LFT&E

Live Fire Test and Evaluation, or simply LFT&E as it is called in the test and evaluation world.  Any new weapons system needs to go through a testing program where it is subjected to a small sample of what an explosive event would be like.

As the DoD puts it, LFT&E is

…an assessment of the vulnerability and lethality of a system as it progresses through Developmental Test & Evaluation (DT&E) prior to Full-Rate Production (FRP). LFT&E typically includes testing at the component, subassembly, and subsystem level, and may also draw upon design analyses, modeling and simulation, combat data, and related sources such as analyses of safety and mishap data.

LFT&E is guided by a statutory requirement for “realistic survivability testing” or “realistic lethality testing” as defined in (10 USC 2366). A system can go thru Early and Full Up LFT&E.  One of the purposes of conducting LFT&E early in the program life cycle is to allow time to correct any design deficiency demonstrated by the test and evaluation.

As you can see, this program is outlined in the US Code, so its not just some thing where you get the Mythbuster dudes (Jamie and Adam) to go out and blow stuff up next to a tank, a helicopter or, in this case, an aircraft carrier.

This photo shows the shock waves from an LFT&E test approaching the aircraft carrier USS JOHN F KENNEDY.  This, I believe, was a second LFT&E test on Big John, after a major rehab period in the yards.  The shock waves aren’t enough to cause serious damage to the ship or injury (hopefully), but it can highlight systems that can be vulnerable to the shock and impact of blast waves from ordnance or explosives.

LFT&E should accomplish the following:

  • Provide information to decision-makers on potential user casualties, vulnerabilities, and lethality, taking into equal consideration susceptibility to attack and combat performance of the system;
  • Ensure that knowledge of user casualties and system vulnerabilities or lethality is based on testing of the system under realistic combat conditions;
  • Allow any design deficiency identified by the testing and evaluation to be corrected in design or employment before proceeding beyond Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP); and
  • Assess recoverability from battle damage and battle damage repair capabilities and issues.

Interestingly, the Navy is looking to defer this test on the new class of carrier, the FORD class, until a second ship is launched and commissioned. There are so many new funky systems on the FORD – new catapults, new arresting gear, a new electrical system, etc – that there are worries that a robust LFT&E program will damage the ship so that it will need major, time-consuming repairs. Yeah, maybe that is something they should have thought about during the design phase, but whatever.

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F-22 Weapons Bay

A nice close up of the combat business part of an F-22 Raptor fighter, the US Air Force’s premier 5th generation fighter jet.  I took this at an air show at NAS Patuxent River a few years ago. Even though the Raptor had been flying since the mid 2000s, this was the first time I had seen this aircraft live and in person.  Very impressive.

The weapons bay are enclosed to maintain the aircraft’s stealth capabilities. The sharp angles of a missile profile as it hangs off a jet on a launch rail or pylon is what can give away radar position/location or radar data to an enemy system.  Hence the enclosed, internal weapons bay for air-to-air missiles (AMRAAM and Sidewinders) and a slightly lesser capability for air-to-surface munitions like the JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition.)   The F-22 can carry external ordnance and fuel tanks and would should the tactical situation dictate or allow it to operate in such a manner.

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YOU ARE HERE

An aircraft carrier is a small (some would say not so small) city on the sea. Physically, the ship is over 1,000′ long, weighs close to 100,000 tons and has over 20 decks or levels, from the keel all the way to the top of the island.  With over 5,000 men and women crewing the beast, they work in more than  3,000 spaces, offices, workcenters or work spaces and consume over 18,000 meals per day.

After a while you learn the maze of passageway and work center locations, but until you DO decipher the jigsaw puzzle that is an aircraft carrier, how do you get around? These helpful diagrams are all over the ship and can can help you sometimes when you have no clue where Compartment 105-17-3-L is.

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DACT

…or Dissimilar Air Combat Training.  There are myriad reasons why you would want to train against and hone your air combat skills against different aircraft, the primary one being you never know what sort of aircraft you will come up against in the air combat arena.

As I said in my book 99 CAMELOTS, another reason is that

…different aircraft have difference performance characteristics. Things like turn rate and radius, energy management, available g, aircraft size and weight and tactics can all affect how you will fly and fight against them. As the old saying goes, you fight like you train and the experience gained by fighting against dissimilar aircraft was essential in creating a successful tactical Tomcat crew. These experiences are passed down from crew to crew, from the experienced hands in the squadron to the nuggets, or new aircrew.

The back story to these photos dates back to 1974.  My dad was then the commanding officer of VF-43, a squadron of A-4 and TA-4J/F aircraft based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach with a mission of providing “bogey” or aggressor/adversary aircraft for the F-4 and later F-14 fighters on the east coast.  Basically, an east-coast TOPGUN without the classroom element. My dad and his pilots would be the “bad guys” for our “good guys” to train/fly against.

Sometimes other aircraft in need of air combat training would give them a call to set up dogfighting exercises.

In these pictures, an F-4 from VF-21 based at NAS Miramar in San Diego is in formation with a Langley Air Force Base 48th Fighter Interceptor Squadron F-106A and a NAS Oceana TA-4F from VF-43.  There was no doubt some flinging  of aircraft around the sky with great abandon would/did occur at some point, working on those air intercept and dogfight skills – one-circle fight or will it be a two-circle? Go high? Stay low? What does the situation give me? Will it be an energy fight or an angles fight? What is the turn rate and radii of the other aircraft?  Fuel states! Should I look for a bug out to live to fight another day or stay and fight it out? All these and a dozen more questions are part and parcel of air combat training.

The Air Force F-106A was a not bad aircraft in the initial stages of the air combat arena but when it lost energy, when it lost whatever speed advantage it may have at the merge that big delta wing and the size of the aircraft left it in a hurt locker. The single J-75 engine only gave it about 17,5000 lbs of thrust.  That engine on an aircraft that weighed 30,000+ lbs did not give it a very good air combat thrust-to-weight ratio.  Compare that to the 43,000 full afterburner thrust coming out of today’s 49,000 lb F-35 Lightning II engine – close to a 1:1 thrust ratio.

In the mid 70s the F-106s were being transferred to the Air National Guard and their job of USAF air defense/interceptor was being taken over by the then-new F-15 Eagle.  The F-106 was pretty much a pure interceptor – take off, go real fast, shoot the bad guys with missiles then go home. The F-15 was more of a fighter/interceptor, able to mix it up more with the enemy if needed.  This was one reason why the Air Force F-106 dudes wanted more experience at dog-fighting with dissimilar aircraft like VF-43’s Skyhawks.

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At The Ramp

A VF-143 F-14A+ (later to be a “B” designation) Tomcat is a second or two away from landing onboard USS GEORGE WASHINGTON in the fall of 1992.  The crewman in the yellow shirt is the Arresting Gear Officer, the individual responsible for ensuring the arresting gear and flight deck is ready for landing.  The green shirted crewman is the enlisted Gear Petty Officer.  He communicates by various means to the below deck arresting gear operator what sort of aircraft is coming in to land so the arresting gear engines can be set for the correct weight.  When all is ready he communicates to the gear officer with a call “Gear Set, Tomcat!” and both sets of eyes sweep the landing area to make sure it stays clear.  The Gear Officer has a pickle switch in his hand that when depressed, turns a set of lights green, signaling a clear deck.  A foul deck would be red, where the pickle switch is not depressed, meaning the landing area is not clear.

Might not sound like the most interesting job in the world, but when your job is the safe landing of jet and prop aircraft every 45 seconds on a 700 x 110 foot landing area in they middle of the ocean with sometimes a pitching deck , there isn’t much room for error.

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Hickory Aviation Museum

WAY back in May of 2008 we were headed down to North Carolina to see mom and dad. Some folks down at the Hickory Aviation Museum in Hickory, NC had contacted me for some reason about the last F-14D that had flown out of Oceana and arrived at their facility for display.

I had my old F-14A NATOPS manual, the big blue book that outlined all the standardized operating procedures and “user manual”, so to speak, that I was going to give the museum.

I flew this jet twice in March of 1991 as it came off the Grumman production line, once on a 2.4 hr acceptance flight and again a few days later on a 2.1. We sometimes had refly requirements to check something that may have not worked quite right on the first flight, hence the re-fly.

It was a good visit, and this shot was where I was relating some no doubt awesome maneuver of aeronautical derring-do to a couple of the museum guys. I had my log book out to show them the flights and a bit of what went into that side of the documentation.

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A Navy Life – Brand New Naval Flight Officers

A bunch of young newly winged Naval Flight Officers from June of 1986. Graduates of VT-86 in Pensacola, these officers went to Navy F-14 Tomcats and A-6 Intruders and in the sole USMC grad, an F-4.  We had flown the T-34 Turbo Mentor, the T-2C Buckeye, the TA-4J Skyhawk and the T-47 Cessna Citation II.

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A Navy Life – New Lieutenants

Brand new frocked lieutenants, “frocking” being we could put on the collar rank device but we didn’t received the pay or benefits until our date of rank arrived.  VF-14 88-89 Med cruise.

This promotion was huge, dollar-wise.  Going from O-2 to O-3, or Lieutenant Junior Grade to a full Lieutenant, was a pretty nice raise in pay, but we also received a huge jump in flight pay to the max, I believe it was, of $650 a month then.

From left, Tom “Trim” Downing, Jeff “Catfish” Hunter, Rock Wittrock, Kevin “QZ” McHugh, Mark “Pup” Mlikan, your humble author is on the right.

Trim and I had the alert, hence our being in flight suits with every one else in Khakis.  And you just know that cake went through the ship’s Cake Dryer before it reached us in Ready Room 3!

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A Navy Life – Commissioning

First salute as a commission officer went to Gunnery Sergeant Jim Washington, USMC, my Aviation Officer Candidate drill instructor on 22 Feb, 1985. As was the time-honored tradition, I gave him a silver dollar. 25 years later, as I left Norfolk Naval Station on my last day of duty, and while still in uniform, I had picked up a silver dollar from the bank that morning and as I stopped for gas on the base service station, I gave it to the service member who gave me my last salute I’d receive while in uniform. Somehow it seemed fitting.

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A Navy Life – Years

Retirement photo from late 1999. 10 years active duty, 15 years reserve, 1200+ hours in about 10 naval aircraft, the vast majority (1000 hrs) in Tomcats. 200 traps. My dad retired from the Navy when I was 18, so adding in my own 25 years, 43 years of my life have been in and around the Navy community. Add in another 10 years of working for the Navy as a civilian government dude and 53 of my 59 years has been blue and gold. That, my friends, is a navy life

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