Just out of curiosity - Airplane Guys

Immediately thought of @Jim when I saw this on facebook today.

Some info posts in the thread: "It had airbags that cushioned the landing in land and allowed it to float on water. Yes, the control yokes were connected to manual bilge pumps. Here is an obscure little tidbit: The capsule includes a portion of the strakes that make up the leading edges of the wings. Not much, but enough to stabilize the capsule before the main chute opened. Since the crew sit side-by-side, it was important that the crew members have similar weights. Otherwise, the capsule will start to roll to the heavy side before being stabilized. I can’t recall how close their weights had to be (20 lbs?) but it was critical to consider when making crew assignments.".

"I worked Phase Inspection of F-111Es at RAF Upper Heyford and all F-111 models at Cannon, twice! The capsule is one thing, but all of the the ejection mechanisms were unbelievable. Sensors to determine ejection mode, the guillotines that cut flight control cables, antenna coax bundles and electrical cables, the instrument cannon plug disconnect blocks, and the spring-loaded flaps on the aft underside of the capsule. The Impact Attenuation Bag was changed out every ten years and the chutes had to be repacked, too. I remember when the rocket motor was pulled out and the upper nozzle was changed due to a previous failure. A CLSS team came to Heyford to do the work in the Phase hangar; no easy feat!".

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Now THAT was a remarkable piece of technology - to say nothing of the F111 terrain-following radar.

I read somewhere that the F111 crews called flying under the control of the TFR "skiing" and that it was pretty spooky to be belting along at 600 kt at 200' with mountains, valleys, trees etc. whizzing past - and those other people shooting at you.
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the guillotines that cut flight control cables
In almost 20 yrs of working that bird, I can't count the times I had to run/reroute/replace the cables and such going through those guillotines.... prolly up into the thousands. First time I reached into one, my heartbeat went through the roof. The last time... 20 odd yrs later, it still went through the roof. Yes, there were safety pins, still.... :cautious:

They would cut through stainless steel oxygen lines like butter. Your fingers wouldn't stand a chance.
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and it was pretty spooky to be belting along at 600 kt at 200' with mountains, valleys, trees etc. whizzing past - and those other people shooting at you.
Never while being shot at, but I been there a time or two. Trust me, the adrenaline rush never gets old. :heart:

Wow! That looks like a Burt Rutan design!
There was a wonderful documentary a few years ago about the female pilots of the ATA - Air Transport Auxiliary - who delivered aircraft to service squadrons in WW2. They interviewed a few of them, all of course very old ladies by then. They had marvelous anecdotes to share about their experiences. In what were very different times.

For example, the pilot who delivered an aircraft when the weather was so bad, she had to fly almost on the deck, literally navigating by the church steeples. When she landed and went to the pilots mess, they could hardly believe she had dared to fly in such weather, all operations having been cancelled.

Another recounted delivering a four-engined heavy bomber to an RAF base. In the pilots mess, one of the men wanted to know why he hadn't seen her around before. When she told him she had been delivering a bomber, he asked who had flown the plane. He seemed to have difficulty believing a woman would be capable of flying such a big aeroplane.

They flew all types, as required by the exigencies of war. Stories about taking off on a novel type after a ten-minute introduction to the plane's features. One lady had flown IIRC more than 200 types during the war. As I said, very different times.

The documentary's main topic was women flying Spitfires. In the early days, the Air Ministry would not allow the women pilots to fly Spitfires - they were too difficult to fly and too valuable to put at risk. The planes that is. But they had to relent due to the shortage of male delivery pilots. One of the old ladies had rapture on her face as she remembered the Spitfire. 'Oh, it was absolutely a ladies aeroplane. For a start, the cockpit was so tight, no chap with wide shoulders could even get in there and be comfortable. But tailor-made for us young girls. And in the air, it was a delight - so responsive, you needed a really light touch on the controls to get the best out of it.'

A largely forgotten aspect of WW2.
There were a lot of things we couldn't do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact.
People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane—intense, maybe, even cerebral.

But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.

It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.

I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital.

It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn't match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter-squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury. Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him.

The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace. We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot who asked Center for a read-out of his ground speed.

Center replied: "November Charlie 175, I'm showing you at ninety knots on the ground."

Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the "Houston Center voice." I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country's space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the Houston controllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that and that they basically did. And it didn't matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere.

Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. It was better to die than sound bad on the radios.

Just moments after the Cessna's inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed in Beech.
"I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed." Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren.

Then out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radio. "Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check." Before Center could reply, I'm thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a read-out?

Then I got it, ol' Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He's the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his snazzy new Hornet. And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: "Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground."

And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what?

As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done—in mere seconds we'll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now. I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn. Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet.

Then, I heard it—the click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew.

Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: "Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?" There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request.

"Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground." I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling.

But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice: "Ah, Center, much thanks, we're showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money."

For a moment Walter was a god.
And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Houston Center voice, when L.A. came back with,

"Roger that Aspen. Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one."

It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew.

A fine day's work. We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.

For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there.

Brian Shul - Sled Driver