Yesterday was my first flight in over a month. And whoa! what a flight! Actually, it was technically two sorties. It was probably the most physically challenging flight I’ve ever made.
I wasn’t originally going to get to fly at all this month. I’ll explain briefly:
The wing has two squadrons out of town for about six weeks, so the schedule was reduced to a pittance. We don’t have many maintainers here, so we’ve basically been flying four jets (and four pilots) twice per day but running the jets through the hot pits. Using the hot pits gets the jets gas without having to shut off the engine (or engines, if you happen to fly an aircraft with more than one of them). This saves the maintainers the trouble of doing through-flight inspections and getting the jets set up for a second go. The pilot can then get two "RAP counters" this way in just one day; that is to say you can get two training flights that count toward your monthly total (five in my case).
Last week we also got a call from the 909 ARS at Kadena asking if we wanted tanker support this week. Since we’re trying to fly off quite a few flying hours, we were only too happy to oblige! That, and we’re allowed by regulation to count two training sorties (maximum) when we hit the tanker.
Now, as I was saying, I wasn’t going to get to fly at all. As of the end of last week, I would have had to have taken one of the four aircraft for two days in order to "Make RAP." I wasn’t the only pilot in this situation, but some of the others that hadn’t made RAP were line pilots and needed to make RAP to be considered combat mission ready. As an attached pilot, I only need to maintain basic mission capability, so I am not ever really the top priority for flights. Since I would have taken up four sorties when I only needed three and some of the line guys really did need four, scheduling basically wrote me off as a loss. However, when it became clear that we could launch, train, hit a tanker, train; then land, hit the hot pits, take off, and train again, RAP for me became obtainable within that one day, and bingo! I was on the schedule again!
The weather yesterday was foggy, and the forecaster was calling it scattered from the surface to 100′, then overcast from 100′-7,000′. Odd, it didn’t look that bad on the drive in to work! Lt Col Z (yes, the same Lt Col Z that I flew with the last two times (both BFM hops)) briefed up the mission(s), and sure enough, by step time the actual weather was 500′ broken, with tops at about 2,000′. We walked away from the desk thinking we needed to carry enough fuel to divert to Yokota, which meant we’d have to either go straight to the tanker or get straight back to the field. Yokota is nearly an hour away and we were only carrying just under two hours worth of gas. Once we got ready to take off, the weather improved even more and the field went IFR Chitose, which was much closer and meant we could spend some gas training instead of looking for the tanker immediately. Off we went!
When we arrived in our designated airspace, we started with a heat-to-guns exercise, then three 3K sets, then a 6K, and then started looking for the tanker. I did okay considering that was the first aerial refueling (AAR) I’d done since late 2003! I’d like to say it’s like riding a bicycle, but it’s not exactly that simple. Still, I didn’t fall off the boom; the only trouble I had was the second hack (with a different KC-135) I wasn’t quite as stable as the first time and the boomer had to radio for me to back up about 2′ for him to fly the boom to my jet.
In between tanking sessions, we got about three 9K sets, or maybe it was four, or five. It was a lot more than we usually got to do, that was for certain! I was regularly hitting 7.8-8.0 Gs on the offense, and all I was doing was offense. By the time we did the last one, I was ready for a break! Luckily for me we were bingo, so we headed back to Misawa! We were on the ground within 15 minutes and began the trip to the pits.
Yesterday was also the first time I’d hit the hot pits since 2003, but since this only involves parking the jet after taxiing around for awhile, it’s not nearly as challenging. Not that AAR is particularly challenging, but it’s easier to get gas at 0 knots and 1 G than it is at 310 knots and 1 G (or 1.1 G if the tanker is in a turn). The trick to the hot pits was that I’d never been to the ones at Misawa, so although I’d read the procedure, I’d never actually done it; that’s often where funny stories about other people come from, when they’re doing something they’ve never done before. So I kept on guard a little more than usual. I also wolfed down a granola bar and most of the water I’d brought with me. After about 25 minutes on the ground, we were ready to launch again.
We only ended up being aloft for 40 minutes total for the second sortie, which meant we got about 25 minutes of training time. We did one more 9K, then two notch-to-high aspect sets. We finished off with a 6K defensive set, then we were both bingo again, so we safed up all our simulated switches and pointed towards homeplate.
At the end of the mission, as I was filling out the forms, I calculated our flight time as 2.4 hours. I think there were at least eight sets of 7+ G maneuvering and fighting. When I’m wearing all my flight gear, I probably weigh close to 190 pounds. At 7 G, that’s equivalent to 1,330 pounds (605 kg). If you’re interested in approximating the experience. . . well, you can’t. The best I can tell you to do is to go to Estes Park, Colorado and go for a 5 mile hike. Make sure to carry one extra person along with you for at least eight minutes while sprinting uphill (space out the sprints however you like). Yes, I said carry the other person. Oh! Hopefully you brought your favorite video game along with you. Make sure you’re playing that while you’re sprinting!
Say, did I mention that if you lose the game I’m training for, there is no reset button?
Man! Do I love my job!