Monday, December 19, 2016

Old age and Treachery...*

A post on OldNFO's blog, a week or so ago, got me to chuckling, then to thinking (always dangerous).  Basically it was a "War Story" told by an old F-4 driver to his grandson.  As I read it, I realized there was a lot of truth in the story.  It's worth your time if you haven't read it yet.  You know the remainder of this post will still be here waiting when you get back.
Cool picture of an F-4 shamelessly stolen from HERE

The paragraph that captured my fancy was this one.
Computers changed the flying professional, but an evolution of slippery Phantom tactics continued to confound the sometimes embarrassed good pilots in modern machines. There was a lot of challenge. You were always up against supposedly better aircraft. Phantom crews shriek with delight, like the wide-eyed kid, when describing unobserved stern missile launches or tracking gunshots against a magic dream machine. Yet, satisfaction is rarely displayed in the presence of your opponent. The adversary must think that Phantoms gunning Hornets is fairly common, which it is, if you don’t keep exact score.
Anyhow, that was followed by a comment on my last post from Andrew who'd commented "Must have been interesting transitioning from the flying brick to the Eagle. I'm not saying the F-4 wasn't maneuverable or fast, but the difference (from the ground) seem almost unbelievable. (But then again, for years after the introduction of the A-10, the old guys in their A-7s kept winning the ground attack competitions.)"  

That comment got me to thinking about my transition from the F-4 "Double Ugly" through the AT-38 into the Eagle.  When I first got to the F-4 in '78, the F-15 had been around a few years, but wasn't fully deployed.  It's weapons and tactics were still being developed and so not fully tested and reliable. While undoubtedly a more capable machine that the Phantom, the Red Baron's adage was very valid. "It's not the crate, it's the man inside the crate."

I didn't get to fight an Eagle until I was just about ready to leave Moody for Holloman.  We'd deployed to Tyndall for WSEP (Weapons System Evaluation Program) and DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training.  

WSEP meant we were going to fire live Air to Air missiles against drones to test both the missiles and the weapons system (AKA Sarge's area of expertise).  Unfortunately, when I got my chance to fire an AIM-7F, Sarge was still in Korea, and my Radar crapped out and couldn't be fixed.  

In any case, we've got the afternoon off, and are scheduled for a 2 v 2 against F-15s the following morning.  The four of us, two front seaters plus two back seaters are meticulously planning the following day's tactics at the Tyndall AFB DACT planning center.  This very nice planning center was sandwiched between the beach and the runway and had stunning views of each.  In fact, it had 18 different areas where one could focus on different aspects of the mission.  The planning center also allowed us to study the aerodynamics of dimpled spherical objects, which was immensely helpful to the development of our tactics.  As was the liquid refreshment.

We knew that charging at the Eagles in a two ship line abreast would result in our demise about 10 miles prior to the merge.  The plan then was to fly at them in fingertip formation, popping chaff at regular intervals.  At about 20 miles, #2 would roll inverted into a 60 degree dive, popping chaff all the way to the bottom of the area.  #1 would continue til 15 miles then do a max G break away from 2 for 180 degrees .  2 would lock on to one of the Eagles and fire, then continue on trying to see the other Eagle.  On hearing the Fox-1 call, 1 would turn back into the fight and try to enter.  

Worked like a champ.  Except, I was #2 as my radar wouldn't lock.  No matter, my WSO was able to track the Eagles without the lock and talk my eyes on to them.  A Belly Heat shot is a thing of beauty! Two is even better.

Later on, at Holloman, the IPs would occasionally get IP Proficiency flights, usually cross-country, but also DACT with the Eagles across the ramp.  Here, we were flying much smaller aircraft than the Eagles were used to flying against, so gaining a tally for them was challenging.  Since we had neither Radar nor Radar Warning in the AT-38, all fights required visual ID prior to taking a shot.  Evened the odds a bit.  

Another advantage we had was starting with mine, each class of IP Upgrade students included Eagle Drivers.  So, we could learn exactly when things were happening in the other cockpit and how to mess with their minds. Finally, these missions usually occurred because the Eagle's airspace, AKA White Sands Missile Range, could and would be closed on very short notice if one of the test missiles needed more time.  At that point, the Eagle Wing would call the AT-38 wing scheduler (AKA Me) and see if they couldn't work something out to use our airspace.

Since our airspace was subsonic, the Eagle was at a disadvantage, in that all that beautiful thrust had to be tempered so as not to boom Ruidoso or Roswell.  

All that having been said, the only mission I remember any details about was about 18000' above Ruidoso with an Eagle on my six.  I was jinking continuously for what seemed to be an hour and a half.  I was ever so patiently communicating with my former Eagle driver wingman to come and assist me in driving this pernicious vermin off my back.

Review of his gun camera video was reassuring as well as disconcerting.  He never got the pipper stabilized on my aircraft, but I never got out of his gun camera field of view.  The 360 degree per second AT-38 roll rate stood me in good stead.

So, by the time I actually got checked out in the Eagle, I had a pretty good perspective on what an adversary was likely to do in order to make the odds a little more even.

Because someone once said, the enemy gets a vote on your strategy.

I've been checked out, but because I've got virtually no experience in the Eagle, I'm relegated to being a wingman.  "Two", "Bingo" and "Lead, you're on fire" being my only allowed radio calls.   I get to fly on the wing of some of my students in the AT-38.  Ah, well, payback is a female dog!

One of the things that I noticed was that the Eagle Driver mindset was in full force.  "By golly, I fly the F-15 with a 100-0 kill ratio (or whatever it was prior to the Gulf War).  We're going to go to the merge in line abreast and kill everyone in front of us!"
Wall of Eagles


So, being the taciturn and tactful guy I am, I would talk about the rumors that the North Koreans were receiving Mig-29s.  How would that effect our tactics?  Might we have to engage in some deceptions as to who we were, which formation we were flying, how many of us were there?  You know, add some "fog of war" to their decision matrix?

"By golly, I fly the F-15 with a 100-0 kill ratio (or whatever it was prior to the Gulf War).  We're going to go to the merge in line abreast and kill everyone in front of us!"

Then the Navy got the Hornet out on the Midway.  Not having any other 4th generation air to air fighter in theater, they sought us out to get really checked out in Air to Air.  (The three F-16 squadrons on the ROK were committed there and the squadrons out of Misawa were predominately air to ground also.)

I'm #2 in a 2V2 DACT against two Hornets who've deployed to Kadena for a couple of hops on Friday, a Friday night at the club then back to the ship.  A good deal all round.  They come over to the squadron and because they're the "trainees", they're briefing.

Their flight lead, I can tell, has "been there, done that".  His briefing is well done, objectives are clear and, interestingly, he hasn't placed any restrictions on us.  We're full up F-15s, the only restriction on either side is Positive ID required before shooting (i.e. we have to have proof that the target is an FA-18 before we can take a shot.  That is the minimum standard for the US, some restrictions are much more severe.)

My LT flight lead briefs the standard tactics, and we get our butts handed to us.  Back in the mass debrief, we look at tapes and all their kills were valid as called.  Score Hornets 4, Eagles 1.  (I did manage to launch a heart of the envelope Aim-9 shot with a couple of seconds left on the Hornet's Aim-7, mutual kill)

Back in our flight debrief, the LT is stunned and has nothing to say about how it happened and more importantly what to do about it in the future.  With that over, we went into the squadron bar, I bought a couple of beers and we sat down in a corner and talked.  Both of us gained a little from the discussion.
I've got a special affinity for THIS aircraft.
Found the picture on a highly unusual website for this type thing

I knew that I was in line to be a flight commander, that I would have kids, like the LT, who had flown one jet, one way, and were very proficient at it.  I also knew that the world was changing and they would need to anticipate and change with it.  How was I going to implement that?

One of my favorite tactics was on BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) rides.  Typically on a BFM ride, one aircraft would position itself about 6-9000' out about 30 degrees off the front aircraft's tail, just outside of weapons range.  Once the fight was started, both aircraft began maneuvering to gain or deny weapons parameters.

A lot of fun, and somewhat useful in learning how to maneuver as well as manage the aircraft's energy.  However, not very tactically oriented. (The chances of survival for the guy out front if an enemy arrives just outside of gun range and 30 degrees off your tail before you see him is negligible.)

I liked to start the engagement from a neutral position, in a head on pass.  Once we passed, I would have each aircraft continue on it's heading until we were separated by 10 miles.  At that point, I would call fight's on and we would turn towards each other.

My intent here was to simulate that we have come through a merge and our home base was at our six.  We had to turn around and locate very quickly any remaining threat and either kill them or escape back towards our "Home".  

BTW, 10 miles head on is "heart of the envelope" for both missiles.  A shot taken at that range has a very high probability of kill.

We generally had gas to do three of these type setups on any given mission.  My plan on the first two engagements was to light the burners as soon as we passed and get going as fast as I could in a very shallow climb to get well above the horizon.  Once we got to 10 miles, I would pull the aircraft into an immelman, reversing direction in the vertical.  I planned this maneuver so as to top out below the contrail level, but at least 20k' higher than when we passed. 
Yes, it's an E-model, but it's the only picture I could find of a vertical pitch up without runway. Sheesh

20k exceeded the altitude covered by the radar at 10 mile range.

Also, since I didn't see my opponent pulling a contrail, I knew he was below me, making my radar as well as visual lookout much easier.  If I found the target on the radar, I would take a shot if in parameters and call it, but never as a kill.  I enjoyed that swoop down from above to see when he would first see me.

I would use the same tactic and parameters on the second engagement to see if he'd learned and then on the third engagement I would do the same except as a split s instead of an immelman, so I'd be looking up at him.  

This worked pretty well for a while, but then word got around and I'd find myself either nose to nose at 30K or 10K and we'd be neutral from there.  Which was ok, they were after all, on my side.

But that gave me an entre' into more complex tactics for larger formations.  Tucking people into close formations and then spitting them out at critical portions of the intercept to knock the other guys off their game and complicate their targeting.  The squadron, and wing, even the LTs became very, very good at their assigned mission.  And on my final mission, I got to return the favor to the Midway FA-18's.

*SJC  But....As I googled the source of the "Old Age and Treachery will beat Youth and Skill" quote, I found this story and a song.  Enjoy!
 A wealthy old lady decides to go on a photo safari in Africa, taking her faithful aged poodle named Cuddles, along for the company. 
One day the poodle starts chasing butterflies and before long, Cuddles discovers that she's lost. Wandering about, she notices a young leopard heading rapidly in her direction with the intention of having lunch. 
The old poodle thinks, "Oh, oh! I'm in deep trouble now!" Noticing some bones on the ground close by, she immediately settles down to chew on the bones with her back to the approaching cat. 
Just as the leopard is about to leap, the old poodle exclaims loudly, "Boy, that was one delicious leopard! I wonder if there are any more around here?" 
Hearing this, the young leopard halts his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror comes over him and he slinks away into the trees. "Whew!", says the leopard, "That was close! That old poodle nearly had me!" 
Meanwhile, a monkey who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the leopard. 
So off he goes, but the old poodle sees him heading after the leopard with great speed, and figures that something must be up. 
The monkey soon catches up with the leopard, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the leopard. 
The young leopard is furious at being made a fool of and says, "Here, monkey, hop on my back and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine!" 
Now, the old poodle sees the leopard coming with the monkey on his back and thinks, "What am I going to do now?", but instead of running, the dog sits down with her back to her attackers, pretending she hasn't seen them yet, and just when they get close enough to hear, the old poodle says: "Where's that damn monkey? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another leopard!" 

Se crate"


  1. Excellent post Juvat. The human in the crate is the most important system on board, that's for sure.

    This "By golly, I fly the F-15 with a 100-0 kill ratio (or whatever it was prior to the Gulf War). We're going to go to the merge in line abreast and kill everyone in front of us!" put me in mind of this. The day Lex, in his Hornet, "killed" four Eagles.

    1. "Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you!" Loved it.

    2. Course, EVERYBODY mentions when they get even a fleeting shot on an Eagle. Strangely quiet though the rest of the time.

    3. First, glad you're okay Juvat.

      Second, I apologize for hijacking the thread, but I saw this article today, and thought people here would want to know. These folks could use all the support they can get.

      Third, I've been interested in hearing the USAF' side of the story. Not wanting to abuse our hosts' hospitality, but I keep picturing Lex debriefing the flight like this.

      Bruce Jones

    4. I was aware of the Growler incident up at Whidbey. Still waiting for updates on the crew.

      Heh. Kobayashi Maru. Yeah, I can picture that.

      (Interesting stuff is always welcome Bruce!)

  2. Great post Juvat. Funny about the poodle.

    1. Yeah, would that I could think that fast on my feet (well....paws).

    2. You are too young Juvat, wait for a few more decades to roll by. :)

    3. Dang! I'm STILL too young?

      My knees and back don't agree.

  3. I sure wish some folks would keep the OA&T quote under wraps.
    It's giving away too much information

    1. Remember Skip, those who would benefit are too young and arrogant to believe it!

  4. While I don't clearly understand the flying scenarios, I understand that what is between the pilot's ears is far more important than what is attached to his seat.

    1. You very clearly got the meaning of the post. As for the flying scenario...A lot of the intercept is figuring out the target, acquiring parameters, launching weapons and making sure they guide. However, as soon as you hit the button, there's a long smoke trail that points right back at you. So, the purpose of my little exercise was to simulate that we have gotten through that first fight (merge) and now have to get our Situation Awareness back up, detect any close in bad guys and either kill them or evade them. Since two fighters converging from 10 miles will pass each other in ~30 seconds and be in weapons parameters even earlier, there's not much time to gather your wits before you're vulnerable to eating a missile. This exercise was a way to practice that.

  5. I remember reading the stories immediately after Vietnam of these hot air force jocks in F-15s going against old Vietnam vets in F4s for some exercises

    And on a fairly regular basis the old guys in the old airplanes would wax the new guys

    1. Yep, it takes a few years for a technology leaping aircraft to mature. During that time, well...Skip doesn't want me to abuse the Old Age and....Thing.

  6. Did you ever get to show a Tomcat what for? Did Tomcats have to agree to not shoot you down from Minneapolis, and close to Sparrow range? I am interested, as Tomcats and Eagles are the world's Premier Sky Predators.

    1. We fought Tomcat's quite frequently. The Phoenix wasn't much of a threat to fighter sized maneuvering aircraft, so no worries on the Hail Mary from Minneapolis. The Red Baron's saying still played a factor, but...If one of my guys got his butt handed to him by a Tomcat, his next ride would be with me and I'd be looking very carefully at his skills. Not officially, but taking a careful look nonetheless.

    2. Would a D model Tomcat, with the same engines you had, be more of a threat?

    3. The avionics were third generation. So, again equal pilots.... a Tomcat should lose.

  7. Great post! Thanks for the linky love too! Always interesting to get into the other side's minds...LOL

  8. I have a question about the Phantom. Why are the torque links on the nose gear sticking out to the right side of the oleo instead of on the centreline like every other aircraft ever built?


    1. Good question. I don't recall noticing that the nose gear was off center, so it's probably not a matter of fitting into the gear well. Unless there's a box in there I don't remember. A Puzzlement, which gives me something to do over the holidays! :-)

  9. I think the true measure of technology is the ability for it to allow the man to achieve greatness with it. The F-86, the F-4, the F-105, are all great examples of such technology. The stuff is good, the men make the legends with the stuff.

    Makes me wonder what a bunch of retired AF pilots with updated Mig 21s could achieve, considering how well that airframe could perform with a decent pilot in it.

    1. Lex seemed to do OK with his Kfir which was roughly the same capabilities as a MIG. Both the AF and Navy Aggressor Squadrons were quite capable of handing a pilot, regardless of his aircraft, his butt whilst flying F-5s with a very rudimentary radar and weapons. Ask me how I know that!


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