Monday, February 9, 2015

Train like you fight!

So.....There I was*.  On my second operational tour as an F-4E Phantom Pilot and Flight Lead  assigned to the 347th TFW, Moody AFB in lovely, if humid, Valdosta GA.  The reign of the second worst president ever has ended and the efforts to repair the damages bestowed by him on the US Military have begun.  

Of course, one of the key pieces of evidence of how damaged the military had become was this.

Desert One

Ole second worst's successor set out to see that this wouldn't happen again.  From my narrowly focused view of the world, the most visible improvement was in flying time.  I left the ROK with just over 100 operational hours in the F-4.  6 months later I had over 300.  The 347th was flying so much, that they instituted a 4 day flying week.  We flew the snot out of the jets, Monday through Thursday and then had a down day on Friday.  That did a couple of things for us.  First and Foremost, Maintenance had a uninterrupted 3 day window to fix the jets, and second, the crews had dedicated time for other training.  I'm not talking Sims or Egress Training or things like that.  No, we had time for Mission Planning.

Google Earth would have been a wonderful thing back then. The triangular area at the top center was of particular interest to me at the time.

This focus on mission was a different experience from my previous assignment.  I will admit that virtually all of my attention in that first assignment was directed at operating the aircraft and not killing myself and my backseater.  However, it seemed we were there as deterrent and if the balloon went up, we'd just go north and bomb something.  To me, the mission lacked coherency.

Again, that was most likely my inexperience talking, but Fridays at Moody were a lot more intense.

Another indicator of the change in intensity came about in how we conducted day to day training operations.  The squadrons were 24PAA, meaning they nominally had 24 assigned aircraft.  Sarge could probably better explain what nominally meant, but as best I can recall, it meant we had at least 24 aircraft assigned.  Aircraft that were hard broken or in depot maintenance didn't count against that number.  Kunsan was also 24 PAA.  The flying schedule there was a 3 go's of 8 daily.  Basically, we flew 8 jets, then handed them over to the next guys, who turned them over to the next guys, for a total of 24 sorties.  This was mainly due to the lack of parts and authorized flight time (refer above re:second worst president ever).  Moody on the other hand scheduled 2 go's of 18 each.  The go's were scheduled a bit farther apart, so maintenance had more time to generate aircraft in between.  

Again, Sarge would be a better expert on the Maintenance aspects, but it seemed to us that it worked quite well.  Of course, a massive influx of money for spare parts and other maintenance requirements helped quite a bit.  So, we were flying our you know what's off.  Nirvana as far as I was concerned.

The other thing, the Flying was much more realistic.  However, Airspace in the Southeastern United States was problematic for tactical operations. 

Moody's areas were directly overhead (which made for very low bingo fuel requirements and recovery in an emergency was much easier), but we were capped at 28K (not really a limitation for air to air fighting in an F-4) and subsonic!  The latter was a MAJOR limitation, the only real advantage the F-4 had against other aircraft was its acceleration and speed.  It couldn't turn worth a darn and turning with anyone other than another F-4 or a Mig-23 was certain to have you eating fish heads and rice.

Our DO at the time was John Warden, who would go on in about 8 years to gain a reputation for development of the Air Plan for the Gulf War.  Col Warden was adamant in the "Train like you'll fight" philosophy.  We would regularly do Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) with aircraft deployed or assigned at Tyndall or Eglin.  We'd brief over the phone, launch into the areas in the Gulf, do our business, recover at that base, debrief and do it again, then recover at home.  Worked like a champ, we were cleared supersonic, were fighting dissimilar and learning a lot.

Except there was a time the Aggressors came to town, and the Gulf airspace was closed for some reason.  Col Warden said we'd just fight them at home.  Oh, and "train like you'll fight".  Download the tanks.  (If engaged by or engaging enemy air, the F-4 would jettison the external fuel tanks as a matter of course.)

I'm scheduled for a 2 v 2 against the F-5s, in the Moody airspace directly over the town.  I step to my jet, fire it up, and much to Sarge's counterpart's chagrin, my radar isn't working.  I'm not aborting.  We launch and I let #2 run the intercept.  Well....he's #2 for a reason.  He blows the intercept.  My first view of the bandits is one of them is in a nose low conversion on my wingman, I call for #2 to break which he does.  Picks up the tally, and pulls until the bandit is in Lag (nose pointed behind him).  He then unloads to increase separation. And goes through the Mach.  The bandit is intent on getting the shot, so he unloads to gain closure.  And goes through the Mach.  I am intent on shooting the bandit before he shoots #2, so I unload to get closure.  And go through the Mach.  #2 bandit, with 3 aircraft accelerating in front of him, pulls his aircraft out of burner and calls knock it off.  

With no external fuel tanks, two things happen.  One, you get going very fast, very fast.  Two, you run out of gas very fast.  We're bingo and recover. On taxi back, the SOF calls and says the DO requests my presence in his office ASAP.  Well, it's been a short and not very extraordinary career.

Shut down the jet, and hang up my gear in the squadron, concerns if I'll ever put it on again running through my head, then head over to the DO's office.  Check in with his secretary and she sends me in.  Report in a military manner.  He asks me what happened.  I tell him that I started the briefing by reminding everyone it was a subsonic area.  Ended the briefing by reiterating it was a subsonic area.

Told him how the fight progressed and what happened.

He asked me if I'd ever heard of a focused sonic boom. I hadn't.  Apparently, the supersonic shock wave comes off a swept wing aircraft at an angle and in level flight, travels across the ground at the same speed as the aircraft albeit at a distance behind the aircraft defined by the angle of the shock wave and the altitude above the ground.


If the aircraft is in a bank, the angled shockwave on the downwing side doesn't move across the ground as fast or as far as in level flight so describes a smaller turn circle on the ground than the aircraft flies above.  The shockwave stays in that circle for a considerably longer duration.

I say, I didn't know that.  He replies, "I didn't either".  He then says, an entire shopping center worth of glass store fronts has been broken out.  

OH, Crap (not what I actually thought, but close enough!)

He then asks "Do you know what I told them?" "No, Sir"

"That was the sound of Freedom!"

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

"Don't do it again!"

I entered the next merge that afternoon with my speed brakes hanging.



  1. Is that called "Busting you glass?"

    1. I'm not sure, but "Hauling Glass" might apply also.

  2. I have fond memories of that change in 1981. I'm sure it wasn't as instantaneous as I recall, but it felt like I woke up in a different navy on January 20. We flew like mad and started training C-SAR. At one point I realized that it had been a very long time since I heard the phrase, "we're out of hours."

    Another great story which I enjoyed immensely. That last sentence says a lot!

  3. Well, that last sentence was somewhat artistic license. However, I didn't do very well on the next sortie because I was INTENSELY aware of my airspeed.

    1. Just the fact that you stepped for the next go. A profound change had occurred across the military, with the pendulum swinging back toward reason and context. We appear to have returned to the dark days, but hope springs eternal. The pendulum could swing back.

    2. Col Warden didn't have a lot of warm personality to share, but he wasn't afraid to lead. I wasn't kidding when I talked about taking off my flight gear and thought this could be the last time. Certainly had it been in my first assignment it very well could have been my last. But...I'd rather be lucky than good!

      Just as an aside, this post didn't start out being about this story, it evolved (devolved?) into it. It was getting too long, so I've decided to continue it next week.

  4. The price/cost of freedom is almost always pretty steep and must be paid. (Do you think you would have gotten the shot off in time without the knock-it-off call?)Wasn't my windows, so thank you for your dedication to preserving our freedoms, Juvat

    1. Well, since I didn't have a radar, it would have had to be an Aim-9P shot, but then that's all the F-5 had also. The operative question was whether the F-5 closing on my 6 would have gotten his shot off first.
      One of the points of the next iteration in the post is about the step up taken by the military in training realism as well as the ability to capture and learn from those training events.

    2. On a side note, I appreciated the forbearance of the people whose windows WERE broken. Other than a mention in the news, there wasn't much "noise" about the incident. I'd like to think they understood the "sound of freedom" as well.

  5. Like your DO. As an enlisted, always respected officers with clangers. They had a lot more to lose than us.

    1. Not sure I really "liked" him, but I sure as heck respected him, and would have followed him in combat without hesitation. His Wikipedia Bio is quite informative. And what is unsaid there, speaks volumes.

    2. Wiki says, :""Warden's career was marked with brilliance and controversy, and to this day his name inspires both warm affection and cold contempt in the defense establishment. He was, and still is a controversial and influential figure in the defense establishment in general, and the U.S. Air Force in particular".

      I knew a few like him as well. They didn't fit into the political realm (perhaps shot par), hence no stars.

    3. It was truly great to have a C.O. who cared about the men who were most likely trying to stay alive and trusted his judgement. I didn't serve under Robin Olds, but my CO's in the 8TFW were equally concerned about what was going on at every level of participation. We worked hard to please. The "sounds of freedom" rang out a lot in Victorville CA in the mid-sixties when we'd forget to pull them back a little on descent onto initial.

    4. In the flying portion of my career, I flew with a lot of Fighter Pilots whom I deeply respected and were absolutely worthy of that respect. Unfortunately, only one was a Wing Commander, the majority of my DO's fell into respected categories, but that seemed to be the last assignment a self respecting fighter pilot could aspire to. The one Wing Commander went on to three stars and never lost that focus. I had him on my wing when he had two, and I'll save that story for another day. Suffice it to say, he could still employ a fighter quite well.

  6. ROTF! Good one, and I remember y'all sneaking over to Playboy off JAX too...

    1. Another part of problematic airspace was those big white puffy things that popped up about 1PM most Spring, Summer, Fall Days. The Lord didn't look kindly at flying through his thunderstorms, so yes, anywhere we could find airspace, we availed ourselves of the opportunity. And, if we had acquaintances who might want to play war games, all the better. I think JAX airspace was close enough that we would recover back at Moody. I don't remember landing there, but I do remember doing a bit of air to air there.


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