Monday, August 31, 2015

Getting the Tomcat, Fair and Balanced Part II, Baby

Okay. So after my last entry, I found myself feeling something peculiar. It was intense love and awe, but it was blanketed over with hate, spite and contempt. And it was aimed at the F-14 Tomcat.

After all, the F-14 Tomcat, as I've noted way, way back in my blog, was my first combat aviation love. As a three-year-old no less.

And I regularly "Like" and comment on photos in the Facebook F-14 Tomcat Lovers page.

So why the deep hatred?

Well, I'm a guy, which means I know what I feel, but don't really care why I feel it. So it took me a bit to dig into my emotional circuitry and try and figure this out.

And yes, I did finish Osprey's Iranian F-14s in Combat. And I recommend you buy it.

What a read.

I was in awe of what the Iranian Imperial Air Force (IRIAF) claims to have accomplished with these jets. I mean, if only half of what they claim is true, still "Wow."

So I got my other F-14 books out: F-14 Tomcat: Bye-Bye BabyHow to Fly and Fight in the F-14 Tomcat, The Cutting Edge (which is a real steal now), Aero's Grumman F-14 (another steal on Amazon)... hours of old VHS tapes and so on. Still, "What an incredible jet!" And still, Hate.

I figured I'm have some great change of heart. An epiphany, if you will. All the excitement and awesomeness of the F-14 Tomcat blasting away my negative waves and my love for the bird would rise- like a Phoenix (pun intended). But that didn't happen.

I just felt more pissed than I did before. But I finally realized why.

We should NOT be protected by the F-15 Eagle and the F-18 Super Hornet.

We should be protected by the F-15 Eagle, and the F-14 Tomcat.

Don't get me wrong- the Super hornet is a great strike platform. If you don't mind hauling your carrier group within ASM range of the enemy's coastline. And if you don't mind that the enemy's strike force can now get 200% closer to you. And if you don't mind this compromise and that compromise.

But the F-14 Tomcat had a few advantages. Namely: Range, speed, payload, avionics, performance, I mean the list goes on. Did you notice that? Yes, that's all teh qualities of a fighter plane. And it outclasses the F-18E/F in every way.

Why the hell is the Navy flying the Superbug? Why wasn't the F-14 chosen, that new Strike 21 F-14E upgrade? Grumman HAD all the machinery for it. Ready to go! Just a nip and tuck. Brand new F-14Es were still cheaper than the deelopment of the F-18E/F. Not like the size-increasing, range decreasing, costly upgrade for the F-18.

Oh yeah, a Senator was bribed by Boeing Sales reps. I remember Aviation Week & Space Technology did a big story on it back in the 90s. But no one cared.

I hate the F-14, because after all it could do, it was murdered in cold blood by our government. Our CVGs are more vulnerable- and not by a little, by a lot- because of government corruption. It just plain pisses me off.

And great plane that it was- possibly, the best plane ever- I can't get past that is gone.

Yeah, I know. Pretty lame, huh?

Well, don't let me leave you as brokenhearted as I feel... watch a few YouTube videos of the Amazing F-14 Tomcat. And be sure to post in the comments below.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Getting the F-14 Tomcat, Fair and Balanced, Part I, Baby

OK, so I came down pretty hard on the F-14.

To make up for it, I have started reading Iranian F-14 Tomcats in Combat by Osprey Press. When I finish it, I will post both a book review and a new F-14 review.

`Cuz I know I came down kinda hard on you guys.


Got Feedback?

OK, a quick note. If you have feedback, as a few of you have, why are you e-mailing me? Type your responses below. Pro or against? Dead wrong or on the spot right? Just say it here! The conversation gets livelier, and things might even get learned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tomcat Rules... as in, My Ruling on the Tomcat

Hello, feedback! Whew!

So, I got a little backlash and a little, "Never coming back to your blog again."

Welcome back, first of all.

So, a number of you were, how should I say, 'put out' when I threw in a snippet about how I thought the F-14D Tomcat was a superior air dominance platform than the F-15C Eagle.

Well, I blogged about this wayyyyy back. And if you care to go back and read it, you'll see that despite that, the F-15 is actually the better IN THAT IS ACTUALLY HAS FOUGHT FOR AND PAID FOR THE TITLE BEST FIGHTER IN THE WORLD.

Four nations have bought/manufactured/used the F-15A/C Eagle- Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. None of them have lost a single jet in aerial combat. All but (officially) one has used them to effect in aerial combat and DOMINATED.

Compare this to the F-14A/B/D.... USA and Iran have used it. The US Navy used it very well, when anyone got close enough to fight it. A few times. Four? Five official kills in USN service? And Iran, DAMMIT people, you lost some in the war with... Iraq. Really?

Look, I always get flack for this, but facts are facts. And opinions are facts colored in with my favorite crayon color of the moment. Hence, it doesn't matter that the F-14 Tomcat may look better on paper. In the real world, it didn't. Matter of fact, add some Crayola to the F-14 in opinion, and use the "flame orange" and "burning yellow". because depending on the source, anywhere from two to 16 Tomcats have been lost in air-to-air combat. Yes, all Iranian.

I hear USN pilots calling "foul." And I get it. It was your magnificent bird. The Iranian were the red-headed step children who just cried loud until they got some, only to lose or break them. And the US Navy had some of the best fighter sticks in the WORLD. But she turkeyed out. She lost. At least two times. But two times against zero doesn't stack up.

Israel has had the F-15. And it's never lost. Oh, it's gotten peppered good a few times. 23 mm from a MiG-21. Another, Atoll up the engine- BOOM! And more, I'm sure. But each of those Eagles was flown back home, streaming precious Eagle fluids, landed, was repaired, and RETURNED TO THE FIGHT. EVERY Israeli F-15 is accounted for. As with the USAF, the IDF/AF (still called that? Not sure) has publicly accounted for every fighter, some have been damaged and forced to retreat, but then returned to fight another day.

Even Saudi Arabia, for whom flying the Eagle is a princely opportunity, and not an assignment earned by the best of their best (as in the USAF), has used the Eagle in combat, and never lost one in air-to-air combat. And except for a few pilots, the Saudi Air Force is widely regarded (because of above status statement) as lackluster (again, except for a few very skilled pilots). They've shot down enemy fighters with them, so yeah, they've been in the thick of it.

Against whom? Iraq. And, <ahem> Iran.

Final reason the F-15 is the best fighter in the world, in the real world? I can refer to it in the present tense. I can drive a half hour to a few hours and see them flying with my eyes. The Tomcat, very, very sad though it is, can only be referred to in the past tense.

Unless you talk about Iranian F-14s. Flown by Iran. Who have lost some.

And even then, that will only last until ours, or somebody else's, F-15s go up against them.

Then those F-14s be past tense, too.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sentry Eagle 2015- Special Report

Just as I thought I had done almost everything Oregon National Guard F-15 I could, I finally... FINALLY... made it down to the Klamath Falls/Kingsley Field Sentry Eagle 2015 Open House.

Understand, this isn't something I just happened across, or just found out about. I've been trying to get down South to this semi-annual event for the better part of a decade! And it has been superlatively frustrating the incredible bad luck I've run into attempting to do so. But I finally got the trip planned, and the 4.5+ hour drive from Portland OR to the site, and I was not disappointed.

Klamath Falls lies well out off the beaten path in Oregon. The actual base, Kingsley Field is named after a heroic army aviator of World War II who saved the entire crew of his stricken B-17 (?) by parachuting them all out of the falling aircraft, then perishing before he could escape himself. It's called 'No greater love', bro.

The base itself is the USAF's sole training ground for F-15 Eagle pilots. Sole as in Tyndall now services F-22 Raptors, another awesome air dominance fighter you may have heard of. But I digress...

To begin with, it is my pleasure to point out the extreme professionalism and kindness I found in every individual I spoke with. Gone are the days when proud, haughty pilots or guards would refuse to address you, or speak in clipped "go away" sentences of the 90's. Everyone, from the pilots and crew chiefs to the medics and doctors, Airman to Colonel, everyone was kind, accommodating and professional.

The whole point of the on-base event was the graduation exercise of the F-15C students, as Kingsley Field is now the sole training ground for F-15 pilots of the USAF and ANG units. You can read more about this in the links below, and I encourage you to do so!

Visiting the base was a variety of other aircraft form other bases to provide Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training (DACT) so the students would learn that not every potential enemy's air force flies F-15s, and how to counter different maneuvers and flight models. Visiting units brought F-16Cs (block 50 AND 52s with the bigger GE engines) from Arizona, Texas and South Carolina, and Super Hornets from Lemoore down South (%@#!- I know I'm missing someone). Oh, and let's not forget the Eagles from the California ANG. I know they train extensively up here, and they might have been supplying jets for students as well, having overcome the pilot shortage the unit suffered back when Montana moved  their jets down to the then-F-16 CANG at Fresno. Or, they just might have been here to kick some Viper and `Bug @$$.

Before I go any further, I want to point out: I spoke with a LOT of pilots and crew chiefs. Amd guards. And doctors, etc. I regret that I didn't write down all their names, ranks, etc. Plus, some would talk, talk, talk and then, "Oh, crap I have controller duty- I gotta go. Enjoy the show and Thanks for your support!" Maybe they were busy, or maybe I was nerding out on them. Point being, I didn't get as many names as I should have. But I got a couple, as you'll see, but it doesn't reflect all the brave souls I reached out to and connected with.

At the opening to the base, besides the aggressive but fun recruiting tents and activities, the non-fighter units were represented. I spoke briefly with Sergeant Copeland from the 173rd Communications Squadron who quickly had me wishing I was 20 years younger so I could join up and learn how to set up radio equipment in a combat zone. He was, again, professional, patient, and cool as a jewel. Conversing with him and the other airmen was a joy.

 The 173rd Security Forces was also deployed en masse, and my kids, eager to see what MOH and COD were showing them, quickly picked up a weapon and got a shot of reality about how heavy they really are. But my 9-year-old still managed to look very tough. My older sons were more interested in the bigger weapons. I, however, finally went for the biggest boom they had to offer.

Good trigger and muzzle discipline, boys. Didn't have to remind `em once.

When I first walked into the aircraft static display line, of course, there were lines to the F-15Cs they had on display. Both the Wing Commander's bird and their former Nellis/Adversary bird were right there, but there was no getting to them. But that's alright, as I've seen enough Eagle pits and even sat in a couple recently, so I could deal with that just fine.

Young American Day at the 142nd ANG Base 2009

I got a couple good shots though.

Then there was... a pink MiG-21UB. Pink. MiG. Had the Pink Panther on its tail. You bought a MiG.. .and painted it pink. It may make me a snob, but you're a goof ball. Here it is:

Next, there was a bright silver T-33 (?). What a beautiful jet. I have no idea why I walked past it. Seriously, it just didn't stick. Mystery. I would have loved to talk to the owner/pilot. But I didn't. And I have no idea why. Eagle overload? Yeah, that's it- Eagle overload. Stickin' to that.

<to be uploaded at a later date>

Next in line was a Shaw F-16 with that new silver/gray stealth paint. Or so I'd heard, unconfirmed. Aviation rags were calling it the same coating used on the F-35. So I stopped to ask, after snapping a pic:

Both a pilot and a crew chief confirmed that it was, in fact, a stealthy coating that significantly reduced its RCS. He went on to say that the F-16 had been selected for it since it already had a significantly stealthy design- forward wing angles, hidden engine face, etc. So it got the coating. Not all F-16s had it yet, but they would soon, at least that was the plan. He called Vipers with the old two-tone gray "old school" paint jobs.

The conversation then turned to the AIM-9Xs hanging off the outer/underwing pylons. He jumped way ahead of me, and just declared, "It's spooky to use the HSI to lock a -9X onto something behind me, a target drone, hit the button, and watch it loop up above and go behind me.  You're used to missiles going out in front of you. But this thing goes up, turns TIGHT, and goes behind you. Is it going to hit me? But no, it goes back and hits the drone I targeted a couple thousand yards behind me. It's amazing, but it's still spooky. I don't like it."

But, it works, and that makes it very cool.

HSI and "Off Platform" sources of data to target bad guys. Does the F-16 have new ECM systems to target something behind the jet?

"Nope, same as installed in all the -Cs back in the 80s. But, now we network more. And better. We go up there and it's not just my two-ship or my four-ship. There are all sorts of off-platform sensors we're tapping into to tell us who's where, and who they are. " "J-Stars, AWACS? "Oh, yeah, those and a bunch more I can't even talk about. But there are lots of other platforms that, under the right conditions, can even give me data constrained tight enough to put a missile in their schnoz if they're behind me and my on-board sensors aren't even getting a whiff of `em."

Wow. That was as cool as it was spooky. I spend a little more time with the pilot and a couple crew chiefs and their hoo-ah join the Air Guard run, and it's time to move on...

To my favorite jet in the Air Force... the F-15C Eagle.

Now don't get me wrong. I have/had another favorite. And as I blogged last year or so, I believe the F-14D, had it survived the political and funding battles, would be a slightly, barely measurably superior air dominance platform than the F-15. But it didn't. And I know that professionally it's petty, but that stained it for me. That and its lackluster (compared to the Eagle's 104:0) performance in the hands of the Iranians. Rest in peace, baby. You'll always be my first supersonic fighter love.

But the F-15 Eagle, there's my favorite jet going on about 4 decades now, ever since my older brother told me about the Israeli Air Force's record with them. And in the following paragraphs, you'll see even more.

I managed to talk to a few F-15 pilots. Yes, I swooned. And I always will. Go ahead. Judge me.

A lotta jet noise and a little walking around, I ran into "Axe." Axe was awesome. Even though he was going somewhere with things to do, he took a ton of time to listen to this Eagle fanboi riddle him with questions. He was also cool, professional and informative.

I joked with Axe about the first Eagle pilots I ever talked to at an airshow would not even respond to me, and were somewhat rude (as long term followers of this blog will already know). You know, at a recruiting event and all. He suggested they might have been fresh Eagle babies who had just graduated Tyndall and didn't quite yet know how to handle the tremendous weight upon their shoulders. It's hard to come out humble from the initial F-15 course, he said, even though they try to really ingrain humility for the opportunity into you.

This reminded me of when I met Colonel Jeffrey "Claw" Hwang, mighty, mighty Double Fulcrum Killer. As I praised the man as being one of my top 5 heroes, he actually said, "Thank you very much, but you're making it hard for me to be humble." That's a verbatim.

Myself and the good Colonel, a couple months before his retirement.

I asked Axe what he thought of, in 50 years, an all USAF force of F-22s and F-35s. He surprised me, when he explained a visiting General had just briefed them, among other things, that they should expect the F-15Cs they were currently flying to still be our front force fighters past the F-22s retirement. Not that we were off that badly budget-wise, but the F-15Cs were turning out to be incredibly robust, and serious funds were being allocated to update their avionics, sensors, etc. The F-22 is an awesome jet, but its job is turning out to be very specialized. The F-15 has proven itself a more versatile air dominance force, and will be in use for decades yet to come. 

I mentioned to him how I'd read and heard from other Guard pilots that the v3 radars on the F-15Cs can track and guide ordnance onto F-22s at range. He confirmed that, but politely declined elaborating more on it.

He did, however, mention that the F-15 community (like the F-16 community mentioned above) was going to get more networking soft- and hardware. All combined, Eagle pilots would become an even more destructive to enemy forces.

I asked Axe- hypothetically, as in if someone was looking to write a propaganda book about the 114th in a wartime footing, what would the USAF/ANG do if China parked a carrier off the Pacific coast?

He assured me that there isn't anyone in the World who currently has that capability. The extensive string of islands and friendly ports simply doesn't exist. BUT, he responded, as I pressed, if someone did park an aggressive carrier force off our coast, the 123rd Fighter Squadron would be moved down south to Klamath Falls, as well as a variety of other undisclosed FOBs so they could move to their wartime footing without being interfered with by civilian traffic, as well as concealing friendly force movements more from a more public eye.

I then went on to ask about the mini-series "American Fighter Pilot" which followed a group of Eagle babies through flight school at Tyndall. I explained that yes, I understood it was aimed at an MTV-mentality audience, but what specifically, are F-15 Eagle babies taught (i.e. specific maneuvers to defeat a MiG-29 500 yards behind you)?

Axe's chest puffed out a bit as he kind of fell into instructor mode. The course to become an Eagle pilot is far more stressful than other fighter courses, he pointed out. It's not just avionics and stick-and-rudder, but cultural (this is a definite referral to a pilot from the AFP series "Merkin" who insisted, to the dismay of his instructors, on dying his hair and keeping it longer than base leadership preferred). It had been found necessary long ago that to blend in with the best pilots, you had to master the culture as well. An instinctively awesome pilot who could not blend in at the bar would not make the 114th's cut. Sorry, Maverick.

He then went on to explain that  yes, specific moves are drilled into the students' minds, feet and hands until they can perform them automatically. And that unlike other fighter types' schools, F-15 graduate students know how to outmaneuver any and every other fighter, no matter what the long curved lines on paper show.With the their powerful mount, the excellence in training, the powerful culture emphasis, and narrower roles of an air dominance fighter, Eagle pilots being assigned to their first squadron would be better at air combat technique than graduating pilots of any other fighter type. And exercises like Sentry Eagle were the proof of that.

To wrap it up, he outlined all the places he'd deployed to in F-15 Eagles to shut up the saber rattling, and it covered every continent and every adversarial nation you've ever heard about in the news. It was an amazing account of the behind-the-scenes World affairs. I'm sad to admit at one moment my mind wandered as he described his adventures. I envisioned Bobble-head, perfect make-up news  anchors arguing like spoiled children about world affairs, as serious professionals like Axe, Psycho and Viking were out flying their 30 year old, Mach 2 steeds on a potential enemy's porch step.

Yes, these guys get around. They're confident, they're skilled, and I wished myself 30 years younger to try joining again, but this time avoid the hospital visit that kept me forever a civilian.

Right about then my family began passing out on the tarmac from the heat. Actually, I think my wife did. It was about 104 deg, you know.

So back to the mass take off. I snapped photos left and right, but with the Sun to my back and tall people in front, I had to hold the camera up high and a disappointing number of shots came out blurry. I did get lots of photos of the California ANG jets, including their aggressor jet, and my favorite 114th Eagle, the Shark Mouth Eagle, up close.

No, I don't bother taking pics of jets taking off on first visits. Maybe in two years, when the next big Sentry Eagle takes place, I'll have a better camera and get some take off footage.

My new favorite jet, the Shark Mouthed F-15... I've wanted to see this baby in action for sooooo long!

I also finally got to see the NO SLACK hangar. Who's that up on top I wonder?

It was heart-breaking at one point when one of the Viper pilot's jet broke down and he had to dismount. When the pilot got out, he walked "briskly" to the airmen surrounding his jet and was obviously upset. Not at them, but that he wasn't flying in the big last day exercise. The airmen calmed him down (got him off their back) and the guy walked around kicking at the ground. Finally a couple other airmen walked over and engaged him in soothing banter, and finally the pilot disappeared. A short while, the engine was being removed from his jet. Man, that musta sucked bad. 

And finally, if you're tall and sneak up to the front of a roped off crowd, and even joke about how people behind you can't see now, expect your pic to show up on the web:

The fighters taxied right past me and my crowd and it was awesome. The Vipers went first, The sleek, little fighters did some great take-offs, and some fun-looking roll-outs at the top as I watched with my Nikon Aculon 10x42/6deg binoculars. While the takeoffs were great, there was another airshow happening the human eye couldn't see a few thousand feet up!

Of course, the Super Hornets, who taxied after the F-16s, tried to show off their short little takeoff runs.

To which the 114th responded with their F-15D (you know, the family wagon version of the F-15C) which rolled short, yanked up and performed an exact duplicate climb to altitude that the F-18Es had done. IN YO FACE NAVEE!

Disappointments? I'd hope to meet the Instructor "Psycho." But it was to be expected that he'd be off busy somewhere. Also, Master Sergeant Shirar and Colonel Balakas, with whom I'd had previous dealings were as elusive as they were busy. But oh well, that's the nature of the beast, right? Right. Pros like those are the kind that keep events like this moving smoothly.

In conclusion, it was amazing! From the Pappy Boyington landing patterns, to the jet noise (I was hearing the Ocean for 3 days after) to friendly, professional citizen soldiers, to watching my sons kick butt on the recruiters' health challenges (one son beat the planking record of the day, and my other son came seriously close to the record in sit-ups). Posing under the famous F-16, F-4 and F-15 displays for my 9-year-old to snap photos of me geeking out. This long-awaited event was nothing less than I'd expected, except too short.

Big smiles awaited us at the gate with well wishes of safe journeys home.

Thank you, 173rd Fighter Wing! We'll see you again in two years, if not sooner! Keep up the great work, and God bless the Air National Guard!