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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A Navy Life – Aircraft Carriers

My last Naval Reserve active duty stint was 3 weeks on board CVN-75, USS Harry S Truman during the the summer of 2009. It was an absolute kick in the pants to get back out in that environment and for a born and bred carrier guy like me (between my Dad and me we’ve worked on/flown on at least 13 carriers: CVs 11, 14, 26, 34, 42, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 73, 75), it was sweet nectar for this naval flight officer’s soul.

Sad to say the first 8 are ex-carriers now and 6 of those 8 are razor blades, having been broken up into scrap metal. The other two of those 8, ENTERPRISE and KENNEDY are awaiting likely a similar fate while in storage shipyards on the east coast.

Here are those 13 carriers, dating from my dad’s first recorded carrier landing in an SNJ Texan on 21 Dec 1954 on board the USS MONTEREY (CV-26) until my last carrier duty as a staff officer on board USS HARRY S TRUMAN (CVN-75) 55 years later.

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Touchstones

At my Dad’s memorial this past weekend brother Tom gave me a box with something in it. He had acquired this coffee mug at some point over the years from Dad and he passed it on to me, knowing my love, admiration and respect for such things.

Whether you call it a touchstone or a talisman or just something to connect, it obviously means a great deal to me.

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Photog Offerings

Sometimes its not ALWAYS about Tomcats or airplanes!  (although it mostly is :P)

Here are a few shots taken at Patuxent River, Maryland a few years ago while we were there for an airshow. It was early morning sunrise time and I think a few of these are nice.

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