercise is OVER! (As the ranger was by that point calling everyone to hold hi & dry and warning us off the range) LOL!

    1. Koon-Ni range in Korea had the nuke target as a rock in the middle of the bay. One of the offset aim points for the target was a large industrial area (I think a refinery) and as such had ships coming and going. I was in a flight practicing toss deliveries for an ORI when lead selected the SUU with BDUs instead of the high drag practice ordinance (nomenclature escapes me, they were orange). Ballistics was a bit different. Lead recounted later that when he rolled inverted after the release tone stopped, he looked up and was flying formation with a blue bomb and in the gun sight ahead was a large tanker. He rolled upright and flew along side to mark where it hit. About 50 yards astern, and as he fley by he could see the eyes of the crewman on the stern.

    2. @juvat/ Your little story exemplifies why many "old-school" F-4 jocks didn't believe/trust in dive-toss (the D-model was first to have that mode as you know) as they all too often experienced the thrill of flying formation with their bombs. (Of course a maj. part was unfamiliarity with the system)

    3. Be careful VX, such heresy about an F-4 radar system might not sit well in some sectors.

    4. What? What? Bad radar system on a Phantom?

      Never happen GI!

    5. Some rules of aviation: Never fly formation with your bombs after they have been pickled off, arming occurs rapidly in the slipstream. If you are going to fly near the edge of the air, be especially cautious and remember rules of momentum, etc. Do not think you can power your way out of everything, even in the Phantom. I think I spoke of the stud who chopped the throttles at 100' AGL on final, full flaps. Not good. No boundary layer all of a sudden. Full burner throughout the touch-and-go maneuver.

    6. Oh, my! Sounds like one of my Navy IP landings, which frightened the holy heck out of my AF IP's.

  6. OAFS,

    Canna find videos. iPad ab gefuched?

    1. Dust,

      The URLs at youtube were :
      I think the embedding requires Flash

    2. Oh, Hi, Dust, Good to see you around!

  7. Target fixation... That's what killed the A-7 driver...

    1. He wasn't the first nor, unfortunately is he likely to be the last.


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