Today’s missions were 2 x air combat maneuvering (ACM) with Lt Col Z once again.  Col M and Crutch were to be our formidable Red Air adversaries.  Lt Col Z and I would CAP in the center of the airspace and have the bandits go to either side, and we’d simply fly back and forth intercepting them until we all ran out of gas. 

     The most difficult thing about today’s flights was the mass briefing at oh-dark-fifteen.  I don’t usually drink more than one cup of coffee when I do pit-and-go missions (I hate having to try to either choose between keeping the end-state of the fluid in either the bladder or the bag).  Waking up can be hard to do (to twist a phrase from a Chicago song).  It’s even tougher with less than one cup o’ Java.

     We flew off of the runway we haven’t been using for the past three months, so today we had to spend a little extra time reminding ourselves what the pattern procedures were for the westbound runway.  That and there were thunderstorms aplenty to dodge today.  It made for several disparate problems–plenty of static on the radios, at least one lightning strike, a sporty TACAN approach with limited visibility, and poor braking action on the runway.  On the other hand, these problems made the administrative phases of flight worth mentioning!

     While the comings and goings were a little unusual, the aerial sparring was pretty routine.  Maybe routine is a bad word for it, since I haven’t flown ACM in a year.  In any case, it’s a little like riding a bicycle, the muscle memorization for the piccolo drill with HOTAS takes a few sets, but comes back. 

     We were also flying with the two wing tanks previously mentioned, so while we had plenty of gas and got a lot done, we were a bit limited on our turn rates, and the extra tanks caused us to bleed off energy ‘like you read about.’ That said, I can’t remember how many intercepts we got. 

     I remember three of the intercepts ended up in turning engagements where either Lt Col Z or I would be essentially doing BFM against one of the bandits while the other maneuvered to get into a position to fire (without hitting each other or the bandit).  These fights went fairly well.  The bandits did a superb job, aided by the solid undercast that highlit us everywhere we could go (‘Bugs on rugs,’ as the saying goes).  They even got a surprise assist from another flight just outside the airspace (that one turned out well for them, which is to say badly for us).  Several times we decided we’d be ‘Heaters only,’ which is to say we were to use AIM-9M Sidewinders or our gun, but no AIM-120s.  That meant that no matter how well our IFF interrogators were working, we couldn’t take max-range shots to simplify the intercepts. 

     At the end of the day, both Lt Col Z and I were pretty happy with the sortie.  After 2.6 hours of banking and blasting, Gs and G-sles*, we were tired, thirsty, and had to get back to the desks that our additional duties demanded.   The difference between going to the office first thing in the morning and going after a great flight is a startling amount of positive motivation!

* G-sles:  Rhymes with measles, and is a very similar condition.  While measles weakens the capillaries so that they burst near the skin’s surface and causes little red splotches, pulling 7+ Gs in a fighter jet can cause capillaries to burst in a similar manner.  We get used to Gs pretty fast, but after we’ve had a layoff and haven’t pulled 7+ in awhile, we’re more susceptible again.  This condition is harmless. 

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