Monday, April 10, 2017

Useless Things

Last Tuesday, Sarge published a post that asked "Whither the Carriers?" where he asked for commentary about various options for the Navy regarding Aircraft Carriers.  I have limited experience with Carriers, so decided to do the wise thing and keep my mouth shut.

Specifically, my experience with aircraft carriers is limited to touring the USS Hornet (CV-12) in the early '60s when my Uncle served as the ship's disbursing officer.  (He's still got a picture of him in his office with very large stacks of money on his desk.)
USS Hornet CV-12

My other experience is with the USS Enterprise while it was docked at Alameda.  A buddy and I had taken a cross country there and when we were ready to RTB on Sunday, the air cart used by transient alert couldn't blow enough air to get my second engine to the minimum RPM to start.  While we were trying to figure out our options (staying an extra night at the Treasure Island VOQ as visiting Captains seemed the best.  Attempting a single engine takeoff and starting it as we rolled was the worst...and quickly vetoed by your's truly with a YGBSM!).
USS-Enterprise CVN-65

As we're pondering, I notice a crane on the deck of the Enterprise, pick up an aircart and lift it over the side.  After a few minutes, Transient Alert, hooked it up and the engine started right away.

So....I'm very experienced when it comes to Carriers.

Or not.

I did serve my two staff tours in Operations on Joint Staffs.  Both tours I dealt closely with Navy folks, frequently Aviators.  Given that CINCPAC's AOR is almost entirely water, Carriers were high on the observation list.

One thing that I would comment about options for Carriers that I learned through working with those folks was the comparatively limited sortie generation capability a Carrier can produce compared with a deployed USAF Air Wing.

This is NOT a criticism, merely physics.  I don't remember what the real number is, but I do remember it as being fairly low.  Given that there's some maneuvering required to get aircraft into position for takeoff, that takes time and reduces the number one can get airborne at any one time.  On the back side, landing, taking a barrier, and then getting cleared out of the barrier and taxied clear also takes time.  Finally, there's a finite amount of space on the ship for aircraft which further limits the ability to generate sorties.

So, it was eye opening to me as an Ops Planner to built plans that tasked a Carrier Air Wing.

Do not misconstrue this to imply that I believe that Carriers are not needed or are not worth every penny they cost.  I believe they are a very important aspect of National Power.

What I dislike about the whole National Defense argument is that we seem to have accepted that we must pay for National Defense from within the Defense Budget.  After Years of Pillaging that budget for "Peace Dividends" starting with the Clinton Crime Family, and continuing on through today, there is very little (OK, None) left to cut.

What the Defense of the Nation needs are Carriers, Submarines, Bombers, Air Superiority Fighters, A-10s, New Tanks, Artillery, Helicopters, Amphibs, the list goes on and on.  This is not an "Or" issue, as Instapundit likes to say "embrace the power of AND!"

However, what we don't need to pay for are able bodied folks to sit on their hind end and not produce anything because their "....lives matter."  This article (behind the WSJ paywall, sorry) talks about a study from 1995 that says welfare payments are well above the poverty level and pay better than an entry level job. And that's 20 years ago, before the birth of Obamaphones and all the other largess passed out recently.

All to buy votes.

WHOA, juvat!  Dial it down!

Ok, Sarge, I'm going to my happy place.

 Where was I?

Oh yeah.  Sortie generation.

Somewhere during the Reagan Years (a wonderful time to be a Fighter Pilot), someone figured out that if we were going to fight the godless commies, we needed to be able to maximize the ability to generate sorties and that one of the main impediments to that was launch and recovery times when the weather was bad.

Evidently, it's easy to generate sorties when you're flying out of Texas, not so much when your fighting in the winter.

So, somebody came up with an idea on how to minimize the separation requirement for aircraft recovering into an airfield via instrument approaches.

A little background.  Ordinarily, when multiple aircraft recover, Approach Control will either send you to holding and you'll do circles in the sky until you're cleared for the approach (or you go crazy).  This would set up at least 5 miles of separation between entities, which makes the RAPCON (Radar APproach CONtrol) very happy.  But since approach speeds are typically around 150K (some higher, some lower), that 2.5 mile per minute speed translates to 2 minutes spacing.  Multiplied by a 50 aircraft strike package means a lot of guys that are staring at their gas gauge wondering about the glide range of their aircraft.

This guy, whoever he was, figured out that if we let the pilots get and maintain their own separation (it's called Military Assumes Responsibility for Separation of Aircraft (MARSA)), we could cut that spacing to about 30 seconds which would mean a lot more sorties putting ordnance on target, or at least close to target.

So, how did this happen?

Basically, you had to fly pretty good instruments and airspeed control was critical.  The whole procedure was called ASLAR (you knew there'd be another acronym didn't ya) or Aircraft Surge Launch and Recovery).  The 4 ship would begin the approach together, and at a point about half way down, the second element would "drag" (reduce airspeed and begin to get separation).  Once that element was separated, the wingman would be given the order to drag also,  Lead would maintain speed until he got to a specific point and then would slow down and configure.  This would give between a mile and a mile and a half separation between the four aircraft.  Total time to get the 4 aircraft on the runway was a couple of minutes (there was about 30 seconds between each).

It worked pretty well, especially if the weather was good and you could see everyone.  It was a little sporty otherwise.  We practiced it a lot at Kadena, and got pretty proficient.

It's now time for our ORI and we've deployed to Kwang-Ju AB on the ROK.  One of the big grading points in ORI's is sortie generation.  I know Fighter Pilots love sortie generation (AKA Flying Time), I'm pretty sure Maintenance guys are not so inclined.  The benchmark in the ORI was to generate and fly each aircraft 5 times a day.  With 24 aircraft in each squadron, that's 120 sorties per squadron per day.  There were 3 squadrons.

Safety was paramount (it is just an exercise), but...making the mark makes a career if you're a Wing King or other O-6 in the wing.

The weather in Korea is a big factor in anything military on the peninsula (read any story about the Chosin Reservoir if you doubt me) and flying is no exception.  So the ability to use ASLAR procedures effectively is critical to success.

So, There I was.....*

Finally, juvat!

Leading a 4 ship on a 4 v 4 similar sortie against a 4 ship from one of the other squadrons.  8 Eagles turning and burning in a furball is an entertaining training exercise.  Communication needs to be precise and concise as everyone looks the same.  This is the third sortie for my flight, so on landing, there'll be a debrief, most likely in MOPP gear as there will undoubtedly be a condition black, some chow, a little planning for tomorrow's sorties (again in MOPP gear) and then some rack time.  Fortunately, the "safety is paramount" takes over then and we don't have to wear MOPP gear to bed.

Unless it's for "realsies".

Weather at Kwang-ju is about 1000' overcast, light to moderate rain, visibility is about a mile or so.  I'm in the front four ship and our "adversaries" are behind us.  We will shoot the ASLAR and land all eight.

Normally, when landing the Eagle, the pilot will aerobrake until about 100K or so, and then fly the nose of the aircraft down to the runway, test the brakes and then roll out.  That clears the runway in an expeditious manner.

I mentioned earlier, that a pilot might show off by attempting a min run landing, aerobraking to the maximum AOA (20.5 degrees, 21 degrees would drag the tail feathers), holding that until the aircraft stops flying which drops the nose to the runway quite forcefully, then max brakes until turning off.  Doing that significantly reduces the landing roll.  (It also tends to mess up Sarge's baby and other electronics in the nose of the aircraft.)

It is also not a good idea during an ASLAR approach as you very quickly close the difference between you and the aircraft behind you.

I've got 7 aircraft behind me as I break out of the weather and have the runway in sight.  I'm very aware of that spacing and focused on getting to the end of the runway expeditiously.  (There's no benefit to turning off early, the dearm crew is at the departure end.)

I come in and land the jet a little firmly to break the surface tension of the standing water on the runway, drop the nose at about 120, tap the brakes,  good pressure, and continue the rollout.

I pass over the first departure end barrier at about 3K' remaining.  Continue rolling.

As I'm approaching the second barrier at abour 1500' remaining, I resume braking, only to have the brake pedals go to the floor and nothing happen.  Quickly I let off the brakes and reapply, same thing.  As I reach for the hook, I realize this is going to get complicated quickly, but am out of options.  Hook comes down.

And misses the barrier'

Later, runway inspection afterward would show I missed it by less than a foot.  I'm now headed toward the MA-1A barrier in the overrun.
The MA-1A stops the aircraft by snaring the nose gear and other articles underneath.

The Eagle isn't really built for taking this type barrier.  But, then again, it's not built for 4 wheeling in the mud either.  Its long, somewhat delicate nose gear will catch the net, hopefully, which will then drag the anchor chain which should slow me down.

I'm committed though.  A quick thought goes through my mind.  "Should I bail out?"  The seat will get me clear and if the gear collapses and I skid off into the mud, bad things will likely happen.

There wasn't a lot of time for rational thought, so I just file it away as an option for later.

There's a loud bang from under the aircraft a lot of vibration and racket and the end of the overrun is coming up.  I shut down the engines, but come to a complete stop before departing the runway.

As I'm sitting in the aircraft, I notice the rest of my flight in the dearm area.  They appear to be laughing and clapping their hands.

It's very humbling to have to ride in your aircraft as it's being towed back to parking.

But I did get a lesson on the 4 most useless things to a Pilot.

1) Altitude above you.
2) Fuel in the truck.
3) Runway behind you
4) 10 seconds ago.

3 & 4 were relevant.



  1. For "realsies"? I like it!

    Nothing quite like feeling the "I have no brakes" pedal reaction. Been there, done that in a car, so I had plenty of runway left, so to speak. Fortunately there were no other cars around.

    Regarding that big a$$ speed brake on the Eagle, watching those guys land most seem to deploy it after the gear was down, one guy popped it before touchdown (I'm pretty sure). When was that recommended and how did you deploy it. As I recall there was a wee switch on the left throttle in the F-4 to deploy the speed brakes.

    Useless things. Yup.

    1. There weren't any set rules on speed brakes. Most guys put it out when rolling out on final. It allowed you to push the throttles up a few notches and the speed brake retracted pretty fast, so if something went wrong, you retracted it and the engines were already spooled up. Formation landings, Lead would use about half extended, so the wingman would have some to play with. By the time you got into the flare, the speed brake was pretty ineffective and aerobraking was much more effective, so deploying it at that point was more showing off than anything else. Yep, the speed brake switch was between the weapons select switch and the mike switch. There were many folks at RTU who would call a tracking gun kill with the speed brake. Generally cost them a round.

  2. Heckuva nice way to start my Monday morning Juvat. Really enjoyable post.

    Excellent point on the sortie generation limitations of CV's. There's only so much space for aircraft and the runway has to be the parking lot too. Only so much bunkerage for go-juice, magazine space for bb's, and stowage for stores. Ashore you can have resupply via a constant stream of trucks and aircraft; at sea it comes one pallet at a time over a wire or via helicopter while the supply building charges alongside through the sea. More decks will generate more sorties, which is a strong argument for the more/smaller model. But then you need more pallets, more floating supply buildings, more people, etc. If history is our guide, the war never starts with us completely prepared, and most of what we're prepared for isn't exactly what we need. Best to have a good solid mix of assets and the ability to adapt on the fly. Both of those things are vital to our national defense. I could be wrong, but from where I sit it looks like we have neither today.

    The MA-1A Barrier looks a lot like the barricade on the carrier. Form follows function. I wonder where they source the chain?

    1. I don't know if the chain actually was from an Anchor, but everybody I ever heard talk about it called it that.

      Here are some good quotes on logistics. The best of them is "Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics". You can be the best fighter pilot in the world, but if there's no fuel on your base because it didn't get delivered......

  3. Such wonderful flying landing adventures.
    Another swell post.

    It's ironic.
    I remember budgets.
    The folks at the top of the pecking order wanted new carriers.
    Those of us at the bottom wanted an electric eraser so charter and pub corrections would be easier.

    1. Thanks, yeah, perspective, to a large part, depends on where you sit.
      But...budgets are budgets are budgets. The only difference is the number of zeros, and since zeros are nothing, the difference is....nothing.

  4. Wow, great story. Glad you didn't drive have to drive an S.U.E. (Sport Utility Eagle). I didn't quite understand the first part of the story. Did they actually take a better huffer and crane it off the boat for you in Alameda? That was mighty hospitable of them. I did wonder about cross-bleed starts though- not possible in the Eagle? MARSA? It's like deflecting risk- from the controller to you. "Yes, I know it's winter in Germany, but it's not my fault there was a mid-air!" I like your power of AND very much. And the Navy shouldn't have to figure out how to use our existing budget to build the Ohio Class replacement- we need our budget AND very much more. Those subs are not just a Navy thing, but a strategic asset- like our bombers and whatever you boys in blue have buried in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, etc.

    1. Thanks,
      Yep, they did. I think the Enterprise might have heard the radio call about the single engine thingy (and my YGBSM) and said we better get these bozo's outta here!. This was in the AT-38 though, which required the blower. I didn't make that clear in the post. The Eagle had a small jet engine (I'd heard it was a T-37 engine) that was used to start both motors.

    2. I think that's actually the E model. That thing's a Truck! A-D's are like a 1973 Charger RT 440 Magnum. All muscle and speed!

  5. Cool story, Juvat, a really, really cool story! Bet ol' Kim The Middle was whitecapping his cognac knowing Juvat was back on the peninsula and in an Eagle this time. regards, Alemaster

    1. Thanks. But, apparently not as the bastard's (not a cuss word but a statement of the marital status of the male and female progenitor) son is still in power and making his own brand of trouble. Some days I think The ROK would make a great island nation.

  6. Funny, used the same or similar diagram here…

    1. Well, since I googled MA-1A and scraped the image off the first one in the list, that's not surprising. I did read that series of posts a while back, so I was pretty sure I'd find a picture. That was a good story by the way.

    2. Well, you an Dave both would have liked our runway at RAF Woodbridge, juvat. It was built as a recovery strip for damaged Lancs and B-17s in WW II.Was 9, 600' long with paved 1500' overruns at both ends. Even better it was roughly 3x the width of a standard runway (720' wide iirc) so was pretty tough to hydroplane/skid off of in rainy/icy wx.

    3. I guess you'd be able to do a 4 ship simultaneous formation takeoff from there with no sweat, VX. That's a big runway! Been a while since we've heard from you. You doin OK?


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