Upon return from our journey to the summit of Mt Fuji, Paul and I RTB’d to the home-drome to discover that we were scheduled to fly a BFM hop together! Could life possibly be any better?
We decided to try to do some high-aspect BFM vs a ‘limited thrust’ bandit. Basically, we took turns being blue and red. I won the coin toss and got to play the blue fighter first.
After a quick but thorough briefing about the flight, we walked back to life support and went through the dress-up. The Sea of Japan is finally warm enough that we don’t require anti-exposure suits to survive if we had to take a swim, so we happily bypassed the cumbersome and awkward ‘Poopie Suit’ and went straight for our G-suits and survival vests. After chucking our harnesses over the vest and testing our masks for good comm and seals, we beat-feet for the ops desk, picking up our tapes on the way. At the desk, we copied our parking spot and tail numbers down (D-models with centerline tanks. . . what happened to our clean C-models?! Drat! So much for getting to a sustained 9.0 G today!). Top-3 gave us the scoop on weather (not too bad in the area, and IFR-Hachinohe, so we’d be able to use most of our gas to actually train instead of shoot instrument approaches at the field). After his spiel, we clambered up out of the squadron and after a brief drive thanks to the crew van, we arrived at our jets. We were across a bend in the taxiway from each other, so we individually pre-flighted our jets, cranked the motors, ran through the litany of systems checks, programmed the INS so they would remember where home was, and loaded up our simulated weapons. After a short taxi to the arming area and a brief delay while a ground crew gave our jets their last once-over glances, we finally got our takeoff clearance and blasted off to the airspace.
Upon arrival in the training area, we turned all of our avionics and weapons on, started up the tapes, pressed the G-suit test button one last time to make sure everything would work, and gave ourselves two warm-up hard turns. Paul called out that he was good to go, I parroted his call. Two Viper pilots were ready to practice the knife fight in the phone booth! We got oriented one last time, I flew out to 1.5 mile line abreast, we checked 45-degrees away from each other, and once we got to 3 miles separation, we called ‘Fight’s on!’
Next thing to do was to set up the first high-aspect pass, so we pointed our jets roughly at each other and flew past one another going a combined total of about 1,100 mph. I wanted to force a 2-circle fight, so I started a break turn toward him, hoping he’d do the same. I waited about a half-second too long, and as we passed, Paul turned the other direction. Great! a one-circle fight. I smacked the throttle back to IDLE and threw out the speed brakes to get the jet down to a better corner velocity in a huge hurry! In retrospect, I probably didn’t need the brakes, and I ended up taking an extra thousand pounds of gas to make an extra one-and-a-half circles through the sky to finally get to a gun WEZ. (Yes, taxpayers, I’m sorry, but my error cost me enough gas to drive your SUV for the next two months. Please buy a hybrid! I can guarantee you I’ll get the bad guy, but I can’t guarantee it will be done absolutely pristinely every time!). After my convincing and clearly permanent arrival at Paul’s six-o’clock (and not a few simulated gunshots that would have put a few holes in his jet), we decided ‘Desired Learning Objectives’ were met. We terminated that fight, dumped our noses low, accelerated back up to 350 knots (indicated), climbed back up to 18,000′, and reset with me as the ‘red’ fighter.
Most folks playing the role of a thrust limited bandit like to try to drive a one-circle fight. So as Paul and I passed again at 1,100 mph, I did a better job than previously and turned toward him early enough that he pretty much had to go two-circle with me (that, and you normally want to go two-circle against a thrust-limited bandit). Now most people seem to think this is a bad idea for the thrust-limited bandit, but I’ve found I’ve had some success with this tactic (probably because everyone else thinks it’s dumb, so no one expects me to do it). Usually it really is dumb, because Red Air usually pulls all the G’s they can and he ends up going 200 mph after the first circle while the blue fighter is up around 400 mph. There’s absolutely no way to recover from that if you turn across tails for the second circle, so you do have to transition to one-circle and hope the other guy doesn’t try to out-stack you (9 times out of 10 he does, and you lose). Me? I pull about 5 G’s on the first circle and keep about 350 mph on the jet after the first circle. Blue and red end up with no real visible advantage on each other (actually, the blue fighter should have about a 50+ -knot advantage, otherwise all he did was wore himself out turning a higher G, smaller radius circle). He probably has a few angles (his nose has turned 180-degrees while yours has only carved out 175-degrees), but many folks don’t quite see this at the first pass (the ones who do are usually the weapons school grads who have done so much BFM that they’ve seen everything, although this has worked against at least one patch-wearer). Typically, the blue fighter will try to go two-circle one more time because he’ll figure by the middle of the next circle he’ll have a huge advantage and will be able to transition to offense. Not so fast, amigo! I didn’t bleed off as much energy as you thought I did, and by the way, I still have a lot of altitude to work with. I will start taking the fight downhill and may or may not pull more G’s on the second circle; usually I both go downhill and ratchet up to 5.5-6 G on the second circle. The blue fighter can still definitely win this, but he’ll be easing up from 8 G down to 5 G, while all this time I’ve been pulling a nice, comfortable 5-6 G for the past 20 seconds. At the end of the second circle, where most blue fighters will start to see a noticeable winning trend, it won’t be apparent when I’m fighting my way, and this is where I’ve seen a couple folks give up. Paul actually figured out what I was doing at about this point and took the fight vertical, which was good, but I had just enough energy left to pull my jet directly underneath him and he lost sight of me and rolled the wrong direction. Net result – it would have taken him another 2,000 pounds of gas to get to an offensive position, and we wanted to try to knock out some 3K’ perch sets, so rather than spending the gas proving he could eventually get onto my tail, we terminated that fight and set up for our 3K’ gunnery practice.
After two sets of jinking and gunning, we re-learned that the centerline tank adds a lot of inertia to the jet and it won’t roll nearly as crisply as a clean jet, so jink early, jink often! By then we were bingo, so we safed everything up, turned the cameras off, and headed back to homeplate. We landed, taxiied back to our respective hardened aircraft shelters (HAS), shut down, signed the forms, got out, and met back in the squadron, smiling ear to ear.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Man, do I love my job!