Sunday, February 1, 2015

Speaking of temperatures...

Ah yes, the Cold.  Seemed to be quite the topic ‘round these parts semi-recently, and the East Coast of course (yes, I'm a bit late to the game).  Not to make light of what some of you are going through, but what I like best about Winter is bragging about it from San Diego.  Sometimes it gets cold enough here that I have to change out of my shorts, and even wear a coat!

There is a downside however, which we call the “Sun Tax.”  That’s the markup on everything from housing costs to water rates, groceries to gasoline.  All because San Diegans are willing to put up with the higher prices in order to live here in the great weather- usually about 75 and sunny with no humidity. Yes, I'm bragging again.  

That can’t be said for nearly anywhere else I've been stationed or visited on deployment.   I’m not breaking any new ground posting about how brutally hot it is in the Middle East.  Everybody knows it’s the desert, but “it’s a dry heat” as they say.  Ok, maybe that's only in Arizona.  But the Navy doesn't really “do” the desert out there.  We either sit off the coast, surrounded by 90 degree water, sweltering in the humidity, or we pull into Bahrain and Dubai, which are also on the water and equally humid.

Not to say that the heat elsewhere in the region is any more tolerable.  My brother’s unit spent a year each in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Sinai Peninsula and he joked that the reason the Middle East is so hot is that it’s that much closer to hell.  I won't hazard a guess as to whether he meant it from a geographic standpoint or one of a more religious view.  

Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration.

My squadron send a small team into Iraq in 2003 to operate a ground station for one of our S-3 Vikings with a special surveillance package.  They were co-located with V-Corps Headquarters in one of Saddam’s palaces to provide flexible ISR of targets of interest.  Unfortunately, one of the early strikes had destroyed the rooftop A/C unit, along with most of the roof of course.  While I wasn't part of that team, one of our officers found it to be so hot that he could barely sleep and never felt like eating.  He wound up losing about 20lbs in the 6 weeks he was there.  You can get his book “The Iraq Invasion Diet” on Amazon for $9.99!

I'm feelin' Hot Hot Hot!  Temps at the CAOC in Qatar and at V-Corps HQ in Iraq.

In 2008, I deployed again to the region and during a port call to Dubai, one of my squadron-mates had the bright idea to go golfing at Dubai Creek“It’s a gorgeous course” he said, “and MWR has a great deal on a package which includes lunch!”  My desire to get off the ship must have clouded my judgment as I forgot it was the middle of August.  When we arrived, I discovered there was no one else on the course.  “Hey Twitch,” I asked, “Why isn't anyone else golfing?” “Oh, it's because the locals only golf at night when it’s cooler.  How else could we have scored such a great deal?”

After two holes, I thought I was dying.  We were drinking at least a liter of water per hole and still weren't able to keep pace with our dehydration.  Red-faced and dehydrated, we gave up at the turn and spent the next two hours in the club house pool. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there was a relatively short flight up to northern Japan in the middle of March.  We would do a low-level route on the way up, drop some Mk76 practice bombs, then stop at nearby Misawa Air Force Base to hot-pump (refuel with one engine still turning) for the flight back.


It was relatively nice down in Atsugi that morning and the summer-weight green flight jacket was more than enough to keep me comfortable.  At that time of year, had we had scheduled any part of the flight in Northern Japan over water, we would have had to wear dry suits.  The approach for one of their runways was over the ocean, but since there was no guarantee that it would be the active runway, we had a gray area.  A very cold and gray area, but gray nevertheless.  And besides, we weren’t going to quibble over what might be a 5 minute approach. Quibbling meant dry suits.

Anti-Exposure Suit (Dry Suit) on the left
We hated wearing dry-suits.  They were stiff, uncomfortable, and a pain to put on, much less get our flight gear over.  When we operated in colder climes off the boat, briefs would be scheduled a half-an-hour earlier than usual, just to give us enough time to gear up.  The flight gear, which consisted of a torso-harness and an SV-2 (Survival Vest) was specially made to fit each individual’s body wearing a standard flight suit.  It wasn't made to fit over long-johns, a flight-suit liner, a dry suit, and a one-size-larger flight suit.  The torso harness could be adjusted to allow stepping into the leg holes and struggling, with great effort and help from your fellow crew-member, to get the straps over your shoulders.  But zipping up the front was pretty much impossible.  Same for the SV-2.  Oh, did I mention how much I loathed dry suits?  I never heard about anyone ejecting while wearing their dry-suit and flight gear, but I’m pretty sure the ejection forces would have ripped us out of the gear, since it wasn't really closed properly anyway.

But we weren't flying over water, nor were we going to stop and get out of the jet, so I figured my flight jacket would be enough.  And I really only needed that until I got into the jet and started up the APU to get some heat pumping through the cabin.

However, I wouldn't be telling you this story had it been that simple.  As we pulled off the bombing range and closed the Bomb Bay Doors, the light signifying the position of the doors changed from green (open) to amber (in transit), but refused to go out (closed).  We could only fly at 250kts with the doors open, but the doors weren't open, they were stuck midway between open and closed, which was essentially an emergency, although a very minor one.  Even if they were fully open, we didn't have enough gas left to get us all the way home at that airspeed anyway, so we had to stick with the plan to land at Misawa.  Fortunately, we were flying with one of our In-Flight Techs.*  He (they were all “he” at that time in VS-21, with the INDY (USS Independence) being the last all-male boat^) was flying to maintain his hours, and more importantly, his access to flight pay.  Although he was an electronics tech, we were all confident that he’d be able to diagnose and repair what was most likely an airframe or hydraulics issue. 

However, I wouldn't have told you that, had it been that easy.  We landed in Misawa and I switched to ground control.  “Ground, Redtail 701, clear of the active, request taxi to Shadow Base for troubleshooting” I stated, informing ground that we had a problem and wanted to park next to VQ-5 Det 5’s hangar. 

VQ-5 flew the ES-3A “Shadow” – an S-3 modified for Electronic Surveillance.  What the S-3B was to the P-3C, the ES-3A was to the EP-3 Aires.  Det 5 was a 2-aircraft detachment from the parent VQ Squadron in San Diego. They also deployed on INDY and our aircrews trained together in San Diego, so we knew them well.  In fact, one of my oldest friends, and the Godfather of the Minnow and Teenangster, was a member of Det 5 at the time.  “Spuds” and I were in the same winging class in Pensacola and when we were told that one of us was going to San Diego, and the other to Guam, (Det 5 was originally stationed at NAS Agana) and he jumped on the grenade for me.  Little did I know that we’d both wind up in Japan.  While the Shadow didn't have bomb bays, we knew that tools and some expertise would be available.  While the Navy side of Misawa wasn't especially large, the transient line was a good hike from VQ-5 and parking on their line would be most helpful to our troubleshooting.

“Redtail 701, you’re cleared to taxi from the active to the transient line.”  I repeated our plea, but the controller was as unsympathetic as he was unrelenting.  We parked the jet and the second we cracked the crew hatch, I knew my choice in clothing was a mistake.  I was instantly frozen, as was our Tech, whose fingers would be vital to getting us out of there.  While he started his troubleshooting, the Pilot and I trekked down to Shadow Base.  It had to be 30 degrees colder in Misawa, and much more windy, than it was in Atsugi and we quickened our pace several times.  The wind bit through my flight suit and jacket like it was nothing.  I was starting to rethink my hatred of dry suits.

As it turned out, the ground controller knew something we didn't.  Det 5 was in Korea, and only a few folks were left behind, none of whom could help us other than to offer us tools and a cup of coffee.  After a very frozen hour of troubleshooting and multiple calls back to home base, we were able to ID and fix the problem.  We told the Tech to head inside to thaw out and have a cup of coffee while we waited for the fuel truck.  We had brought him several, but they didn't stay cold for long.

Even at full heat, it took most of the flight home for us to get warm again, and I vowed to be more prepared next time.

In the literary world, that would be known as foreshadowing, where the author gives a hint of what is to come.  I’ll say that I never flew in winter again without either wearing long-johns, or carrying a heavier jacket.  Except...there was Korea.

It was August now, and we were doing a similar flight to a range near Osan Air Base.  Our 2-plane flight would drop our ordnance, land to refuel, have some lunch after a quick stop at Royal Bag and Mr. Bo’s, then launch for the return trip.

We pulled off the range and fortunately this time, all four bomb bay doors closed without incident.  

Bomb Bay Doors in the full open position (not in Korea though).

We checked into either approach or tower and were told that our PPR number (Prior Permission Required) was not on file and we would have to go to Kunsan to refuel.  Not on file?!?!  Sonofa…  Repeating back the number that we'd been given 24 hours earlier was to no avail.  We thought about declaring minimum fuel, but they might check and we were honorable types, much more honorable than say, the @$$#@% who “lost” our PPR!

Off to Kunsan we go.  No big deal- we could still get lunch and somebody in the airwing would be in Osan soon enough and could pick up whatever we had previously ordered.  

However, I wouldn't have said that if...oh, you get the idea.

In the break, the other jet barber-poled their gear, indicating one of their main landing gear was either still in transit, or not fully down and locked.  We did a visual inspection and it looked down so they brought it in for a successful landing after we touched down.  

Home-base said it was probably just a prox-switch, but this would require replacement and a drop check.  A drop check was a simple cycling the gear one time to check for proper indications, using some beefy aircraft jacks that the Wolfpack, with their feather-weight plastic lawn-dart Falcons didn't have.  Even though it wasn't a problem with the jet I flew in, the OPSO made the call to mix up the crews and leave me back.   

What does this have to do with the weather?  Did I mention that it was August?  Damn hot, Africa hot.  We'd have to stick around until the jet got fixed.  Unfortunately, with a Marine F-18D Squadron in town, the BOQ/VOQ was full so they put us in some overflow rooms that included - at no extra charge! - weak to non-existent air conditioning and all the rat feces you could ever want.  It wound up taking seven days to get a Navy C-9 to ferry over the necessary jack-stands, so for a week I sweat through nearly the entire clearance rack at the BX. 

Next Winter found the INDY in Pusan for a port call.  I've already mentioned it here at Chez Sarge, but it was so cold (HOW COLD WAS IT?) - it was so cold that the entire crew was back aboard several hours before liberty expired.  The only other time I've seen that was during a port call to the P.I. when a cyclone was heading straight for Manila. 

I'll finish off my tales of being unable to manage my own body temperature, with that cool, yet unrelated picture, and by telling you how the Russians have a saying- There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Now that my flying days are behind me, the only temperature extremes I face are when my wife has a hot flash and she cranks up the air conditioning.  Speaking of which, it's really cold in here.  "Honey, where's my dry suit?"

*In-Flight Technicians were maintainers, usually from the Aviation Electronics, Airframes, or Mechanic (engines) rates who endured the Aviation Swim and Physiology training (which included survival swimming, the helo dunker, and altitude (or pressure) chamber flight.) They would accompany crews on cross-country flights, ferry missions, or on certain detachments and Functional Check Flights.  They only received flight pay if they were needed, or a seat normally occupied by a SENSO was unavailable or unnecessary.

^Actually SSNs and SSBNs remained the last “boats” to exclude women until only recently.


  1. Been to all the aforementioned locations (Far East only) in the time frames mentioned and can confirm the author was not exaggerating in the slightest about weather conditions in the slightest.
    Good Post Tuna!

  2. That was a fun read, Tuna. I still occasionally have flashbacks due to PDST (Psychic Dry Suit Trauma).

  3. Really good tale. I often debate with myself (because I'm the only one who wants to debate with me) about whether too hot or too cold is worse. Generally, I'll take too hot. The reason is that I've found it much easier to cool off, after being too hot, than it is to get warm after being too cold. Too cold lives in your bones for quite a while.

    1. See, I'm just the opposite. You can always put on more clothes, but at some point, you've got to stop taking them off!

  4. If I had to choose, I'd prefer hot over cold. I can usually find a place to cool off, even if it's just some shade. Heat is just uncomfortable- cold can hurt. Although if you add humidity to the mix- all bets are off- they equally suck.

  5. @Tuna/

    To show how different, different eras were, in the USAF, at least circa 68-71 while stationed in the UK, we NEVER ONCE wore poopy suits, even in the dead of winter over the North Sea, N. Atlantic or the Baltic. In fact we were NEVER even issued them. The RAF types thought we were crazy as they ALWAYS wore theirs. Dunno what the current SOP is in the AF now, but it wouldn't surprise me if nothings changed. How say you juvat?

    1. Can't say about the current AF. We wore ours, Oct to Apr at the Kun, quite the resemblance to the Sta-Puft Marshmallow man I was. Never wore them again though.

  6. Gee Tuna, I was just getting warm again, then you post this.

    Also, I've been to Sandy Eggo twice. First time was humid as Hell, second time was a lot nicer. Everyone tells me that second time is more the norm.

    Either way, it's nice out there. Real nice.

  7. juvat/

    The RAF had a slick, good-looking form-fitting black suit more akin to scuba-gear dry-suits than anything--and flexible too. First time I ever saw one was on a English Electric Lightning jock sitting at our Bentwaters O-Club bar having a beer one mid-afternoon. Surprised the H out of me. They wore it everywhere. No "Sta-Puft" look for them--looked more like an Italian motorcycle driver in a rain-suit.


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