Short on cash and determined to prioritize new stealth warplanes, the U.S. Air Force is busily trying to rid itself of all 350 of its slow- and low-flying A-10 Warthog attack planes—this despite the heavily-armed twin-engine jet’s impressive combat record stretching back to the 1991 Gulf War.
But the flying branch still needs to support American troops on the ground—the Warthog’s raison d’etre. With that in mind, around 20 highly experienced A-10 pilots and engineers are working on unofficial specifications for a successor to the Warthog…
Arcin’ and sparkin’
By lex, on May 10th, 2007
Briefly: It was a wonderful day to fly F-5′s in the Florida Keys, with a pair of onrushing F-14 Tomcats in front of me in the uncertain distance and an F-16N ahead and to my left as my flight lead. At the designated signal – an aileron roll, on this occasion – I went into a spacing maneuver designed to spoil the F-14 radar operators’ laboriously crafted situational awareness. Heading away now from both my wingman and the merge, making good time at about 550 knots or so in a descent, I was feeling very comfortable in the jet, not least because the Tiger II cockpit is remarkably spacious for such a small machine.
And that’s when I caught fire.
Oh, not me personally, and not the entire jet, but something in the electrical system behind the dashboard in front of me (and above my legs underneath the dash) gave up the ghost and connected at least two circuits which had been designed by the engineers to remain isolated. Suddenly my comfortable little cockpit felt rather cramped and crowded. Happened pretty quick too, just a whiff of a harsh electrical odor and then arcs and sparks followed by a billowing, choking cloud.
I found the whole experience very exciting.
Airborne, alone and on fire is no way to go through life, so rather than spend what was threatening to be the rest of my time on earth thinking about it, I reached forward through the smog, fumbled around on the horizontal console and shut off the jet’s single AC generator and then, after only a moment’s hesitation, the DC battery as well. That served to partially clear the cabin of smoke since the electrical system kept the canopy seals inflated with bleed air from the engines and with the power out, my cabin pressure started to leak past the deflating seals, taking some of the smoke with it. Actuating the mechanical ram/dump switch hastened the process along even as I switched the O2 system to 100% oxygen – just in case. My popping ears and whining sinuses seemed a small price to pay for clear air to breathe and a world that I could orient to, no matter how cold it was.
If you’re curious, I wasn’t making this stuff up “on the fly” as they say, these were among the published “boldface” procedures that pilots are required to commit to memory.
For reasons which at this point, probably seem obvious.
In a very short time the fire was out, the air was clear and my heart rate was down to a sustainable level. But I couldn’t talk to anyone, and since I was in an F-5, almost invisible in a turning fight, no one much missed me.
You almost never see the F-5.
I toyed with the idea of turning the battery switch back on to communicate with my lead – the single UHF radio could be operated off of the essential DC bus, powered by the battery – for a bit before finally committing to it. I really didn’t want to catch my legs on fire – fussy that way – but flying back to the field with no IFF (to squawk emergency codes with) and no radio (to get traffic separation and landing clearance with) seemed risky too. There were routine flights of commuter jets into Key West International that seemed to operate as though they were alone in the world, and while there are techniques for NORDO landings at military fields – fly overhead the pattern rocking your wings, turn downwind and look for a green light from the tower on final – I’d never really seen them work that well. You either missed the green light, or the controller missed shining it on you and you’d have to go around and try it again when most of all what you wanted to do was to put the damned thing on the ground and walk away from it.
Oh, sure, there was always the Martin-Baker option, but I was already on the way to completing a flying career in which my take-offs and full-stops added up to a round number, and very much wanted to keep it that way. Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, the F-5 ejection system was a frail vessel into which to pour all of your hopes. Even if it weren’t for all of those hammerhead sharks and the risks to one’s professional reputation.
Better to die than look bad.
Carefully then, and the first task to was to go around and actually turn every piece of electrical gear off before restoring system power to the essential bus. Back to the battery switch, then cautiously to the UHF radio, even as I was wending my way towards to the aerodrome at a moderate pace.
My lead apprised the situation at once, whipped his jet around and ran me down briskly – the Viper was good at that. We quickly formulated an approach plan in which he would perform all radio coordination even while I maintained the formation lead. The visual signal that I was cleared to land would be a patting motion on the dashboard, followed by a thumb’s up. It didn’t take much time to confirm the plan and shut the battery back off again, since it was standard operating procedure to brief NORDO recoveries – and many, many other emergencies – on every flight.
The landing itself was uneventful as they say, apart from my approach speed. Since I couldn’t get the flaps down, I whistled across the fence at about 220 knots as I recall. The brakes would have laughed at me for a moment before cheerfully self-destructing if I had tried to tap them at that speed, but fortunately the drag chute deployed as published in the operator’s manual and using the long runway at Navy Key West I didn’t even have to throw the hook down at the departure end cable.
Just as well, the flimsy thing was mostly just for looks on a USAF jet.
No point to that story really, just thought it was time to, you know: Tell it.
I was out checking my trail cameras the other day when an unseen owl scared the cr*p out of me by waiting until I was directly under the branch he was sitting on before taking off. If you’ve never had an owl takeoff six feet over your head let me tell you it’s IMPRESSIVE! The damn things are BIG and completely silent as they glide through the trees. I think this particular owl is purposely messing with me. Here’s a picture of him mooning me on one of my trail cameras, at least I think he’s mooning me. Hard to tell with owls.
Well I’m sure by now most of you have heard about the recent midair collision between two skydiving planes. This accident was a scary one for me because it took above a skydiving school that’s very close to mine and I know almost everyone who was on board. I was at number one son’s final football game of the season when it happened and had my phone off. When the game was over, they lost in a tough game but had a great season, I turned my phone on and was shocked to see how many messages and texts I’d received. It was with great foreboding that I started to listen to the messages because if I ever get that many at one time it usually means that there’s been a skydiving accident or airplane crash involving someone I know. Little did I realize that it was both. As the details of the crash came out the first thing I heard was that while in a two plane formation load full of skydivers the chase plane got caught in the wake turbulence of the lead plane and was sucked into it. Now, I’ve flown literately hundreds of formation loads and the first thing I thought was why the hell were they that close in the first place? Back when I started flying formation loads the common wisdom was to fly as close as possible thinking that it made it easier for the jumpers in the chase plane to catch the jumpers leaving the lead plane. What I noticed was that what really happened was that the chase jumpers had to dive down and behind the planes to catch the lead jumpers, not very efficient. What I started doing was to position the chase plane fifty feet lower and one hundred feet back from the lead plane so the chase jumpers had a better angle on their targets. It didn’t take long for this new practice to take hold among all the local drop zones. Fast forward to mid-air and the fact that planes were close enough to hit told me that they were doing it wrong to start with. Then I thought about the claim of wake turbulence and thought that was bullshit because wake turbulence flows back and down from the lead plane and if the chase plane hit it he would probably no hit the lead.
Then I saw one of the videos from inside the chase plane and it all became clear as to what happened. The video clearly shows the chase plane too close and on the same level as the jumpers start climbing out in preparation for the jump. Just as this is happening the pilot in the chase plane takes his eyes off the lead plane and looks down at the jumpers climbing out of his plane. When he did this either the lead plane dropped down and back a bit or the lead drifted up and froward, doesn’t matter, and when he looked back up the plane he’d been flying formation on was gone. That has to be a terrifying moment in the cockpit, to lose sight of the plane your flying formation on is a cardinal sin and knowing there is an aircraft very close to you but not seeing it is, well, bad. When that happens a good pilot would do the smart thing and pull up and left, being able to see in that direction and knowing it was clear. But this moron decided to try and find the lead plane by dropping his nose to see if he could find it again. Well mission accomplished, he found it all right.
The rest of the event is nothing short of a miracle. The lead plane lost it’s right wing immediately and the jumpers hanging onto it were unhurt and managed to get clear. The jumpers in the chase were almost killed by the lead planes propeller and subsequent fireball and also got clear. The pilot of the lead plane, who was now flying an aircraft with only one wing, managed to get out and use the emergency chute. Unbelievable. But great footage!
I’m just very thankful I didn’t have to go to 11 funerals last week.