COOLSTONE TRIES A SIX PACK
Interceptor August 1977
It had been a long time since the Cold Rock had been in a real, all-out hassle, and then it wasn’t legal. But now he was about to become a one-ride, ACM expert at the tender mercy of IWS at Tyndall.
To start with, he wasn’t even sure what ACM stood for – dog fight, tail chase, swapping – -‘s. He had heard of those, and knew what they were, but air combat maneuvering was a much more respectable term certainly, even if it did not connote entirely his experience in F-51s on up.
At the briefing the Rock knew he was in trouble. There was going to be nothing sneaky about it. They even told one another what altitude they would be at, where they would be, and how they would engage none of the old “meet you at 20,000 over the low cone, with everybody just as high as they could possibly get.”
Prior to the briefing, the Rock figured once they were in the air, he would whip them individually or by flights, but with these new rules where everybody knew what everyone else was doing, he was beginning to worry a bit.
He knew he was in even more trouble when the briefing officer stated that there would be four F – 106Bs and they would practice six pack tactics. Just what six pack tactics were was never clearly explained. Four airplanes and a six pack just didn’t figure. Everyone else in the room nodded sagely, so the Rock didn’t dare ask the obvious question.
After the briefing, Coolstone’s IP suggested they go over to the PE shop so they could start strapping things on him. The G suit came first; he was laced into it very tightly. Then came the vest and parachute, helmet and mask, and some other odds and ends that the Rock accepted without question. It was only after he had drawn all of his equipment that he discovered the IP was also an athlete. “We will walk to the bird,” he was told, “it’s good exercise and the line busses are usually not there when you want them, anyhow.”
Now where Coolstone came from, if the humidity was over 20% it was a weather catastrophe. At Tyndall, 80% plus was the normal. It wasn’t really hot, but for the Rock, whose idea of exercise was strolling leisurely to his car in the parking lot, the stroll along the Tyndall line with chute, G suit, helmet, etc, was a bit tedious. Matter of fact, he had sweat through everything he had on by the time he got to the bird, which apparently had been parked in downtown Panama City on static display.
“Climb on up,” said the IP, “but don’t touch anything. I’ll hook you up.”
With the assistance of two crew chiefs and the IP, Coolstone was elevated to the cockpit. He was plugged, hooked, and snapped in.
“Hey,” said the IP, “How about that! The push to test button on the G suit is stuck. You’ll probably have full pressure all the time, so you really won’t be able to use the G suit – pretty funny, huh?”
Coolstone immediately directed his entire attention to this very, very, serious problem. He tried to dislodge the button with his pencil – never happen.
Through great effort, one which produced even heavier perspiration, he located his nail clipper and removed it from an inside pocket. Now he really had a tool. Carefully, he inserted the file point along, the side of the button and gently pried it forward. It came; no, it didn’t – what gave was the file point. He straightened it and tried again. Even with his highly specialized tool, the button just was not going to be dislodged. His efforts were finally reduced to glancing longingly at the stuck button every 15 to 20 seconds.
“We’re cranking up,” said the IP.
As the engine RPM began to increase, the G suit began to inflate. Before the Rock could get it disconnected, his eyeballs were lying on his cheek. So much for the G suit.
One thing that Coolstone noticed right away was that there was excellent visibility from the rear cockpit. He sat up a little above the pilot, and both forward and lateral visibility were just great.
“Canopy coming closed,” said the pilot, and when it did the radar scope took care of all forward visibility.
When Coolstone tried to look out of either side, he found that his helmet hit the side panels before he could really see aft to any degree at all – so much for visibility.
The flight taxied out to the runway, lined up, and with a great deal of arm waving and head nodding, leaped into the air in elements of two.
Coolstone tried to familiarize himself with the instrument panel. He located those critical instruments such as G meter, mach meter, and airspeed indicator. It was a round gauge bird so that he didn’t have to figure how to read them, at least. His attention was constantly distracted from his study, however, by a wingtip waving at him in the general vicinity of the cockpit.
They leveled at about 25 and the leader advised the flight that they would practice combat formation tactics until the drops went dry. The element moved out to a position high and down sun. The element was quite a ways out. In fact, they were out to the point that, with the dandy canopy arrangement, Coolstone was hard pressed to keep track of them. But, suddenly, he had a local problem.
“You’ve got it,” said the IP. “Just keep on this heading and altitude until I tell you to turn.”
The bird which had seemed reasonably stable while the IP was flying it, now was out of trim on all axes. It was extremely sensitive in pitch and bank, and prone to roll in whatever direction Coolstone looked.
It had been five minutes since the Rock had seen the element or his wingman when the IP said, “Okay, make a 180 to your left, standard rate turn.”
They came around and Coolstone got just a glimpse of the wingman as he crossed over, and no indication that the element was even in this part of the world.
The turns were practiced several more times and Coolstone had gone to the full overheat position. Sweat was running into his eyes, but he had solved the stability problem and could now keep the six within five to seven hundred feet of the altitude and five to ten degrees of the heading. But it was hard work and it took his entire attention.
“Okay,” said the IP to the flight, “we will now start our engagements. The element will be the attackers on the first go and we will be the defenders.”
He advised the controllers to set them up. Coolstone quickly and gratefully released control of the aircraft to the IP and then told himself to remember why he was on the flight. He was to coolly, calmly evaluate the tactics and the aircraft performance.
Tallyhos were called and the fight was on. The Rock saw 5 Gs through a very narrow vision band, but he never saw the attackers. The aircraft was maneuvering all right; it was also a performing fool, but the Rock did not accomplish much cool calm analyzing.
“Okay, break it off and let’s set it up again. This time the element will be the defenders,” the IP advised the flight. Strangely enough, he seemed to keep track of everyone throughout the melee and began a short critique over the air while they were being repositioned by the controller.
He finished his critique and then said to Coolstone, “What did you think of that?”
“Very impressive,” said the Rock, “very impressive.” To himself he said, “If I ever get on the ground again, I think that’s where I intend to stay.”
“Okay,” said the IP, “I’ll make the attack on this one, and then you can make the next one. I’ll keep you advised of what we are doing.”
The position of the element was called off by the ground and the IP advised them that he had them on radar. The Rock watched the scope intensely, but could not really see much because of the scope intensity.
“Here we go,” said the IP. “Burners now; got them at 11 oclock high tallyho.”
Coolstone saw them. Then he didn’t as a black haze developed that was purely a local problem.
“I’m taking the low one, the wingman will get the high one – should he break first.”
“Ugh,” said the Rock. The Gs went down to four for a minute, and Coolstone could see that they were overshooting the defenders and were on the outside of the turn. The IP rolled up over, hung there for a moment, and then pressed the attack on home very nicely.
“Okay,” he called to the flight, “Disengage and we’ll try it again. We will be the attackers once more.”
“You got it,” said the IP, and Coolstone bravely and reluctantly took the bird. “Now, for the first time,” he thought to himself, “I’ll get a chance to really know what’s going on here. Get a feel for the tactics and the performance characteristics of the six at high alpha.” So far the mission had been a complete loss as far as coolly calmly analyzing anything.
They were turned in, and the ground began calling range and azimuth. “I’ve got them on radar,” said the IP, “20 miles 10 degrees left coming down fast.”
In spite of himself, Coolstone felt the adrenalin beginning to flow. He strained to get a visual through the dandy canopy.
“Have you got them?” said the IP.
“Negative,” said the Rock. Then he said, “Okay, now I’ve got them. Burners now.”
The defenders at that point broke right into them. Coolstone yanked, banked, rolled, and saw that he had a slight advantage even though he was overshooting. He located what he assumed to be the leader and decided to press the attack on him. He was counting on his own wingman to take care of the little problem concerning the other aircraft.
He climbed sharply, pulled off the power, rolled inverted, and the enemy disappeared. He disappeared right in the middle of the canopy bar.
Desperately the Rock kicked rudder both ways. He then picked him up again. He couldn’t believe it – all he had to do was to roll back out and he had him. This he did in the full adrenal mode, accompanied by great gasps in the interphone.
He couldn’t believe his good fortune. However, he had scarcely served the purpose of the flight, i.e., to coolly calmly analyze tactics and performance. It had been kill kill kill ever since the defender broke into them. He hadn’t the slightest memory of what had transpired after that.
“Okay,” said the IP. “Not bad. We’ll break out by ourselves and meet the flight back at Tyndall for joinup and landing. I’ll demonstrate to you the capabilities of this bird.”
“Rog,” said the Rock, who had regained a portion of his composure by this time.
“Okay,” said the IP, “first let me show you a vertical recovery.”
And, with a great flourish, Coolstone found himself pulling straight up and up and up – he locked on to the airspeed indicator. It was going down and down and down.
“Now, I’ll put in some rudder,” said the IP.
“Put in something,” screamed Coolstone silently.
The IP added, “I’ll keep the zero G on the bird as we recover.”
Fascinated, the Rock watched the airspeed work its way down to about 110 as the bird smoothly rolled through the horizon to the near vertical position. The airspeed rapidly built up again.
“I’ll show you a high G high airspeed recovery – you’ll notice you will get a little wing rock here.”
The airspeed built up and up and the Rock saw mach two as the recovery began. Once again his vision band narrowed abruptly as about five and a half Gs were used for the recovery.
“You see,” said his pilot, “even at high airspeeds this airplane will recover from a vertical dive with a minimum loss of altitude if you take advantage of all you can get.”
“I didn’t quite do what I wanted to do on that last vertical recovery,.” he added, “so we’ll try it again.”
“Rog,” said the Rock weakly. “I thought you were just a little rough on that one.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said the IP. “The airspeed didn’t get quite as low as I planned.” And he maneuvered the airplane so it was going straight up once again.
“Gad,” thought the Rock, “do I have to go through this again! If he gets any lower, we’re just flat going to turn into a pumpkin up there.”
“Now,” said the IP, chatting genially this time, “I’ll just let it go for a while down to about 110. I’m bringing the rudder in and I’ll hold zero G. See how nice it comes around. There, we’re coming through just fine. Did you get a chance to see the airspeed?”
“Boy, did I get a chance to see the airspeed!” said Coolstone. He hadn’t been looking at anything else. “Eighty five knots I saw,” said the Rock.
“Not bad,” said the IP, “we could get it down a little more if you really want to.”
“Oh no – no, that was fine, great maneuver,” said Coolstone quickly.
“Okay,” said the pilot, “let’s rejoin with the flight and land. You’ve got it.”
Coolstone took the bird. He was herding it with a great deal more authority than he had been during the first part of the mission. He found the flight and while the join – up was in progress, he reluctantly turned over control of the aircraft to the IP once again.
Back in the chocks, the Rock was sitting patiently, waiting for the pilot to write up minor squawks. He had to sit there because everyone said, don’t move, particularly up. It gets quite crowded – you and a slug from the parachute rattling around in one cockpit.
He thought about the flight. He was barely with the program, but he had one kill, anyhow. He had spent more time at zero G than he had in all of his previous 4,000 hours. He had seen everything from mach two to 85 knots on the gauges.
He had spent more time blacked out than he had since his 51 days, and he had thrown the bird around a bit himself, even though a cool calm analysis had gone out the window. He found himself straightening a little bit in the cockpit.
With lots of help he was disconnected. As he hit the ground with his 80 or 90 pounds of equipment, he turned and looked at the 6B for a moment. Later some said he snarled and looked 10 years younger. He walked briskly away to catch up with his pilot.
“What do you think?” said the IP. “That’s a pretty good bird, isn’t it?”
“I think it will take a couple of more flights before I can really complete my analysis,” said Coolstone, “but that is some airplane – that I can say for sure.”