Friday, January 23, 2015

Tales From the Ramp - Front Radar Scopes

The Pilot's Office in the F-4D Phantom II (Source)
So a long, long, long (long...) time ago, I was a Weapon Control Systems (WCS) maintainer on the mighty F-4 Phantom II. Specifically the C and D variants of said flying beast. I spent roughly seven years of my semi-illustrious Air Force career doing that particular job.

My two major assignments in WCS were Kadena AB, Okinawa and Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea. At Kadena we had F-4Cs and F-4Ds and a squadron of reconnaissance birds (the RF-4C, which I didn't muck with). At Kunsan we only had the F-4D. Now this story is about some fun I had on an F-4D in Korea. When it was cold outside. Oh dear, it was cold outside.

So there I was...*

Now normally I worked in the Radar Cal Barn in Korea. This was not an actual barn but was, in reality, a hangar. For aircraft. As seen below.
Radar Cal Barn at Kunsan with a victim aircraft in work.
8th Component Repair Squadron (CRS)

(Photo by Gary Knight, from his Facebook page, I worked with Gary in Korea. A fine fellow.)

Note that I said "normally" above (Skip can tell you all about "normal," he'll mention that from time to time).

Occasionally we CRS types would get called out to the flight line to do, ahem, "real work." I guess that requires a bit of an explanation. We WCS types existed in 3 organizations in the wing. We had a guy on the Wing Staff, as a Quality Assurance inspector (I got to do that for a few months) and then we had folks in the CRS and in the Aircraft Generation Squadron, or AGS. The AGS folks worked the flight line. Think outdoors, in the cold. Well, in the summer it could be nice, as long as it wasn't raining.

The AGS folks would typically check out jets with busted radar systems and then either sign the write-up off for various reasons, or pull parts off the bird to bring them into the mock-up. The mock-up was over at CRS, we had a radar system mounted on a test bench which we could use to troubleshoot a Line Replaceable Unit (LRU) and either tweak (align) it back to usefulness or send it off to the depot for repair. Either way, we'd supply the AGS folks with another LRU which they could then mount back on the jet to repair the original problem.

(For those who must know, every F-4 had to have its radar system checked out every 180 days. This is what we did at the Radar Cal Barn. We had test equipment and such which we used to align and tweak the radar system to its optimal condition. Just like new. Well, sort of. Most of the jets were already pushing 10 years in service. That was old for a Phantom, many of which had seen some pretty hard use in Southeast Asia.)

So one day, I can't remember why**, we got the call to head out to an aircraft to remove the pilot's front radar scope, that thing with the big round glass thingee in the opening photo. Just above the attitude indicator and sporting a number of light gray knobs around the big round glass thingee. (I used to know what all those knobs did, now I'd have to look it up in a tech order. It's been a long, long time...)

Normally, (there's that word again) removing the front scope wasn't that hard. Pop two Dzus fasteners on either side to disconnect the glare shield, undo two cannon plugs on the left side of the scope, one cannon plug on the right, undo two bolts (either side of the scope, I think) and presto, Mr. Radar Scope slides right out.

At sea aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (Oct. 18, 2002) -- Aviation Electronic's Technician 2nd Class Tony Komljenovich from Cleveland, Ohio, assigned to
Fighter Squadron Thirty-One (VF-31) troubleshoots the wires on a cannon plug of an F-14D Tomcat.
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Virginia K. Schaefer.

Not so fast there Hoss!

I forgot one little detail, see that little green scope in the next picture? (That's the Radar Homing and Warning, or RHAW, scope, as I recall. I also recall we just called it the "ECM Scope." ECM standing for Electronic Countermeasures. This was all, dare I say it, a long, long time ago...)

One slight problem, to get one's arm through that little hole in that bracket one needs to strip down to one's t-shirt. The bracket was a really tight squeeze with a shirt on.

Did I mention how freaking cold it was that day? It was OMG cold that day. Me and Klepper were already freezing our arses off as we had not expected to have to work in the Great Outdoors that day but had anticipated being in our nice, warm hangar.

So neither of us was wearing long underwear. Now my braves, in the days before Under Armor and other sorts of new-fangled, lightweight undergarments for to keep the cold, cold air away from our precious skins, we wore long underwear, long johns as they were also called. Bulky and made you sweat like the very Devil indoors with any sort of heat on.

Long Johns. Sexy, neh?
Public Domain Photo

So we precious radar calibrators tended to make do with long sleeve shirts and a field jacket. (What's that? Pants? Of course we were wearing pants. Jolly jokers!)

So Davy (that would be Klepper's first name, his Christian name, ya know, his given name...) are already freezing our butts off as we are preparing to take this scope out of the jet. (As I recall this particular jet was broken, but it had a good front scope. This was known as "cannibalizing" one broken aircraft to fix another, not so broken, aircraft. Of course we had permission. Ya can't just run around taking parts from one bird and putting them on another without permission. That would be chaos, dogs and cats living together...)

I'm in the cockpit, I figure I'll disconnect the scope and then slide it out and hand it to Dave. Let him muscle it down the ladder. (For those things were somewhat heavy and kind of awkward. Dave being the younger guy, I figured I'd let him have the glory of being all physical and what-have-you with Mr. Radar Scope.)

So, Dzus fasteners popped, left side cannon plugs disconnected, ECM scope is out and...


Time to get cold. Damn cold. That is, it's time to strip down to my t-shirt, pop that right side cannon plug off, bundle back up, pass the scope to Dave and...

Ah crap.

Now the cannon plugs on the front scope are supposed to have little wings on them for to make it easier to disconnect them in the close confines of being under the front windscreen. Both left side plugs had them, the right side did not.

Damn it!

Now this would happen from time to time. Sometimes a cannon plug would go bad, usually a pin wouldn't stay seated and the entire plug would have to be replaced. (And yes, Virginia, I do have a story about replacing a cannon plug on a jet. But not today...)

Someone had replaced this plug and used the wrong plug. Well, electronically it was the right plug but it didn't have the little wings. So I had to ask Dave to hand me the pliers.

Something like these, but not nearly as fancy. (Source)

Yes, I am still standing in the front cockpit, sans field jacket, sans shirt and yes, I am freezing my nads off. (Not to go all technical on you, but that's what we called it then, it's what some of us call it now. "Freezing one's nads off." A term almost medical in its own way. Hhmm, I wonder what the Latin equivalent of "nads" is?)

Dave hands me the pliers and I reach through that miserable little bracket with its miserable little opening...

And drop the pliers.

Yes, I may have used a few choice Anglo-Saxon epithets, a couple of naughty words in Korean and I may have gotten somewhat upset. But I calmed down, for I was a professional mind you, pulled my arm out of that miserable little bracket with its miserable little opening and retrieved the pliers. (They had just slid down towards the front of the windscreen. Fortunately.) 

Pliers in hand and shaking like I was having a seizure (did I mention how cold it was) I went back in. This time the plug came off, this time I got the scope out and handed it to Dave. Who got it down off the jet and darted into the shelter to call the shop.

Shelters at Bitburg (I circled one in yellow, I'm helpful that way.)Public Domain Photo

Meanwhile I bundled back up as best as I could and tried to get warm again. In my heart, I felt that I could never possibly ever, ever be warm again. I was shaking, my nose was running and I felt frozen.

Now I know I've been colder than on that day. Before and since.

It could not have been less than 10°F that day, no wind.

But it was a wet, right on the coast, bone chilling cold. The kind of cold you only feel being near or on the water. Damn it was cold.

I'm shivering now, just thinking about it.

And people ask me why I only spent 7 years in aircraft maintenance.

Okay, I may be stupid, but I'm not that stupid. No sirree Bob. A couple of years later I got myself a desk job, an indoor job.

No more front radar scopes for me in the dead of a Korean winter. No thank you!

No more miserable little brackets with miserable little openings and cannon plugs with no wings and, and, and...

Okay, I'm all better now.

Like I said, that was a long, long, long time ago.

Uh no, I don't miss it. (Well, maybe a little...)

** Now I remember. The jet in radar cal had a bad scope, nothing forthcoming from Supply so we couldn't finish that jet and get the next one towed in. So Job Control sent us out to grab the scope off another jet that had multiple issues and wouldn't be flying any time soon. As one gets older, the memory seems to work in fits and starts. If at all!


  1. I feel your pain, my Friend. I remember coming down from my second flight of the night during an ORI at the Kun. Flying a fighter, day or night, is hard work and you sweat. Anyhow, it was February and night and the wind was coming off the Yellow Sea. The jet was turning for the morning go, so I parked it in the revetments by the runway. I was wearing long johns, flight suit, G-suit, heavy flight jacket and harness and was wringing wet under it all. Walked the hundred yards or so to the maintenance shack (most likely to write up the radar or something) and by the time I got there, the sweat had frozen. I feel your pain.

    1. Walked the hundred yards or so to the maintenance shack (most likely to write up the radar or something)..."

      Heh, I see what you did there.

      I'm kinda surprised they didn't find you frozen somewhere between the jet and the shack. The Kun had some serious cold at times.

    2. The wife is from Wisconsin, married her a couple of years after the Kun. Went to visit her family the Christmas after the wedding, and it was cold. Cold enough to have ice on the inside windshield of the Rental Car. Cold enough to remind me of Kunsan, but not AS cold as Kunsan! Which reminds me of a story.....(Monday)

  2. Cold is cold . . . truth! BUT, there is dry cold and wet cold. Ask any infantry soldier. Now, I was not infantry but MI. Back at Fort Devens during my AIT, our commander WAS infantry. (MOH winner in Korea. COL Lewis Millett) He devised a training regimen for any, and all, troops going to Vietnam. It was two weeks of living in a tactical environment, fighting an in-house OPFOR. My turn came up in May of '67. We went into the field and practiced bivouac techniques, ambush preparations, E&E, interrogation resistance, etc. This was in the "lusty month of May." It was raining, gray, dismal weather. We were forever wet . . . and shivering. One particular night, after we'd pitched tents, we established a defensive perimeter and a fellow trainee (Lester) and myself were chosen to site, build, and man a LP about 50 yards out from the main perimeter. It was drizzling when we began. It poured later on, which filled the LP with water. We dug a sump-hole. It filled. We bailed. Water rose. Sometime after midnight Lester was shivering so badly that I told him to return to our tent and warm up. He left. It began to snow. About an hour later an NCO came stumbling up to the LP and told me to stand down. The exercise had been called off because of the weather. I RAN to my tent. I crawled in and quick-changed into a dry uniform. Then . . . flopped back onto my sleeping bag . . . splash! . . . there'd been a leak on my side of the tent and my bag was filled with water. (Groan) I emptied it out and pulled it over me and managed to get a bit of sleep. Later, mid-morning in the falling snow, the word went out that the Mess Sergeant was up on the road with a Silver Bullet Thermos of hot chocolate for anybody who wanted some. I was there in a flash, canteen cup in hand. NOTHING has ever tasted as good since. We all survived and finished the week, graduated and left on PCS orders for RVN and the waiting war. Nothing we were taught while at TTC was ever needed where I ended up. There were others who drew assignments to RR Companies and who went into the boonies with the grunts. The end to their stories would be very different than the end to mine, I'd think.

    1. Okay Snuffy, I'm shivering now. I have been wet and cold and it's no picnic. Going from a wet LP to a wet sleeping bag, what are the odds?

      (I did some checking on Colonel Millet. Man was a warrior.)

    2. COL Millett was the honorary Colonel of the Regiment when I was assigned to 1/27 Infantry in Hawaii, and I had the privilege of meeting him when he came to visit us back in 1986.

    3. And that is pretty awesome Brad.

    4. OCT 1966 - At the incoming briefing at Fort Devens, the Colonel would meet and greet all new arrivals. I remember him as an imposing figure . . . tall, white-haired, handle-bar mustache, carrying a large Irish shillelagh. He told us that he expected us to be and act like soldiers. He told us that the U.S. Army had awarded him every medal on the books but the Good Conduct Medal . . . and he was most proud of that fact. Don't be afraid to admit to getting in trouble. Accept the punishment, then get on with serving. He was always a soldier first.

  3. I feel cold just reading about that.

  4. Ah, very well done, Sarge. I could feel your pain as I read. That damp, near-the-sea cold is absolutely the worst kind. I'll take minus 20 here over plus 20 at the coast any time. And dropping the pliers, yikes! Bad moment. I think we all die a little death when we drop the pliers.

    Is it true that you can't keep the candy bars from melting inside the cal barn?

    Oh, Latin for 'nads." Nads is short for gonads, and the Latin for gonads is, well, gonads. Gonads come in two varieties, of course, xx and xy. The gonad part description for young airmen of that time period (xy) is 'testicle.' The Latin for testicle is testiculi (testiculus when referring to the set). Those Latins! It's almost like they invented all the words. Just for fun, that's 'hoden' in German, 'testiklene" in Norwegian, and 불알 (bul-al) in Korean. Bul-al? That's very close to all bull. Hmm... My google-fu is strong this morning.

    1. Heh. I knew someone would jump all over that Latin equivalent of "nads" comment.

      Your Google-fu is most impressive.

  5. Everyone has their story. Mine? 27' Bridge Erection Boat, Donau (Danube) River, Bavaria installing an improvised thermostat on the Gray Marine engines. The water was so cold our keel coolers kept the engines too cold to properly function. The field improvised solution was a washer installed in the keel cooler outlet to restrict the amount of coolant circulating. While we had ample cold weather gear, none of it completely eliminated plumber's butt and the job needed to be done with bare hands. Even for a Colorado kid it was cold.

    1. As soon as you said "Bridge Erection Boat" and "Donau" I started shivering.

      It's the need to go bare hands on some things that will always get you. Ever notice how you can scrape the Hell out of your hands in cold weather and not notice it until you get back to someplace warm? Or someone points out to you that you're bleeding?

      Good story WSF!

    2. Can't remember if I scraped my hands that time but you are absolutely correct.

    3. As an Army engineer, I figured you were the recipient of the occasional scrape, bump and/or bruise.

  6. Okay Sarge, you being a highly professional maintainer, the question arises, did you, or did you not, replace the cannon plug without wings with the appropriate item with wings? After all, wouldn't it have kept you in a nice warm shop for quite awhile? And it was MILSPEC.

    1. No, it wasn't our jet. All we wanted was the front scope. Even had we written it up, that would have been done when the bird went in for phased maintenance. Maybe.

      It wasn't really broken, just inconvenient. (And yes, I'd still like to meet the barsteward who replaced it!)

    2. I would postulate that the maintainer probably ordered the correct cannon plug and supply furnished the incorrect canon plug. When the maintainer discovered the error, he probably was more interested in getting the bird into an "up" status than getting the cannon plug with the wings.

    3. That would be my guess too Freddy.

  7. Well... I think I'd've said "routinely."
    You know, because of how I feel about normal.

    1. Yes, that's why I used the word "normal" and threw you a shout out and a link.

      Truth be told, "routinely" would have worked just as well, but then there would be no point in linking to your excellent commentary on all things divers and wondrous.

      And we can't have that.

    2. I find it a little ironic that I included THAT in my post today.
      Of course that a catchall title I developed back when you were doing Flyby Friday.

    3. I remember those days.

      Yes, ironic indeed. (I'm sure it's a case of Great Minds thinking alike and all that.)

    4. One more note, "routine" is not always "normal." At least not in my world.

    5. Nor mine, but if it's routine, you kinda know what's next.

  8. Colei Glacialis- Latin for frozen testicles. I'm helpful that way.

    1. I will sleep better tonight.

      As long as my nads are warm.

  9. Not bad... not bad... :-) Try a prop change on a P-3 in Thule in March... Ambient -60, windchill -105... THAT was chilly...

    1. Why gee, no thank you. Thule, it's where naughty airmen go to repent their sins. That or Shemya in the Aleutians. Brrrrrrrr.

  10. I don't think there's any place colder than the flight line during the winter in a cold climate. When I left Kadena, I had an assignment for a special research project for Westinghouse. Apparently Westinghouse was offended that WCS always planned on one radar write-up per sortie. They talked the Air Force into providing them with 6 F4D's at Tyndall AFB in Florida so that they could prove that if the radar was maintained exactly as the T.O.'s required, the failure rate would drop dramatically. And it did. We went from an average of one write-up per sortie to one per 15 sorties.

    Westinghouse then decided that for proper testing, we needed to fly sorties in a cold climate so two of the F4's and two of us WCS types were sent TDY to Minot AFB in February. Three weeks in North Dakota with daytime temps not getting above 10 degrees and winds averaging 15 to 30 mph almost every day really makes you appreciate the Florida climate!! I think it took a month back in the Florida climate till I could find my nads! :-] But extremely happy that they didn't decide to send us to Thule!!!! (The failure rate did go up in such extreme cold but it was still only one write-up per 9 - 10 sorties)

    1. Minot.

      Good Lord. I've heard stories.

      Went there once, in early June. Short three day TDY, which reminds me of a story. (Of course.)

      How was the sortie rate when the radar was maintained exactly as the T.O. required? I recall the AN/APQ-109 being kind of maintenance intensive. Even when it was working.

      Then again, that was a long, long time ago.

    2. You're right, the APQ-100/APQ109 systems were maintenance intensive because they were tube based analog systems. Because the 'powers-that-be' wanted the planes back in action as soon as possible, we only fixed them enough to fly the next sortie instead doing it properly. That started in SEA when there weren't enough planes and too many missions. We actually had what they called a "fast turn area" at Phu Cat where if the plane returned with no major write-ups (usually a radar problem) they would reload bombs, fuel and a new aircrew and send them right back out on the next mission.

    3. And as usual, I learned something new from your post. All the years I worked the mighty F4 I never knew it was spelled Dzus. Everyone always pronounced and spelled it - zeus fasteners. And that must have been one broke bird. Missing the sync, power supply, modulator and the cover is off the TIC. Serious stuff!

    4. To be honest Russ, I thought it was spelled "zeus" as well. When I went looking for information, lo and behold, "Dzus" fasteners. It's still pronounced "zeus."

      As Buck liked to say, "I had no ideer."

    5. Oh yeah, that bird in the photo had some issues.

      But not when it left!

  11. @Sarge/

    Isn't it technically labeled the WRCS control panel, the "R" standing for "release." because that's all I ever remember it being called.--Says the geezer slowly slipping into dementia (according to my Fearless Leader)

    1. There is a panel in the pilot's office which is called the WRCS control panel. The entire system: radar, gunsight etc was the WCS system.

      Oddly enough, we didn't maintain the WRCS panel, I think the weapons guys handled that. (The guys who maintained the weapons racks and such.)

      Then again, it was a long, long (ever so long) time ago.


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