Thursday, October 2, 2014

Phantom Bites

F-4J of VF-96 "Showtime 100"
(US Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation Photo)
Anyone who has ever worked on the mighty F-4 Phantom II knows exactly what I mean by a "Phantom bite." Old Double-Ugly was built low to the ground, there was not a whole lot of clearance underneath that mighty warbird.

Start hanging MERs and TERs* and wing tanks and such and it can get pretty crowded down there. Even with a clean airframe, there are doors, antennae and all sorts of other protuberances under there which just can't wait to have their pound of flesh from an unsuspecting maintainer.

F-4 at Zaragoza AB June 1984
(Photo by Scott R Wilson, Source)

Now that bird up above at Zaragoza is fairly "clean" underneath. There's a TER on the outboard station (where we always had a fuel tank) and what is either a fuel tank or maybe even a gun pod on the centerline station, I'm leaning towards a tank as it looks too fat to be a gun pod. (No doubt Juvat will correct me if I'm mistaken.)

But look at the gear doors and such, there is lots of stuff under there to nip you if you're not paying attention.

F-4 sitting on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown down at Patriots Point in South Carolina

To the left in the photo above is the nose gear strut, just aft of that is the nose gear door, the Sarge's personal favorite. That sucker gave me the best Phantom bite I ever had. I think it goes a long way towards explaining why I am so, shall we say, goofy?

It was on Okinawa, Kadena Air Base, way back in the mid-Seventies.

Kadena now-a-days, where I worked was inside that yellow circle.
I don't see the Radar Calibration dock, seems the base has changed a lot since '78!
(Google Maps)

Up inside the nose wheel well was a container of desiccant, a substance used to remove moisture from the air going to the avionics equipment. Water and electronic gear do not get along very well! When the desiccant turned white, it was time to change it. (Brand new it was a very nice shade of blue.)

My job that day was to change the desiccant. As a newbie it was one of the few things I could do without a whole lot of supervision. Pretty much limited to, "Hey, knucklehead, change the desiccant. And try not to kill yourself doing it." (I didn't understand that last bit really, no power on the aircraft, all the safety stuff was installed. I should be fine.)

So I laid into that desiccant container like a pro. Had it swapped out, nice new shade of blue in there, and was just safety-wiring it down. That's when I heard -

"Airman! Ain't you done with that yet?"

Well, old Sergeant Jerry was on the right side of that bird and I was sitting under the bird facing forward. When he yelled my name I responded rapidly.

Rapidly and without a thought in my damn-fool head I turned to listen to my Sergeant. As I turned, to the right, rapidly, trying to demonstrate my alacrity and willingness to obey, SMACK!!!

Right side of head, meet nose gear door. Nose gear door, meet the right side of Your Humble Scribe's noggin.

Man, it's broad daylight, where'd all those stars come from?

Why do I hear birds singing out on the flightline?

Why am I laying down under the jet? Sarge ain't gonna like that.

"Hey, Goody**, you okay? Jesus, that was quite a whack you took. Why did you turn around so fast? Hey, buddy, can you hear me?"

"Yeah, Sarge, I hear you. What the heck happened?"

Sergeant Jerry explained what had happened and though I sustained no permanent (I think) damage, I did have quite a knot on the side of my head for a couple of days. Damn, that hurt, I really rang my bell with that one.

Needless to say, I learned to move much more circumspectly around the aircraft in the future. While I did sustain a few nicks and bruises from the mighty Phantom, nothing major. You might say that the jet hit me "up side the head" trying to get my attention.

Yeah, she got my attention alright.

* MER= Multiple Ejector Rack, held six bombs. TER = Triple Ejector Rack, held three bombs.
** Goody, one of my many nicknames.


  1. I don't think anyone was able to work the phantom without getting their share of Phantom bites. And if you weren't careful, you could also get in some major trouble.

    When I was at Phu Cat, Vietnam in '71, a pilot had given us a writeup that his bombs were hitting off target (pilot error?) and being a newbie, I was receiving training on tweaking the bombing computer in door 19. Since the plane was due to sortie in 2 hours, the crew chief was also doing his pre-flight checks. When he turned on the landing gear lights, he didn't see any light so leaving the switch on, he walked back to his shop to get bulbs.

    Now if you remember, there was an antenna on the nose gear door above the landing lights and it was a great place to hang an article of clothing on a hot June evening and anything hanging there tended to cover the lights.

    Due to the high power of the landing lights, after a while my fatigue shirt caught fire causing great consternation with anyone that could possibly get involved. An incident report had to be filed and I got the privilege of receiving ass chewings starting with the crew chief and progressing step by step all the way up to the wing commander.

    Spent a lot of extra duty time cleaning 6-carts, hydraulic carts, -60's and AGE tractors. Fun times!!

    1. Damn! I had heard that story when I was in PACAF. Now I'm at the age where I'm wondering if you told me the story or someone else told me the story and I didn't know that was you.

      Either way, I remember that antenna and a certain SSgt telling me not to hang stuff from it. ;-)

    2. I learned a lot about my ancestry and my A1C sub-human status during those "talks"! The only thing that kept me from getting an Article 15 was that a lot of people came forward and admitted that they would also hang their shirts there if no one else was using it first.

    3. Hahaha. Back in those days folks were honest. Someone always seemed to have your back.

  2. I agree with your assessment about the tank/gun pod. The centerline tank tended to be more curved and the gunpod had straighter lines than the object in the picture.

    Never got a Phantom bite, but a guy in my UPT class got a Tweet bite. He was getting some cockpit fam time and had heard about the emergency canopy release lever. The lever was supposed to be used when the canopy was closed and when pulled, released all locks and allowed the canopy to be manually raised from inside the cockpit. Since cockpit fam time was unpowered, the canopy was open (this being Texas in the summer). Said student, pulled the release, canopy came crashing down and took off the tip of his pinky. Fortunately, he only required a few stitches and lost only a couple of days, but could have been much worse. Like Russ, he got to visit a lot of august personages on the base. Unfortunately the rest of the class got treated to several speeches populated with verbiage that probably wouldn't be tolerated today.

    1. I learned at a very young age (USAF-wise) not to touch stuff that I didn't know what it was or what it did.

      The tech order is my shepherd,
      I shall not want,
      Yea though I walk underneath the mighty F-4 I will fear no evil;
      For my checklist comforts me;

    2. Never bust safety wire, never touch red guarded switches, never pull a safety pin just to see what happens.

    3. Words to live by...


    4. Switchology 101: Only move the shiny switches. If you don't get the expected result from moving a shiny switch, PUT IT BACK THE WAY IT WAS.

    5. Sound wisdom. (Methinks you've "been there, done that" - especially the PUT IT BACK part. Me too.)

  3. I really laughed at the comment that some dumb jock's bombs were missing the target! MERs and TERs were at their best when they had nothing attached. Putting some kind of missile on them REALLY made them useless! We used to pull some pins on preflight and same them. As I recall they were like cotter (?) pins and one put them on a string. Curiously, mine have been mislaid in the 49 years since I pulled them. You have to remember that the Phantoms were fairly dangerous on the ground. Once airborne, they were very safe - no matter what you did.

    1. I liked that one too.

      "Hey, my bombs keep missing! Must be the jet."

    2. "It's a poor craftsman that blames his tools!" Unless you're talking dive toss.

    3. I meant "save them". I'm not sure how to "same them".

    4. Wait--I thought that dive toss was the greatest thing invented since the co-pilot. Not so?

    5. I was going to add something, then realized that I'd be jumping into a bunch of pilots.

      Watch as I slowly back out the door...

  4. Thanks for curing my "Phantom Story Withdrawal" for a bit. And be sure to watch that descending pilot ladder, too. Heh!

    1. Every time I see a Phantom picture, I think of you and that ladder...


    2. 1. You're the one who told me where the release button is, so it's your fault.
      2. If the museum didn't want them deployed, they'd have secured them, so it's their fault.
      In any event, I'm blameless.

    3. Well, seeing you put it that way...

      And really, the museum should know better.

  5. Phantom bites seem to be more annoying than lethal, as opposed to radar bites. I'm sure there were things on the Phantom that could kill you if you were sloppy, but there were quite literally HUNDREDS of things on high-powered ground radar that would kill you DEAD if you weren't paying attention. Most of those things had to do with thousands upon thousands of thousands of evil lurking volts that NEVER hesitated to take the path of least resistance to ground... and sometimes that path of least resistance was YOU. I was lucky enough (or smart enough? Nah...) to never get more than an occasional bite from wayward electrons, but I've heard hair-raising stories... and seen the scars... of people less fortunate. I freakin' HATED radar...

    1. The F-4 radar would bite from time to time.

      Big ground radars are something I avoid like the plague!

    2. "Big ground radars are something I avoid like the plague!"

      Me too! ;-)

    3. I knew you were a smart guy Juvat.

    4. Wait. Is there some sorta message in here, re: ground radars and smart vs. not very?

  6. Well that "Remove Before Flight" image almost lasted 24 hours as my background image on my work computer. Geez, some people are so touchy.

    1. I'm guessing you picked the image on the right?


      Yup, that was me doing a face palm.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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