I had beaten the odds, big time. And I do mean BIG TIME! It was 1990 and I was flying the F-16A, Fighting Falcon in the Texas Air National Guard, having completed the checkout when I was almost 43 years old. Over 20 years of military flying had passed since I graduated from USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training at Webb AFB, Texas. After UPT, I had flown the C-141A, T-29B Convair (that's right, R-2800 recips!) as an Aircraft Commander on USAF active duty, the A-37B in the USAF Reserve, then the T-33, F-101B & F, and F-4C & D, in the Texas Air National Guard. I had finally achieved my ultimate goal, flying the F-16A. Things were great! But, it had taken years of work, focus, a lot of luck and much determination. And, the three rules of life as taught by the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M had a lot to do with it also: (1) DON'T QUIT, (2) DON'T QUIT and (3) DON'T QUIT!
The odds against my flying the F-16 were tremendous. Out of USAF pilot training, I had missed the last fighter slot by about 0.3 of a percentage point in class ranking, and my best friend got the last F-4 assignment, with training at Luke AFB. Sadly, he never returned from Viet Nam. But, instead of a fighter, I was assigned to fly the Lockheed C-141A, and headed to Altus AFB, OK for training. Which was a death sentence to a wannabe fighter pilot! Nobody, but nobody, got out of the heavies and into a fighter once Uncle Sugar trained you to fly trash haulers (long story!). Never the less, here i was, and the following is what flying the little gorilla was like doing a clean (no external tanks), afterburner takeoff.
Flying the F-16 after years of flying the F-101 and F-4 was, believe me, just unfrappingbelievable! The performance increase was truly eye watering! God Bless You, John Boyd, Colonel, USAF, for bringing the F-16 project to fruition! I know you're in Fighter Pilot Heaven now, flying the F-16 every day!
AFTERBURNER TAKEOFF IN A CLEAN F-16A
Brief, suit up and walk out.
Get your game face on. Focus. It's time to DO, not talk. Don’t look bad, "go stupid" or G-LOC yourself into an early grave. Train like you will fight. Get better at what you do. And, for pete's sake, don't garbage up the radio channel!!!
Walk around the aircraft. Make sure all the major parts are there.
Sign the AF form 781. You're now responsible for the aircraft.
Strap in. Tight!
Close the canopy. It’s 106 degrees on the ramp, but soon you’ll have more 40 degree air blowing on you than you really want, so just suck it up and press on. Besides, kitty cats in hell want ice water!
Start the engine.
Get a mickey for the clock and do a FLCS check. (See the glossary for all these neat terms.)
Line up on the runway.
Run the power up, check the instruments, get off the brakes and select full afterburner.
The five stages of the afterburner light sequentially, each one adding its own intensity to the effort, each stage a definite shove more powerful than the previous, urging the aircraft forward at an ever increasing frenzy of acceleration. Fifteen hundred feet or so down the runway, PULL BACK, or, to be more correct, put some back pressure on the stick to rotate and make the houses get smaller. You’ll be airborne very quickly, so be ready! Level off at about 20-30 feet or so, and let the ole’ dog HUNT! (DON’T FORGET TO RAISE THE GEAR, THE BOSS WILL BE PISSED IF YOU BREAK HIS AIRCRAFT!) Pretty soon, you’re going like blue blazesl! By the end of the runway, you’re doing about 350-400 knots indicated, and accelerating quite nicely, thank you very much!
At the end of the runway, back pressure on the stick (don’t screw this up, there are people watching!), and put about 45 degrees pitch on the aircraft. Pegasus ain’t got nothin’ on you now, Bucko! By the very fact of being in an F-16 with over 280 knots airspeed, you are, by definition, SOMEBODY!
Let the Lawn Dart accelerate to .9 MACH. The earth is but a memory now, receding faster than a politician's promise - by a long shot. It’s almost like a dream: total power, total freedom, and a big friggin’ gun with a gun sight that says “I wish you were dead” when you put the death dot pipper any target. You is what you is, and you ain’t what you isn’t, but this is the real deal! This is what is meant to be!
At .9 MACH, back pressure on the stick, (again, don’t screw this up!) and get enough pitch to hold .9 MACH. About 70 degrees should be a good estimate. Houses are getting very itty bitty by now, and the folks down there are paying for you to do this! Somebody far below you is surely worried about subordinated debentures, or some such nonsense, sigh..... But NOT YOU! (Note to self: don't go super in the climb, the boom pisses everyone off!)
Get yourself prepared to level off about 3 or 4 thousand feet below your level off altitude. Aileron roll and pull the nose down to the horizon, and burner out to level flight. Now it’s time for the first engagement!
And the radio comes alive:
Fights on! Fights on! Tac split, NOW! TALLEY HO! TALLEY HO! Lead’s engaged! Fox 2,! Fox 2! GUNS, GUNS, GUNS!
Now it's time for the next engagement!
G-LOC – G Induced Loss of Consciousness. Losing consciousness while maneuvering the aircraft under very high “G” forces caused by turning the aircraft very tightly.
AF Form 781 – Aircraft maintenance form reviewed prior to each flight.
Mickey – Electronic signal which sets all mission aircraft clocks to the same time.
FLCS – Automated flight control system.
Lawn Dart – Nick name for the F-16 “Fighting Falcon”; comes from the fact that if its only engine quits in flight, it will soon become, effectively, a great big lawn dart.
.9 MACH – 90% of the speed of sound.