Author Archives: Dario Leone

The story of a legendary F-14 pilot and the gun kill on an F-15 that could sell Tomcats to Japan

Known and unknown stories of a legendary F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilot

Look at the picture above.

It’s a 8” x 10” frame of a 16 mm gun film shot which shows an  F-15 Eagle locked through an  F-14 Tomcat Head Up Display, at 250 feet, with piper on the Eagle’s pilot, gun selected, master arm on.

Even if the photo itself is already very interesting, the story behind it, is by far more fascinating. In fact, the naval aviator at the controls of the Tomcat can be considered a sort-of legend.

As explained by Alvin Townley in his book Fly Navy, most probably other pilots have scored more kills, held higher ranks or more prestigious commands, but few living aviators embody the untamed nature of aviation like the one-of-a-kind legend known to decades of F-8 Crusader and F-14 Tomcat pilots: Joe “Hoser” Satrapa.

A skilled rifleman, Joe joined the Navy with the aim to fly a jet fighter.  His passion for guns guided him after the flight school graduation, in 1966, when he was called to opt for the F-4 Phantom or the F-8 Crusader. The Phantom had no guns and Satrapa thought: “No guns? What kind of aircraft is this with no guns?” and he immediately chose the “Last Of The Gunfighters” as the Crusader was dubbed by aircrews.

But the “Satrapa legend” began the day he was given the callsign “Hoser” (even if he is also known as “Da-Hose” or “D-hose”), during a mission at the gunnery range in which he was flying the tail position in a flight of four Crusaders. He cut off the preceding aircraft as they approached the target and started shooting from two thousand feet up, one and a half miles out, hosing off all his bullets in one pass.

His flight leader J.P. O’ Neill told him to return to the airfield at El Centro and the same night O’ Neill had the final say on the incident when he nailed Satrapa: “Lieutenant junior grade Satrapa, for hosing off all his bullets in one pass, will hence forth be known as Hoser. That’ ll be five bucks.”

Hoser was also widely known during the Vietnam War as a fearless F-8 pilot who regularly carried a good forty pounds of lethal ordnance, in case he was suddenly forced to eject from his aircraft and face an entire platoon of North Vietnamese Army regulars.

As explained by George Hall in his book Top Gun – The Navy’ s Fighter Weapons School, Hoser’s interest for guns continued when he transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat.

During the AIMVAL/ACEVAL (the Air Combat Evaluation/Air Intercept Missile Evaluation) fighter trials that put the F-14s and the F-15s against the F-5Es to test new weapons and tactics which took place from 1974 to 1978 at Nellis Air Force Base, Hoser (assigned to the VX-4 evaluators) was put in a 1 vs 1 against an F-5.

As the two combatants sat side-by-side on the Nellis runway, awaiting tower clearance for takeoff, Hoser looked over at his opponent, reached his hand up over the control panel, and mimicked the cocking of machine guns in a World War I Spad. A thumbs up came from the other cockpit, meaning that guns it would be, the proverbial knife fight in a phone booth, forget the missiles.

Both jets took off.

As soon as they reached the assigned area, the fighters set up twenty miles apart for a head-on intercept under ground control. Seven miles from the merge, with closure well over 1,000 knots, Hoser called “Fox One”, a Sparrow missile away, scoring a direct hit.

As they flashed past each other, the furious F-5 driver radioed, “What the hell was that all about?” “Sorry.” said Hoser, “lost my head. Let’s set up again. Guns only, I promise.”

Again the two fighters streaked towards the pass, again at seven miles Hoser called “Fox One.” The F-5 driver was apoplectic.

Hoser was first back to the club bar, nursing an end of the day cold one as the flushed Aggressor stomped in. “Hoser, what the hell happened to credibility?” the F-5 pilot asked. Hoser replied “Credibility is DOWN, kill ratio is UP!”

This story became very popular around Topgun, alongside the lesson learned: from 1 vs 1 to forty-plane furball, expect anything. But never expect your enemy to be a sweet guy.

Still, Hoser’s best experience during the AIMVAL/ACEVAL most probably came after the end of the trials. Even if Tomcat and Eagle drivers could not engage each other, Hoser and his RIO Bill “Hill Billy” Hill with  Dan “Turk” Pentecost and Frank “Fearless” Schumacher onboard the second F-14, went 2 vs 2 against a couple of F-15 instructors from 415th Training Squadron (415th Flight Test Flight).

As told by Hoser to airwarriors.com “All pre-merge heat and radar missiles didn’t count. It was GUNS only at the merge.”The two Tomcat split the fight into two 1 V 1 with one F-14 high and the other low with fair lateral separation. Once Hoser and Hill Billy closed for a 250ft, gun kill on their Eagle, a minimal communication over the radio took place as Hoser recalls. Hoser: “Where are you Turk?” Fearless:”Right above you Hoser” Hoser: “We got two cons! Who’s out front? “Turk (mildly offended): “Who do ya think?”

Both Eagles were gunned, “knock it off” was called, and the Tomcats RTB’d with a 500 knot, 6.5g, half second break at Nellis.”

But there was something more:

“Knowing the gun camera film would be destroyed by the Nellis Photo lab, it was covertly sent to a secret contact at Grumman for processing. Bout a month later, December 6, the door slams open and General Knight, with 2 of his staff, doggie wobble heads entered demanding to know “who and where are Hoser and Turk?” Falcon (J.W. Taylor), OinC (who was the Officer in Charge) stepped up asking if he could be of assistance. The General responded with, “Your fighter jocks have no idea how their playful antics affect important political decisions!”

Well, as General Knight proceeded to explain, Japan had contracted for twenty one F-15s, but an article in Aviation Week had talked about the F-14 being superior to the Eagle. With gun camera film to prove it, Japan was considering buying F-14s instead.”

The General wanted and received all copies of the gun camera film, the TVSU/VCR (the Television Sensor Unit and the Voice Cockpit Recorder) and audio recordings on his desk the following day, but few months later Hoser asked to Falcon: “Hey Falcon, I know ya got a copy of that 16mm gun film…. how bout it?” JW returned few moments later with a copy of the film from which the above Tomcat gun camera image comes.

F-14 VX4

Image credit: U.S. Navy

Pilots explain how the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger intercepted Soviet bombers in the 1950s

The Convair F-102 was a delta-winged interceptor, that became the standard Air Defense Command (ADC) fighter starting in mid 1956.

Nicknamed Delta Dagger, the Convair F-102, which was referred to as “The Deuce” by its aircrew, entered service in 1954.

The F-102A spent most of its career operating out of Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and in other NATO and SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) countries to defend their airspace from possible raids conducted by the heavily armed Tu-16 Badger, Tu-95 Bear or Myasishchev M-4 Bison aircraft, three types of Soviet bombers introduced between 1954 and 1956 .

Several accounts of the pilots involved in this kind of QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service, are reported in Ted Spitzmiller’s book Century Series The USAF Quest for air supremacy 1950-1960. As the one in which George Andre, a former F-102 pilot, explains a typical alert base:

“Most featured an alert hangar at the end of the longest runway with high-speed taxiways leading on to the runway for immediate scramble. […] Generally a pilot stood alert for 8, 12 or sometimes 24 hour period. We slept with our boots on, and always could make a less than 5 minute airborne time from the sound of the scramble horn.”

Even if the interceptors were guided to the target by SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, the system that coordinated the NORAD response to a Soviet air attack by providing command guidance for ground controlled interception by air defense aircraft) or by GCI (Ground Control Intercept) Radars, obviously the pilots remained responsible for flying the aircraft and for the weapon launch, as said by Roger Pile, another former Deuce driver:

“On-board radar searched for the target, but it was up to the pilot to locate it, select the appropriate armament, lock on to it and fly the plane to the release point […] The pilot was also responsible to retain the attack in spite of radar jamming, dispensing chaff and to switch to alternative modes should it be necessary.”

One of these “alternatives modes” was the installation on The Deuce of a passive infrared search and track (IRST) equipment, that could be selected by the pilot to avoid the enemy bombers counter-measures. Moreover the IRST could also be used to fire the Falcon missiles against the target as explained again by Pile:

“It was a softball sized sensor-head located immediately in front of the center of the windshield. […] The pilot could select IR dominant with the radar in standby, search or slaved to the IR tracker after lock-on to the target. If the radar was in standby, the target might never know you were locked on to him as the IRST was a passive receptor only and did not emit any signals. If in “search mode”, he might think you were still searching for him. If the radar was slaved to the IR head, you might get “burn-through” (pick him up on the radar) to give you an accurate distance from him and lock on to him with the radar. This would also allow the radar-guided (AIM-4A) missiles to also lock on to him and be guided to the target as well as the heat seekers (AIM-4Ds).”

But even if the Delta Dagger was basically a bomber interceptor, pilots discovered that, thanks to F-102’s lower wing loading, The Deuce had an advantage (in certain parts of its flight envelope) in dogfight against its opponents.

“I flew the F-102 transitioning into the F-106. I was very impressed with its turning ability. Many pilots claim their aircraft turns better than other. Of course, aerial combat will prove this, but short of that, I found another way to measure the turning capability of different aircraft and used that for comparison. That is to take the aircraft to 10,000’ at initial approach airspeed and perform a split-S as tight as possible. The F-102 would do it under 2,500’. The T-33 about 3,300’. The F-106 at 3,100’ and the F-4 at about 7,000’. I repeat the F-4 at 7,000,”  pilot Bill Jowett recalled.

Convair F-102A

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

 

Pilots explain how Navy’s F-4 Phantoms intercepted Soviet Bombers near U.S. aircraft carriers

Developed as interceptor to protect U.S. Navy’s Carrier Battle Groups (CVBG), the F-4 had frequent close encounters with Soviet Tu-95 and Tu-16 bombers near aircraft carriers around the world

U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom jets were frequently launched by American flattops to intercept and shadow USSR strategic bombers that skirted aircraft carriers at low level to probe their reaction times.

The F-4s involved in these kind of interceptions, had the main task to ensure that all airborne intruders were met within the Carrier Group’s outer air defense perimeter.

LCDR Fred Staudenmayer, who was the first RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) to command an East Coast F-4J operational USN squadron (the VF-33 Tarsiers from Jun. 21, 1973 to Jan. 19, 1974, had several chances to intercept Tu-95s and Tu-16s during his deployment in the Mediterranean sea.

Staudenmayer explained one of these close encounters with Soviet bombers in Peter E. Davies book F-4 Phantoms U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Gray Ghosts:

“I once launched against a Soviet Tu-95 Bear that was almost upon the carrier when initially detected by our pathetic ship’s radar. […] I had the radar operating and detected a huge radar blip at about twelve miles, followed right away by a visual, and we were able to join up on his wing before he passed over the carrier at about 500 ft. This was always the goal and the politically correct thing: be on Bear or Badger’s wing, showing the world that you were escorting these uninvited visitors. […] During a cruise in the Bay of Biscay in USS Independence we had a large number of Soviet over-flights, thirty or forty as I recall, and we intercepted all of them (with assistance from sensors external to the Fleet!).”

Dealing with the attack profile followed by the F-4s during the interception: ”As a general rule, our attack profile started from a low or mid CAP (Combat Air Patrol) station (5,000 or 15,000 ft), and depending on ranges, etc. we would be in climbing attack, usually trying to attack from below. Not too much thought was given to vertical separation, sun position, hiding in the clouds, etc. These were all-weather attack profiles,” Staudenmayer recalled.

The main Bear and Badger weapons were their long range air-to-surface missiles, which caused several concerns to the Phantoms crews according to Staudenmayer:

“As the Soviet air-to-surface missiles got faster and more formidable capable our CAP stations got pushed further and further out. The goal was to be in a position to destroy the targeting or launch aircraft prior to missile release. Nevertheless, we usually trained against descending supersonic missile simulation […] We always thought we had a pretty good capability against such missiles, and an outstanding capability against Bears and Badgers.”

The F-4s belonging to the VF-11 Red Rippers were also involved in many Tu-16 interceptions, and William Greer told to Davies how several of them took place at night:

“Many intercepts were run at night, and the Badger would frequently shine a rather bright and distracting light at the escorting Phantom pilot. VF-11 rigged up a very strong spotlight, powered from the Phantom’s electrical system, and the first time we hit the Badger with that their performance became somewhat more restrained. I once intercepted a Bear while returning from my cruise in USS Enterprise, and with the aid of my two years of Russian at the Naval Academy, some white cards and a grease pencil, exchanged brief notes with the crewman occupying the rear gun sighting position.”

Another U.S. Navy Spook (as the legendary Phantom was dubbed by its personnel) pilot, Steve Rudloff, who experienced several Bear encounters, revealed that despite the tense moments, funny  events took place during these interceptions, as happened when one Tu-95 rear gunner offered a bottle of vodka to him: “ On Alert 5 (the high alert condition for crew members on the deck) aircraft for a brief time the back seat was equipped with a copy of Playboy magazine. I took off and intercepted a Bear, and in retaliation for the vodka I flashed the magazine centerfold, getting a hearty smile and a thumbs-up in response. We were always taking pictures of them, and vice versa. We were more than willing to take our oxygen masks off and let them get pictures.”

Moreover as explained by Rudloff, Phantom pilots experienced also chatty times with Soviet aircrews: “There was a point on one of my cruises where we actually spoke to some of Bears crew members. We indicated which frequency we were on and talked to a crew member who spoke English. He told us he lived in Moscow. Suddenly there was some talk in the background in Russian, and the conversation ceased, even though we tried to raise him again.”

F-4 Phantom II intercept

Image credit: U.S. Navy via F-4 Phantom II FB page

 

The story of the pilot who flew the North American X-15 experimental rocket aircraft at the edge of outer space

Designed to study the problems of hypersonic flight, the North American X-15, carrying only 90 seconds worth of fuel could reach Mach 5+ and altitudes between 100K and 300K feet.

The North American X-15 was a rocket-powered, missile-shaped manned aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and NASA as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft.

Brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet under the wing of a B-52 bomber and dropped at a speed of Mach 0.8, the X-15 was capable to reach the edge of space at an altitude between 100,000 and 300,000 feet at speed exceeding 4,500 MPH (+7,270 km/h) .

The U.S. Air Force pilots who flew the X-15 to altitudes above 50 miles all received Astronaut Wings, but  NASA decided not to give the same award to the civilian pilots who made the same achievement, a decision that caused controversy within the aerospace community as explained by John Anderson and Richard Passman in their book X-15 The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots who Ushered in the Space Age.

Among those pilots there was Joe Walker, who flew the maximum altitude flight in the X-15 on Aug. 22, 1963.

The flight path of that mission was carefully planned with climb angles and fuel cut off calculated to reach the goal. In fact as told by Anderson and Passman, the engine thrust could vary from 57,000 pounds to 60,000 pounds, and a difference of 1,500 pounds would result in a 7,500 feet altitude change. One second in fuel cut off time would result in a 4,000 feet altitude change, while if the climb angle was off by one degree, a 7,500 feet change in altitude would occur.

Moreover NASA planned maximum altitude for X-15 flights was at 360,000 feet safety reasons: even if the aircraft could go well above 400,000 feet there was concern about the reentry from that altitude.

Since aircraft experienced APU problems the flight was delayed for two weeks, but on Aug. 22 the launch went well and Walker could closely follow the flight plan. The propellants were depleted at 176,000 feet at a speed of 5,600 feet per second, but two minutes after the burnout the X-15 was still soaring upward on a ballistic trajectory to 354,200 feet, 67 miles high.

Then, after reaching the peak altitude, Walker began descending and headed to Edwards Air Force Base, where he landed after a flight of 11 minutes and 8 seconds.

Even if Walker flew higher than the 50 miles required by the Astronaut Wings at that time, he didn’t receive the award.

In the 1960s the U.S. Air Force set a limit of space at 50 miles (80 km) but according to FAI (the World Air Sports Federation, the world governing body for air sports, aeronautics and astronautics world records) the limit of the outer space is at 100 kilometers (62.1 mi). Nevertheless, Walker exceeded both limits and, even though he didn’t receive the Astronaut Badge,  he was the first American civilian to make any spaceflightand the second civilian overall, and the first human to make multiple spaceflights (the one on Aug. 22 and the preceding one, on Jul. 19, when he reached the altitude of 65.8 miles (105.9 km).

NB-52A & X-15

After his involvement on the X-15 program, Walker continued its flying activity as an experimental pilot. On Jun. 8, 1966, he was at the controls of an F-104 flying in formation with another North American product, the XB-70, for a General Electric photo shoot of a family of airplanes powered by GE engines. Flying too close to the XB-70, Walker’s F-104 was caught in the trailing vortex of the large airplane and flipped onto the top of the bomber.

Walker perished in the subsequent fireball depicted by some famous pictures.

As recalled by Anderson and Passman, on Aug. 23 2005, NASA reversed his policy and awarded with Astronaut Wings the three civilian pilots who flew the X-15 above 50 miles: William Dana (the only one still alive at the time of the ceremony), Jeff McKay and Joe Walker.

Finally Walker achieved official astronaut rating, 42 years after his record and 39 years after he died.

Image credit: NASA and U.S. Air Force

 

“I was sitting on top of a flying A-6” The story of a lucky Intruder crew member who survived a partial ejection from a KA-6D

This things happen once every some million flights.

The KA-6D was a tanker version of the A-6 attack aircraft obtained by converting existing Intruder airframes: radar and bombing equipment were removed and replaced with an internal hose-and-reel refueling package, with the drogue fairing protruding from underneath the rear fuselage.

A total of 90 KA-6Ds were produced by Grumman for the U.S. Navy.

One of the most famous events that involved a KA-6D during its operational life spanning from 1963 to 1997, took place on Jul. 9, 1991 to a VA-95 Green Lizard Intruder during an aerial refueling mission overhead its aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).

On that day, Lt. Mark Baden and Lt. Keith Gallagher, who were the pilot and the bombardier and navigator (BN) of the Intruder “Lizard 515”, experienced a very unusual incident: a partial ejection from the aircraft. Both the crew members released their accounts of the mishap to Approach Magazine in November 1991 and the full story is today reported on www.gallagher.com.

Gallagher himself explains: “Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will, and when you least expect it.” (And, of course, we all know that Murphy was an aviator). […]  Fortunately for me, however, he failed to follow through. On my 26th birthday I was blindsided by a piece of bad luck the size of Texas that should have killed me. Luckily, it was followed immediately by a whole slew of miracles that allowed me to be around for my 27th. We were the overhead tanker, one third of the way through cruise, making circles in the sky. Although the tanker pattern can be pretty boring midway through the cycle, we were alert and maintaining a good lookout doctrine because our airwing had a midair less than a week before, and we did not want to repeat.”

After the third fuel update call, Lizard 515 aircrew decided that the left outboard drop was going to require a little help and as recommended by NATOPS (which is The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program, responsible for rules and regulations governing safe and correct operation of all naval aircraft), they applied positive and negative Gs to force the valve open.

As explained by Gallagher, when the pilot moved the stick forward: “ I felt the familiar sensation of negative “G”, and then something strange happened: my head touched the canopy. For a brief moment I thought that I had failed to tighten my lap belts, but I knew that wasn’t true. Before I could complete that thought, there was a loud bang, followed by wind, noise, disorientation and more wind, wind, wind. Confusion reigned in my mind as I was forced back against my seat, head against the headrest, arms out behind me, the wind roaring in my head, pounding against my body. “Did the canopy blow off? Did I eject? Did my windscreen implode?” All of these questions occurred to me amidst the pandemonium in my mind and over my body. These questions were quickly answered, and replaced by a thousand more, as I looked down and saw a sight that I will never forget: the top of the canopy, close enough to touch, and through the canopy I could see the top of my pilot’s helmet. It took a few moments for this image to sink into my suddenly overloaded brain. This was worse than I ever could have imagined – I was sitting on top of a flying A-6!”

The sensations experienced by Gallagher during this wild ride were extreme: “I couldn’t breathe. My helmet and mask had ripped off my head, and without them, the full force of the wind was hitting me square in the face. It was like trying to drink through a fire hose. I couldn’t seem to get a breath of air amidst the wind. My arms were dragging along behind me until I managed to pull both of them into my chest and hold them there.”

While he was still trying to breathe, Gallagher thought that Baden would never have tried to land and he decided to start the ejection sequence once again: “I grabbed the lower handle with both hands and pulled-it wouldn’t budge. With a little more panic induced strength I tried again, but to no avail. The handle was not going to move. I attempted to reach the upper handle but the wind prevented me from getting a hand on it. As a matter of fact, all that I could do was hold my arms into my chest. If either of them slid out into the wind stream, they immediately flailed out behind me, and that was definitely not good.”

In the meanwhile, Baden contacted the aircraft carrier: “Mayday, Mayday, this is 515. My BN has partially ejected. I need an emergency pull-forward!”

The reply arrived immediately: “Roger, switch button six.”  

Baden switched to the UHF frequency preset on Channel 6 and said “Boss (the Air Officer who has to rule the flight deck), this is 515. My BN has partially ejected. I need an emergency pull-forward!” 

The Boss replied: “Bring it on in.” At this point Baden looked at his BN’s legs still moving and understood that Gallagher was not dead. So when the Boss came up and asked if the BN was still with the aircraft, Baden replied “Only his legs are still inside the cockpit.” Fortunately, the Boss understood what Baden meant and asked him if he was heading to the aircraft carrier for landing. When Baden confirmed he was returning to “homeplate,” the Boss told him that the aircraft carrier was ready to recover Lizard 515. 

But Gallagher’s conditions were really frantic: “The wind had become physically and emotionally overwhelming. It pounded against my face and body like a huge wall of water that wouldn’t stop. The roaring in my ears confused me, the pressure in my mouth prevented me from breathing, and the pounding on my eyes kept me from seeing. Time had lost all meaning. For all I knew, I could have been sitting there for seconds or for hours. I was suffocating, and I couldn’t seem to get a breath. I wish I could say that my last thoughts were of my wife, but as I felt myself blacking out, all I said was, “I don’t want to die.”

While Baden headed to the USS Abraham Lincoln, he thought that he didn’t want to perform a perfect landing (the footage of which can be seen in the video below): “I had no intention of passing up any “perfectly good wires.” I touched down short of the 1-wire (the perfect carrier landing is dubbed OK 3 and it took place when the pilot engages the third of four wires placed on the carrier deck) and sucked the throttles to idle. The canopy shards directly in front of the BN’s chest looked like a butcher’s knife collection. I was very concerned that the deceleration of the trap was going to throw him into the jagged edge of the canopy.” Then after the landing Baden realized that Gallagher was still alive when he said: “Am I on the flight deck?”

KA-6D trap

When Baden and Gallagher knew what really happened, it became obviously how much the Intruder BN had been lucky.

Gallagher’s parachute had deployed and wrapped itself around the tail section of the plane then the timing release mechanism had fired and released the BN from the seat. The only things holding him attached to the plane were the parachute straps.

For this well executed emergency landing Lt. Mark Baden was awarded the Air Medal for his decisive action on that day and the LSO (Landing Signal Officer), LCDR Mike Manazir, received the “Bug Roach Paddles Award” for his part in the recovery.  The crew of the Lincoln was recognized for a well-executed emergency pull-forward – LT Baden had the jet on deck about six minutes after the emergency began.

KA-6D close up

The Captain of the Lincoln would later read over the PA system, a portion of a letter written by Michelle Gallagher (LT Gallagher’s wife) where she thanked the crew of the Lincoln for saving her husband’s life, while the injuries suffered by the BN were later described by Gallagher himself: “My most serious injury was that 1/2 my right arm (the shoulder, bicep, and forearm) was paralyzed due to a stretched nerve in my shoulder. In addition, my left shoulder was damaged as well. I have all of the damage of someone who dislocated his shoulder, but it was not dislocated when I landed. My supposition is that it dislocated, and popped back in upon landing. Other than that, I was just extremely beat up. Via physical therapy, I recovered within 6 months. My right shoulder “came back” in about 1 month, my forearm in about 2-3 months, and my bicep returned in about 4-5 months. I had to re-do all of my physiological qualifications (swimming, etc) to prove that I was OK, but I flew again 6 months to the day after the accident.”



Image credit: U.S. Navy and Gallagher.com