Monday, January 30, 2017

On to the 'Gu

A couple of weeks ago, I chronicled (Sarge-speak for "posted") the tale of our Jack Russell Terrier, code named "Corky".  Corky is actually short for "Corkscrew" which is appropriate as we acquired her through a relative of our winemaker friends.  That post was entitled "Lost Wingman" as she was indeed "Lost", well at least as lost as a Fighter Pilot is allowed to acknowledge (reputations, you know), and she and the other member of Canine Flight are indeed "wingman".

But this is not a rehash of old posts.  Nor is it a discussion of this formation. 
Missing Man Formation

 Which if you google "lost wingman" under images, returns a lot of hits.

No, this is a discussion of the other meaning of lost wingman.

Lost wingman is a set of very specific procedures that are performed in the event that you are flying formation in the weather and actually lose sight of the other members of your formation.  Given that you are flying very close to another aircraft at usually 350K indicated, to lose sight of that aircraft can be, shall we say, exciting!

But,  I've only performed the official lost wingman procedures one time "for realsies".  Practiced it many times and typically, on an instrument check ride, the check pilot would direct you to go lost wingman at some unexpected time and you'd perform the maneuver.  Let me tell you, it's much different in real weather.

And just to get this straight.  Lost wingman procedures do not include maximum burner and maximum g.  No.  They are comparatively easy, instrument specific gentle procedures that are designed to quickly gain separation without, hopefully, inducing vertigo and lose of control or a midair.  I probably don't need to specify that both of those outcomes are "bad".  Here are the procedures for a T-6. They are essentially the same as they were for all the aircraft I flew.

So....There I was*

We have successfully flown from Moody AFB Georgia to Hickam AFB Hawaii with 24 F-4Es.  A 10.6 hour 4600 NM (or so) flight where I outlasted my airplane in an extended arm wrestling duel.  Properly crew rested, rehydrated with both hydrogen and grained based fluids and replenished from the bounty of Hawaiian cuisine, we are about to embark on the second leg of our journey, Hickam AFB to Kadena AFB Okinawa Japan, about 5000 NM.

My sturdy stead has also had some TLC applied to it by members of the Hawaiian Air National Guard ("Shaka, Brah") who replaced a burned out trim motor with one for F-4Cs.  "No sweat, Brah, it should work".

Since there are only 3 places to land on this leg of the trip (Hickam, Wake and Kadena), we will be stuck flying at the slower .82 Mach speed of our tanker escort.  Interestingly, the KC-10 who was so helpful on the previous leg will be accompanying us on this leg.  More to follow.

The first tanking will take place about an hour after takeoff and if anyone is unable to take gas, they will abort back to Hickam.  Then there will be a couple of hour window where we'll have to tank almost continually in order to have enough gas to make it back or on to Wake if problems arrive.

Fortunately, there are no problems and the KC-135s from Hickam pass their last gas and break off and land at Wake.

As we approach the Atoll, the WSOs, bored to tears, have switched the radar over to Air to Ground Mode and are engaging in a little friendly competition to see who can get a radar contact on the island first.  This is important, Beer is at stake!

Contact is called by someone other than my WSO and that little bit of entertainment is followed by competition among the Front Seaters on who can visually see the Atoll.  We pass over the Island, source of so much trouble in the early 40s, and seeing a little bit of land in the middle of the Deep Blue Sea is somehow reassuring.
Not much to look at, but it's nice to see a runway again.

But onward we fly, ever westward, our High Protein, Low residue lunches warming on the top of the ejections seat almost ready to be consumed with a wonderful swig of.....Water.

Wake has disappeared astern (Air Force talk, juvat, this ain't a Navy story) at our 6 o'clock. The day is clear and bright with some very low clouds over the water.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a greenish gray mist appears ahead of us at altitude.  The radio starts producing static sounds and as we enter the mist, all power is lost to the engines.  The entire formation is lost forever giving rise to the legend of the Bermuda triangle.  Oh wait, wrong ocean! (That was just for ScottTheBadger's entertainment.)

We're still about 5 hours from Kadena, and we're rendezvousing with tankers from there.  The KC-10 has continued on with us while the 135s from Hickam landed at Wake.  Better navigation abilities, I guess.  In any case, we split up and head for our individual tankers while the 6th 135 rolls out in front of the KC-10 and plugs it.

That was HIGHLY entertaining.  If you took a picture of the relative size of an F-4 refueling off a 135 and then look at a picture of a KC-10 refueling off a 135, the ratios are about the same, if reversed.  It was very interesting to be flying off the wing of the KC-10 while it was gassing.  If you looked very closely you could see the corrections being made by the KC-10, but they were much slower than those of an F-4.

In short, it provided about a half hour of something to watch other than the Pacific Ocean passing underneath.  Did I mention that the Pacific is quite large?

Lunch completed and the refuse packed away out of harm's way in our helmet bags, we settled in for another 4 hours or so.  Butts were already numb, having passed through the pain stage after about 3 hours.  Nothing to see, or do other than fly formation and refuel.  The WSO is playing with the radar to see if he can find ships or anything, but with refueling about every 15-30 minutes he doesn't get to spend much time doing that.  (The boom operators tend to get annoyed when a large microwave is pointed at them from close range, reproductive health or something.)

Finally, we tank up and get told by the KC-10 nav that Kadena is on our nose for 400 miles.  24 sets of throttles go to mil power at the exact same instant without verbal command and the F-4's accelerate to .95 Mach.

Got to burn down to landing weight don't you see?
AHHH! Land

Pitch out, land and log another 10.7 hours.

Shut them down, check into the VOQ and head out to Gate 2 street.  The Dollar was still strong against the Yen.  There was electronics to buy, Kobe Beef to eat and Kirin to drink.

And we were leaving for Taegu early the next day.

The following morning, we're in the briefing and get told by the Weather guesser that takeoff and landing weather was well within parameters.  However, there was a front between Kadena and Korea that we would have to penetrate.  Thunderstorms and turbulence, dense clouds, yada, yada, yada.

By now, with 21 + hours of flying time strapped into a fighter in the last 3 days, our butts are dragging.  Numb, but dragging.

There will be no tanking required on this leg (it's a mere 655 miles), so we can proceed at our own pace.  Fire up the jets and we're going to take about 5 minutes separation between 4 ships, so Fukuoka Control will have to deal with about 30 minutes of trying to pronounce our call signs (one of which was "Killer", listening to that exchange with that lead trying to pronounce Fukuoka and the controller trying to pronounce his callsign was good for a sustained laugh).

We reach the Korean ADIZ about the time we enter the weather.  Lead rocks us into close formation and we all settle in.  He's trying to pick his way through, avoiding the heaviest radar returns, but it's pretty thick and bumpy.  I'm really having difficulty seeing lead even though he's got every light on bright and flash.

I've moved back a little, down a bit which puts my wing tip below and behind his slab (aircraft touching in flight is called a mid-air collision.  That's officially "bad").  The new formation allows me to fly a little closer.  One does what one must. Because I can now see under his aircraft, I notice #2 is in the same position, and my WSO tells me so is #4.  This is a good as it gets.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the already dark sky is getting even darker and as we enter that cell, lead disappears.  I hold the aircraft perfectly steady expecting him to magically reappear.

One potato...

Two potato...

"Three's lost wingman"

"Two's lost wingman"

"Four's lost wingman"

Perfect!  we've got 4 Phantoms in close proximity to each other and nobody sees anybody.

I transition to instruments and begin a 15o turn away from lead, pulling the power back slightly to gain nose tail separation, hold that for 15 seconds then return to heading.  Fortunately, my WSO was on the ball and had been monitoring instruments instead of formation.  He tells me what the original heading was.  Turning too far jeopardizes #4 and us,  Turning too little does the same for #1 and us.

All I can do now is hope that all have done what they were supposed to do.  We make a few confirmation radio calls about headings and altitude and it appears we're all deconflicted.  Lead starts to coordinate with the Korean Controller about separate clearances and gets the standard reply "Stand by".


About the same time the controller starts talking again, we break out of the back side of the front, into blinding sunshine.  8 green visors come slamming down as we look for our other flight members.

Expecting to be looking for little green dots on the horizon, it was gratifying, and at the same time, horrifying to see the other members flying along in what would be a loose route formation (approximately 500-1000' horizontal separation, we had coordinated 500' vertical separation, so as long as that was maintained, we were relatively safe).

Lead rocks us back into close formation then kicks us back out to standard route formation and coordinates our penetration of Korean airspace.

Back over the Korean Landmass, we descend to 18000' and cancel IFR, proceed visually to Taegu, pitch out and land.
Taegu AB, ROK
I'm not going to sit down again for a week!

We have arrived halfway around the world 5 days after departure and almost 24 hours of flying time.

We'd be there for a month, and as expected, the flying in Korea was sublime.  Fortunately, with the exception of the Squadron Commander and Ops Officer, none of the folks that flew over flew back.  That was fortunate as that way meant they were flying against the sun.  They took off in the dark and flew most of each leg in the dark so as to arrive at their landing base during the day.

That would not have been fun.

The day before we left, I led a 4 ship against 2 F-16s from Kunsan.  The 2 Lawn Darts had a yellow stripe on the tail,  meaning they were assigned to the 80TFS aka "The Juvats".  That was my last flight in the F-4.  I rode home in a 141 and PCS'd to Holloman shortly after returning.



  1. Lost wingman sounds like something which might require a trip to the cleaners.

    I mean, one twitch of the stick or the rudder and whammo, no more jet.

    I see no mention of the outcome of the 4v2 involving the Lawn Darts. An oversight on your part?

    (Inquiring minds want to know, surely 4 Rhinos can handle 2 Darts...)

    1. Well......If the Radar Technicians did their job and the AIM-7s guided and fuzed properly as well, it went one way. If however, they didn't and if the 9g capable Lawn Dart's had their AIM-9Ls and 20MM functioning properly, it went differently.

    2. That sounds about right.

      My guess is that getting up close and personal with a Dart isn't recommended in the Phantom. Want to pick them off form a distance I'd think. (The Lawn Dart is a very nimble jet. I've seen them up close and personal and The WSO actually got to ride the 2-seat version down at Key West.)

    3. A close in dogfight with an F-16 wasn't recommended in an Eagle either. But, then again, most extended engagements outside of a sanitary 1 v 1 training mission, resulted in the loss of both fighters by someone unseen outside the fight. Which was where I liked to lurk.

    4. A good friend was a former F-4 nose gunner in the 149th ANG who transitioned into the F-16. His take was that the later F-16 lots, ie. "big mouths" (larger intake for those of us on the outside) were not to be taken lightly by any adversary in the fur ball. Guess if two fighter pilots say it, it's gotta be true! regards, Alemaster

    5. That's especially true after they got the AMRAAM, Alemaster!

  2. I watched the refueling video. I must have missed the part where you shoot the messenger line to the other aircraft and then the fuel hose gets pulled between the two aircraft by a bunch of airman tugging on a rope.
    Let me get this straight, you fly two airplanes insanely close together and then transfer fuel while going at a high rate of speed.
    Nope, and I am going to leave a message for me in any of my future incarnations to skip the Air Force. This air to air refueling thing is just crazy.
    Bravo Zulu to the Air Force's tanker crews from this old squid.

    1. Refueling in the Vietnam era Fighters (e.g. the F-4) was a bit sporty, for reasons described in last weeks post. The newer generation fighters (e.g. the F-15) much, much easier to refuel. More thrust, better flight control systems, better center of gravity control etc. I was on a C-141 coming back from somewhere and was told that they'd refueled while we were enroute. Didn't even know it.

  3. I have a friend (career AF) who was a boom operator.
    Back in the olden days (pre-digital) he'd break out the slide show and do programs about air to air refueling.
    It always ...always occurred to me that i wouldn't want to be the recipient because that would mean an awful long time sitting in one position.
    Sitting in that one position is the precursor to monkey butt.
    Thats bad enough in a car, wouldn't even want to deal with it in an aircraft.

    1. I was always ok for 1-1.5 hours. After that, it started getting uncomfortable. On this trip, I found that the from 2-4 hours into the flight were the worst. After that, it kinda went numb. The last hour was also bad, but that was probably mental. "Brain....This is Butt, are we there yet?" "How about now?" "Now?"
      Climbing down the boarding ladder was an adventure also. Legs didn't seem to work well either.

  4. Another glorious Monday morning. I always look forward to Mondays, unlike my non retired friends, when I can come to Old Sarge's place to be regaled with more nail biting narratives of military daring do. Not that I don't enjoy Chris' historical stories or even his touchy-feely Alan Aldaesque man of the eighties type prose. It's just refreshing to be able to vicariously experience life as a warrior once a week.

    Sorry again, Chris. Just kidding. I know that once Spring has sprung you will be out risking life and limb amongst the chiggers and ticks and poison ivy in the flower garden..........

    1. Thanks. One tries.

      Chiggers? Ticks? Poison Ivy? I thought Sarge lived in Rhode Island, not Texas! Oh wait, you didn't include scorpions, black widows, brown recluse, rattle snakes, or coral snakes, so I guess it could be Rhode Island.

  5. Another great post Juvat!

    BITD naval aviators reserved a special kind of love for the KC-135 BDA (Boom Drogue Adapter). I've seen a couple of snapped probes and busted quarter panels and crews you wanted to stay upwind of. The KC-10, with purpose-built drogues and soft baskets was much preferred. And almost never available.

    1. Thanks,
      I'll have to go back and look, but one of the tankers in that vid had wingtip pods which I assumed were for probe and drogue ops.

      I've heard that the 135 with a Drogue was not too spiffy.

  6. I , for one, was entertained by this story!

    1. I make that two ( too ).

      Paul L. Quandt

    2. Thanks to the both of you.

  7. As good a tale as promised, Juvat, although runaway CG at Mach .9 is hard to beat by an overflight of Wake. I'm kind of surprised that your last leg didn't include a stop by the arming pit at Kadena prior to the flight to Taegu as Kim The Middle was more stable than Kim The Bookends but still NORKass crazy. FWIW, the procedures for "inadvertent IMC" for a flight of Huey's can be quite exciting but yours was an excellent story. Thanks, and regards, Alemaster

    1. Thanks,
      So the strange greenish gray mist didn't raise the sense of danger at all? Rats....There goes my future career as a Hollywood screenwriter.

  8. Really cool video too. I remember seeing a segment on one of those olden news magazine shows circa 1984-85ish about the first female boomer. She had to be ANG at the time of course and they were flying the old A models with the R-1340's -- er, J-57's. With water for t/o!

    1. I know I've seen a few pictures and a video of a side view of the 135 refueling the 10, and I think there was a fighter underneath the 10. May be a figment of my imagination, but Google-Fu failed me on that one.

    2. This is as close as I could come in searching.

    3. Could this be what you were thinking of?

    4. With the exceptions of the A-7s and the fact there's no ocean in the picture, that's pretty much how I remember it.

    5. No....That's a week, week and a half before I entered Active Duty. However, That is Sarge in the lower aircraft holding the refueling hose. He'd just finished with the radar and the crew chief needed some help, so, being the good trooper he is, he volunteered and made aviation history.

    6. It's what I do.

      I volunteer, I make history, and I fix radars. FWIW, crew chiefs can always use a hand. It's busy buggers they are.

    7. I have been known to polish the canopy of my jet on a quick turn because the crew chief was too busy turning the jet and I didn't want the bug guts affecting my ability to see the bad guys. One does what one must.

  9. That photo of Taegu is very different than the mental one in my head. Dad flew an F-84G out of Taegu just after the end of full-scale hostilities (can't be and end when they're still killing each other, more or less quietly, since the 'official end' of that continuing conflict.)

    His photos and movies show dirt, mud, dirt, mud, lots of tents (looking kinda like the set for MASH, and a runway mostly consisting of what looked like Marsten Mat. Add in the squadron monkey and puppy being blanket tossed and you get the idea that it seemed rough to me. I know, Taegu has been there forever, and been a major base of operations in Korea since forever (forever being the separation date of north and south) and has had to have some infrastructure changes.

    Still, the romantic part of me still sees the tents and mud and dirt of my dad's era.

    Is this a sign of approaching adulthood (otherwise known as old age?)

    1. I had to divert into Taegu from the Kun once on my first assignment. It wasn't quite tents and mud, but it made Kunsan look pretty comfortable afterwards. Even though the Kunsan "Commissary" would have made an understocked 7-11 look like a Whole Foods, it was palatial compared to what the Squadron at Taegu made do with.

  10. Good story, and I'm betting the pucker factor got a 'bit' high there for a few minutes...

    1. Thanks,
      Yeah, as the Pickle in the Middle, I was relying on 3 of the 4 jets in the formation to do EVERYTHING right, so there was some intense concentration going on there.

  11. Why are these kinds of movies so addicting? I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach watching it. The same feeling described in the earlier post. I blame it on my screamer of an IP that I had at Davis-Monthan in '64-65.
    I lived near Fukuoka in a little town called Zashnokuma in '62-64. Flying out of Itazuke AB. We had six pilots (assorted F-100, F-105 and F-102 folks) and a flight surgeon, occupying a large summer home built by a business man before the war. Good times, best of times in many ways. So many stories to tell. I bought a Zippo lighter in the Wake BX, still have it in a box with all the others.

  12. While deployed to Wake for Prompt Return,, I bought a coffee cup from the Base Ops/BX/Commissary there so I could have a decent sized cup of coffee while deployed and two so I'd have something to represent "been there, done that". Redeployed directly from Wake to the Pentagon. Brought the coffee cup to work the first day, filled it up, put it on a desk while talking to somebody. Somebody came by brushed it and sent it crashing to the floor. Million pieces! The Pentagon tour went downhill from there.


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