Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

Trusting the LSO


Real short sea story.
1987, first deployment, North Arabian Sea. I’m a raw nugget (new guy), flying maybe my fourth or fifth fleet night flight. An air intercept control mission – fleet air defense.
We’re miles from nowhere, no diverts are available. When the shooter pulls the trigger on the catapult, you’re either landing on the ship or in the water. Those are the only options available. And it’s darker than a hat full of a**holes.
Twenty or thirty minutes into the flight, I notice that the jet needs progressively more and more lateral trim to fight a tendency of the left wing to drop – there’s a “coolie hat” on the control stick which relieves control forces in flight. Now, the FA-18 automatically trims to 1g flight in pitch with the flaps in “auto,” in other words, during normal flight. Re-trimming is required in the landing configuration, but rarely when cruising around with the flaps up. A little bit of lateral trim if the aircraft is carrying an asymmetric external load. Perhaps a twitch of longitudinal (rudder) trim from time to time.
But she keeps wanting to wing drop to the left, and I keep trimming it out. Which is strange, because I’m symmetrically loaded. Eventually a light bulb goes off in the brain housing unit, and I check the external fuel quantities. At sea, the FA-18 normally carries two external fuel tanks, each carrying a little over 2000 pounds (nearly seven hundred gallons) of fuel. They normally transfer to the fuselage tanks as those empty. One of my two external tanks was empty. The other was still full. A transfer failure. Two thousand pounds of gas seven feet displaced from the longitudinal axis of the jet. Fourteen thousand foot-pounds of lateral asymmetry.
The FA-18 doesn’t carry a lot of gas, for a fighter. At sea, you’re always watching the fuel gauges, making sure that your usage rates will not deplete your available fuel faster than the recovery time permits. Because in cyclic operations, you can’t come back and land just any old time. You come back and land on schedule. If you’re early, you’ll find the deck clobbered with the next launch – the landing area will not be open – and nothing can be done. And you have to bring enough gas home to allow yourself a few attempts at the deck, in case you bolter or are waved off – either for technique (translation: You suck) or a foul deck (translation: The guy in front of you got stuck in the wires – he sucks).
So it was a little disconcerting to realize that I had 2000 pounds less gas available than I would otherwise have been entitled to.

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After a really disappointing Memorial Day weekend, lots of rain and low clouds, Super Girl and I am off to Canada to wrap up the filming of Dangerous  Flights season two.  It should be a nice few days of hanging out with some of the best pilots in the world and my daughter, take that how you like, but my time is limited so I’ll try and get a post or two off if I can but don’t hold your breath.

Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

Viper FCF

After major maintenance, an aircraft has to be flown by a specially designated check pilot on a PMCF – a post-maintenance check flight, before it’s released for general use. These are also known as FCF’s, or “functional check flights.” The designation is eagerly sought out by pilots, and sparingly bestowed. Being certified an FCF pilot carries with it a mark of professional trust, and added responsiblity. Too many pilots designated a check pilot in a squadron dilutes the opportunity for the select few to stay proficient in the different check procedures.
The decision on whether or not to release a jet for general use is a serious one, demanding thorough knowledge of the aircraft and its systems, and an ability to react quickly and properly to anything that may go wrong – always an elevated risk on a plane that’s had a major re-work done.
They’re also a lot of fun.

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Get Some


In the spring of 1944, Bill Overstreet of the famous 357th FG was hot on the tail of a German ME109G. The pilot of the 109 flew right over Paris where German anti-aircraft artillery was heavy, probably in hopes they would solve his problem by eliminating Bill and his P51C named the “Berlin Express”. Bill persisted through intense flak closing the gap with the enemy fighter. Already hit in the engine, as a last resort the ME109 pilot aimed his aircraft toward the imposing Eiffel Tower and in a breathtaking maneuver flew right under it. Even this was not enough to shake Bill as he followed right behind scoring several more hits in the process. The German ME109 crashed moments later and Bill escaped the heavy flak around Paris by flying low and full throttle over the river.

Gravity Check

One of my instructors checking out the landing site on a demonstration jump last summer in Minneapolis.  The landing area is the outfield section of the baseball field in the lower left.  Tight demos always get my heart pounding because coming up short or overshooting usually means hitting something, or someone, you really don’t want to hit.  But I guess that’s why they pay us the big bucks.

Close One

The professional weather guessers employed by our friends at the US government told us that there was no hope that we would be skydiving this weekend.  Rain, wind and low clouds would keep the planes and jumpers grounded, no hope, go home and see a movie or something.  So of course we managed to fly fifteen loads of skydivers on Saturday and six on Sunday.  They were, on the other hand, correct about strong thunderstorms moving through the area on Sunday afternoon.  Towering cumulonimbus clouds were building as I went up on the last load to film 8 relatively inexperienced skydivers attempting to link up in free fall and build multiple formations, they were spectacularly unsuccessful  by the way.  When we landed I looked at the weather radar and saw that a line of strong thunderstorms was heading right for us.  This happens often in Wisconsin and one of my harder jobs is deciding weather or not to fly the aircraft out of the way of the approaching storms to avoid damage.  It’s a tough call because if we flew the plane away every time a thunderstorm is threatening us it would cost us thousands of dollars a year that we can’t afford.  But yesterday I made the wrong call.  As the storms approached the drop zone the radar showed the classic “Hook” of a possible tornado.  Shortly after the sirens went off and the radio warned us that a tornado had been sited in the area and was heading right for us.  It was too late to jump in the plane and fly it away so all we could do was watch as the wind got stronger and stronger.  My heart was pounding as the wind speed hit 75 Mph causing the plane to dance on the pad and strain against it’s tie downs.  We could hear the unmistakable roar of a tornado overhead but luckily it didn’t touch down and finally passed us by leaving the runway littered with the remains of the plastic lawn chairs.  It was a close call but we suffered no major damage, thank God.  It’s gonna be a long summer.
Watch of video of the storm HERE. 

Apparently the link doesn’t work, I’ll try and fix that.