"A RIDE IN THE F-100"

Category: "Air Force"
Les Gar Frazier on Jan. 15, 2021

Back in the mid-60s, I was an instructor pilot in the F-100 at Luke AFB. My job was to train young, inexperienced pilots how to fly and use the F-100 as a weapons platform. I also upgraded experienced F-100 pilots to be instructor pilots.

Those were busy times with the war in South East Asia. A reoccurring need for more and more fighter pilots to fill the nuke alert bases in Europe and Asia as well as the four conventional F-100 bases in Viet Nam: Bien Hoa, Tuy Hoa, Phan Rang and Phu Cat.

Still, from time to time, we were called on to fly some dignitary, media people or Air Force personnel who had won some sort of award or other. If we had to fly someone, we liked to fly our crew chiefs since they were the ones who kept the airplane flying. In fact, any crew chief riding in the airplane that he crewed considered the airplane his own and was always interested in how the pilot treated his beloved piece of machinery.

Usually, if we were to fly someone who was not a pilot and who had not been through the altitude [hyperbaric] chamber [to simulate the effects of high altitude on the human body] over at Williams AFB, we would take them on a formation ride and keep our altitude below 18,000 feet; an altitude where a passenger was unlikely to become hypoxic [suffer from lack of oxygen]. Formation rides were fairly smooth for the uninitiated and other than pitch-outs and rejoins, we didn’t maneuver the airplane in a manner to cause motion sickness.

Of course, motion sickness was a constant companion on these courtesy rides from the very start of any ride to the uninitiated. First, the ridee would be introduced to the instructor pilot who is going to take him. That meant the instructor pilot was going to have to fly the tandem seated F-100F,

Back in the mid-60s, I was an instructor pilot in the F-100 at Luke AFB. My job was to train young, inexperienced pilots how to fly and use the F-100 as a weapons platform. I also upgraded experienced F-100 pilots to be instructor pilots.

Those were busy times with the war in South East Asia. A reoccurring need for more and more fighter pilots to fill the nuke alert bases in Europe and Asia as well as the four conventional F-100 bases in Viet Nam: Bien Hoa, Tuy Hoa, Phan Rang and Phu Cat.

Still, from time to time, we were called on to fly some dignitary, media people or Air Force personnel who had won some sort of award or other. If we had to fly someone, we liked to fly our crew chiefs since they were the ones who kept the airplane flying. In fact, any crew chief riding in the airplane that he crewed considered the airplane his own and was always interested in how the pilot treated his beloved piece of machinery.

Usually, if we were to fly someone who was not a pilot and who had not been through the altitude [hyperbaric] chamber [to simulate the effects of high altitude on the human body] over at Williams AFB, we would take them on a formation ride and keep our altitude below 18,000 feet; an altitude where a passenger was unlikely to become hypoxic [suffer from lack of oxygen]. Formation rides were fairly smooth for the uninitiated and other than pitch-outs and rejoins, we didn’t maneuver the airplane in a manner to cause motion sickness.

Of course, motion sickness was a constant companion on these courtesy rides from the very start of any ride to the uninitiated. First, the ridee would be introduced to the instructor pilot who is going to take him. That meant the instructor pilot was going to have to fly the tandem seated F-100F,

[picture of F-100F to follow]

an airplane that instructors flew in all the time, usually in the back seat and most did not like having to fly it. This translated into a negative attitude towards the ridee. While some years ago, a Navy pilot was quoted as telling his ridee to eat bananas before the flight. “For the phosphorus?” Asked the ridee?

“No,” answered the cool navy pilot, “because they taste about the same going down as they do coming up.”

Dumb statement. If the ridee was going to get sick, then the crew chief would be the one who had to clean up the mess. Any proficient F-100 pilot can get a non-pilot passenger sick, it takes some finesse in not getting him sick – especially after the evil Personal Equipment [PE] Technicians were through equipping and briefing him. While personal equipment personnel took excellent care of their pilots, they were committed to scare the living daylights out of the uninitiated: “okay sir, you’ll be wearing this P-4B flight helmet. If you have it on and someone drops a three pound odd-shaped object on your head from a height of two stories, it will kill you.”

“The flying suit you’ll be wearing is called a K-2B. The pilots are wearing NOMEX suits that protect them from fire, but we don’t have any extras, so when the airplane catches on fire, get out or get away from it as quick as you can [note that he says “when,” not “if”].

“This g-suit will keep you conscious when you should black out. Be sure to grunt a lot when your pilot is pulling gs, the g-suit will inflate across your abdomen and on top of your thighs to help you stay conscious. A little grunting will be help to pre-prepare you as you taxi out.”

“These boots are called ‘jump boots’ for obvious reasons. Lace them up tight, so maybe you don’t break an ankle when you hit the ground.”

“This life-preserver is called an LPU. Mostly, you’ll be flying over desert, but the bright color of the inflated air bags seems to attracts water tanks, so you’ll probably land in one and need it – by pulling on these two tabs here – that never seem to work. However, you can manually inflate the device by blowing into these two tubes here. It will take about 15 minutes.”

“The parachute has two Capewell release fittings. You open one up and pull on the wire ring as you’re been dragged through the prickly pear cactus. That will collapse the chute and allow you to get up and away from any sidewinders you’ve been pulled though.”

The PE technician having briefed the white-faced ridee is taken over to the oxygen check device and the mask is fitted properly to the ridee’s face. Then the PE technician takes the Oxygen hose, sucks in a big breath of oxygen and blows it out though a cigarette he has in his mouth. The cigarette burns like a blowtorch. The technician says nothing as they go over to the practice ejection seat in the corner of the room.

“This is your seat. It has a rocket motor in it that is supposed to propel you above the level of the tail. To eject, just put your head back against the head rest, your feet back in the heel rests and pull up the yellow and black handles. That will blow off the canopy. Then reach down and pull the triggers that are exposed when the seat handles are pulled up.” The PE technician will demonstrate the technique a few times, then have the ridee sit in the seat and do it much to the disgust of the PE technician as the ridee can’t ever seem to get it right.

The PE technician will finish his briefing just before the IP gathers his students for a flight briefing and the ridee will sit in on that. Even if the ridee is a civilian pilot, there’s a good chance he knows nothing above formation, so as the IP explains to the students how and what they are going to do, the ridee has no idea what is going to happen. It doesn’t help if the students, knowing the ridee is not a pilot, make off-hand and suggestive certain death remarks.

After the briefing, the IP signs the flight out, they all go back to PE to get their personal equipment and take the bread wagon [the type of vehicle UPS uses] out to the airplane. The bread wagon driver, knowing he has a passenger, will try to drive by the F-100 harmonization range where the F-100’s four M-39 20mm cannons are harmonized for accuracy. To the uninitiated, if the harmo range personnel are firing off rounds to sight-in the guns, it will sound like a thunderous, earsplitting staccato. This procedure goes on 24 hours a day.
    On the flight line, things heat up tremendously with airplanes starting, taxing, taking off, the auxiliary power units blasting out heat and noise. Vehicles of all types waltzing around the parking area like a well-choreographed ballet and contributing to the heat and noise.
    When the passenger and IP step out of the bread wagon, next to their airplane, the crew chief will meet them and he will know instantly, from experience, that the passenger has never been in a jet fighter before. If the crew chief is an old hand who has been around for a while and probably has had rides in the jet himself, he will be considerate and helpful to the passenger, connecting his parachute to the seat cushion [that contains a life raft], and explaining once again about the ejection seat handles and seat safety pins.  He will also tell the passenger in a firm voice "don't touch ANYTHING unless your pilot tells you to."  If the crew chief is a young guy, who hasn't been around long, he will do the same thing that the PE guy did: try to scare the hell out of the passenger.
    The passenger will accompany the pilot and crew chief around the airplane as they inspect it, probably wondering why the pilot jumps up on the left horizontal stabilizer and peers very closely at the base of the rudder [he's checking to make sure the drag chute is properly installed] by making sure three small holes inside the rudder housing are lined up properly.
    Finally, the pilot will help seat the passenger, hook him up to the various straps, hoses and clips and help him put on and connect up his helmet.  Now, here’s the really scary part:
    When the pilot puts the helmet on the passenger, anyone with the least bit of claustrophobia will have it amplified when the heavy helmet is pushed onto his head. Even more amplification is experienced when the IP hooks up and tightens the oxygen mask [the ear phones are in the helmet and the microphone is in the mask] by cinching it across his face.

“Oh yeah,” says the IP, “don’t pay any attention to that crap the PE technician was telling you. Just put your hands in your lap and enjoy the ride.”  

The pilot will get into the front seat and check to make sure the passenger can transmit and receive, then he will hook himself to the airplane and point a circling finger at the crew chief. This is the signal to supply electricity and air to the airplane from a yellow machine called an APU [auxiliary power unit]. To the passenger, it is a loud, overwhelming noise coupled with all his cockpit instruments springing alive by dancing, blinking, vibrating and lighting up.

The IP will announce “RPM’s off the peg, coming around the horn, TPT coming up, we have a good light-off.” What the IP is telling the passenger is that the engine is starting to rotate by having air from the APU unit blown across the compressor blades and spinning them; supplying ignition by initial movement of the throttle and fuel with the first forward movement of the throttle and “TPT” is tail pipe temperature rising as the jet fuel lights off and the RPM settles in at about 60% which is idle RPM and means that the engine started normally.

At this point the IP will lower the canopy about one-half way down to makes sure it works and won’t jump off the tracks. For the passenger, even though the canopy is clear Plexi-glass, this is like lowering the lid of a coffin on him. If all the briefings, noise, heat and restrictions haven’t frightened the passenger into unstrapping and running, this is where he will lose his lunch – and they haven’t moved an inch out of the parking area.

The IP will go through several system checks with the crew chief and if he can see the other flight members, he can tell if they are ready to taxi. When they are, the IP will call for a check in by transmitting his call sign: “Delco check.”

The Flight members will respond with “Delco toop [toop means two].

“Three”

“Four”

IP: “Delco flight, let’s go channel two and taxi.”

“Delco toop.”

“Three”

“Four.”

On channel two, the IP will again check the flight in and call tower’s ground control for taxi instructions. Once taxi instructions are received, the IP will taxi out toward the take-off runway. He will lead the parade, keeping a close eye on his students in his rearview mirror while keeping a running commentary to the passenger about what he is doing.

Every pilot on the flight line will watch the parade and silently critique it. If a student happens to thumb down his speed brake, a large panel on the bottom of the fuselage, every pilot on the same radio frequency will press his mike button and whisper “speed brakes.” Every pilot in an airplane that hears the whisper will check his speed brakes to make sure they are positioned properly. If one of the IP’s students did accidently lower his speed brake and was caught by other pilots, the student will catch hell in the flight debriefing.

The F-100D has flaps and the flaps have a takeoff position, about half way down, that are selected prior to moving out of the chocks.

On the runway with the flight lined up in pre-briefed positions, the IP will rotate his left index finger to run up and check out the airplanes. All the airplanes will squat down on their nose wheels at full power [minus afterburner] and tremble significantly. The IP will wait for a head nod from his number two man, meaning that number 2 has checked the other two and the entire flight is ready to go. When he receives it, the IP will bring his head back, then down and release brakes; he will again raise his head and bring it down, signaling his number two man that they are going to engage afterburners. The airplanes will decelerate momentarily and then snap forward like a punch to the spine as the afterburner lights off.

The passenger, who is concentrating on keeping his lunch, glances out the side of the airplane and is surprised to see another F-100 so close he can practically reach out and touch it; then he remembers that he is on a formation flight. He is intrigued to watch as the airplanes become airborne and with a casual backward snap of the IP’s head, the landing gears fold neatly into their fuselages; another snap and the flaps come up.

At 300 KIAS [knots, indicated air speed], the IP signals number 2 to come out of afterburner by showing him a fist, bending it back and forth followed by a head nod, which causes the passenger to unexpectedly pitch forward with a slump, and the IP pulls off some power to maintain a pre-briefed 300 knots. He rolls into a 30º bank turn and watches numbers 3 & 4, called an element, climb up his wing line and join in close formation; close formation means 3 feet between wing tips. This join up can get pretty dicey if the number 3 man isn’t glancing at his air speed indicator as he has been briefed.

Let us say, at this point, that number 3 drives his and his wingman’s airplanes into the proper close formation in a smooth and aggressive manner, because if he overshoots his leader, the explanation of what comes next goes well beyond the scope of this narrative about taking passengers for rides. In the F-100, to fly proper close formation, the wingmen will place the wing tip light on the USAF star on the fuselage of his leader’s fighter, splitting leader’s wing so as to see as much of the top as the bottom of the wing. Holding this position will give the wingman about three feet of wing tip clearance. Unlike aerial demonstration teams, over lapping wings is not done.

The flight will climb out to the west of Luke AFB and to keep the passenger’s mind off his stomach, the IP will have him check out the white-washed rocks against the base of the Sierra Estrella mountains that spell out IMPEACH EARL WARREN and then the large word CATERPILLAR carved out on the desert floor to the southwest of Luke. As they cross the White Tank mountains, the IP will point out the bulldozed areas where land developers are already selling lots - but cannot see what we can see and that is the dry river beds running through the middle of some of the lots. It doesn’t rain much around Phoenix, AZ, but when it does, people could die in flash floods and that is what will probably happen over there behind the White Tanks.

The passenger keeps his head on a swivel as the IP has his students practice cross-overs. Cross-overs are moving the airplane from one side of the leader to the other, i.e., for the approach to landing, all the airplane have to be on one side of the leader; this is called an “echelon” and allows the leader of a flight to make the sharp turn or “pitch-out” or “break” that fighters use to get airplanes on the ground in a hurry. The IP signals a cross-over by quickly banging down a wing in the direction of the cross-over. If number two crosses, number two will reduce power, slide down and to the rear, check to see that he has nose-tail clearance on lead and that three and four have moved it out so that he can slide up and into position off the IP’s wing. He will halt his rearward movement by adding power and dipping a wing to slide to the other side of his leader. Rechecking three and four’s position, he will ease up and unto the wing of his IP. Three will ease back in and fly off number two’s wing. The IP has dictated that three distinct movement will be used in crossing over. No attempting to move to the other side without settling into each position before moving to the next. If he wants three and four to cross, the IP will bang a wing down on two’s side. Three, who is flying off leader, will do the exact same thing that number two did except he will consider that number four is flying off his wing. Once three has his element down and clear of lead and two’s jet wash, he will stabilize and then move his element to the other side, stabilize and then move up and onto two’s wing.

If one remembers the John Wayne/Janet Leigh movie, Jet Pilot, cross-overs were performed by rolling over the top of the leader. A beautiful maneuver when performed properly, but not appropriate for students on their first formation rides, but Janet Leigh looked pretty keen as she rolled over the top of John Wayne. Well, actually Janet Leigh didn’t do the rolls, it was an old friend of mine, Bob Borden [RIP].

Once, the flight is up to fifteen or sixteen thousand feet, the IP will begin making turns into and away from the element; gradually increasing the pitch and the bank until the flight is making near-vertical climbs and dives. The IP keeps his passenger busy looking for the crumbling foundation of the prison where we kept Americans of Japanese ancestry during War 2. He will also point out Lake Havasu City, AZ where they are in the process of rebuilding London bridge after having it shipped, stone by stone, from London, England. Flying close formation is hard work. The pilot uses both hands and both feet to maintain position. In the F-100, most pilots would rest their right arm on their right thigh and fly using only their fingers and wrist. Using the entire arm, all forces are transmitted through the fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. It’s best to take as many of these joints out of the action as possible for a smoother ride.

 

Finally, it comes time for pitch-outs and rejoins. The IP will put the flight in echelon and hold up his hand and twirl his finger and hold up all five fingers. This signal means that the IP will bank sharply away from his flight and each member will wait five seconds and follow the leader. Once everyone has pitched out, they will rejoin with the leader who will roll into a 30 degree bank and hold a pre-briefed airspeed. Pitch outs and rejoins are necessary as pitchouts are used to obtain separation for bombing targets and the rejoins are how the flights gets back together after bombing a target. The pitch out portion is used when the flight lands and later, on the bombing range, both the pitch out and the rejoin will be used.

The IP will ask the passenger to help him keep an eye on his flight as they come aboard. Ordinarily, the flight should join with number 2 being first to rejoin, number 3 to be second and 4 the last. But, young fighter pilots, strutting their stuff, will try to be first. This can result in airplanes all over the sky, at various airspeeds, all pointing at the IP’s airplane. The IP will have his passenger help him keep track of where and how fast the airplanes are going. They are so busy, the passenger’s last thought is to get sick.

After four or five pitch outs and rejoins, the IP will call for a fuel check and head back to Luke for landing. He will porpoise the airplane, the signal to go “in-trail” - or one behind the other with nose/tail clearance. He will ask the passenger if he is up to rolling the airplane and if he says that he is, and if the IP thinks his students are aggressive enough, he will perform a big barrel roll [like rolling around the inside of a barrel]. He’ll look behind him to see if anyone has fallen out of formation and if not, he may do two or three more barrel rolls en route to Luke.

Approaching Luke and being careful not to fly over Sun City because some residents can really get bitchy about the noise, the IP will put his flight into echelon again. He will do this as far away from the base as possible, because once again, he knows that every living soul on the base, Sun City, Glendale and the people on the roads between the towns will be watching his flight and critiquing it; he wants his flight to have plenty of time to settle down and look good. As the flight approaches the runway, at 1,500 feet above it and at 300 KIAS, the IP will once again twirl his finger and hold up five fingers for a five second interval in what is called “the break.” If the winds are calm, the IP will hold up five then two fingers indicating to take 7 seconds in the break. This will allow some of jet wash to dissipate for the flight.

In the break, the IP will bank sharply away from the flight, turn 180 degrees, slowing to 220 KIAS and put the gear and flaps down on what was called the “downwind leg;” he will then make another 180 degree turn descending and slowing his airspeed to 165 KIAS, aiming at the runway. The IP will make his pattern as quick as possible because the students will tend extend their downwind leg until they are turning base over Sun City. The IP will land on the downwind side of the runway so that number 2 does not have to fight the flight leader’s jet wash and if his drag chute doesn’t work, he has clear runway ahead to get the airplane stopped. After the leader’s drag chute is pulled, his airplane will slow quickly and the IP will open the canopy and tell his passenger to disconnect one side of his oxygen mask to get some much needed fresh air.

[Luke also trained Germans in F-104s at Luke. On the downwind leg, the F-104 made a horrible screeching noise like running one’s finger nails across a black board - but 1,000 times louder. Knowing this, the F-104 pilots would always jazz their engines on the downwind leg].

Pulling off the runway, the leader will jettison his drag chute and wait for the rest of the flight to clear the runway before parading back to their parking places. In the chocks, as the IP is shutting down the airplane, the crew chief will place a ladder on the airplane and go up to make sure the ejection seat pins are placed in properly before helping the passenger unstrap. Once unstrapped, the crew chief will help the passenger to the ground and hold on to him to make sure he doesn’t topple over. No matter how much the passenger enjoyed the ride, it has bled the strength from all of his limbs.

The bread truck is waiting and the IP and passenger get in and light up cigarettes. The driver picks up the other three wingmen and things within the truck become quite raucous. The passenger finally realizing he is safely on the ground takes part in the students review of the mission, from start engines to shut down. One would think the passenger was flying one of the airplanes in the way he points out the foibles of the others. The others, in turn, tease the passenger about getting sick. “Hey,” says the passenger, “do you see any barf on my flying suit?” This give and take continues well past the debriefing as the flight members, including the passenger, head out for lunch.

 

 

 

 


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