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F-4 Phantom --- Files

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F-4 Phantom

October 28, 1985, 11. 30. A RF-4C Phantom (serial 68-567) pertaining to the 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the US Air Force is on the point of taking the air to fulfill a mission above Europe. All began a few minutes before, when, in a hardened shelter of the base of Alconbury, the two men who constitute the crew of the plane took seat at their station by borrowing external scales (Phantom of recognition are the only apparatuses of this line not to be had footboards integrated in the fuselage). The engines were launched inside the shelter, built in order to resist the direct impact of a bomb of 227 kg. This manner of proceeding was adopted by the US Air Force, because, in times of war, the planes would be brought to leave the ground as quickly as possible, in order not to offer of easy target to the weapons antiaérodromes that would not fail to employ the enemy. The effect is impressive. Even with its heavy largely open frontal doors, the shelter is rather deep and obscure so that, by leaving it, Phantom resembles a monster prehistoric leaving its cave.

A 11. 40, after the passage in review of the checklists the plane rolls gently on the track, lit by the pale usual sun in England; carrying delivered known as One Europe, made of gray and green, and marks of black color, it carries fuel tanks of 1 4001 pennies the wings. Then it stops, and the two members of crew raise the arms, in order to avoid any accident while touching an unspecified order in their cockpits while the teams on the ground carry out the last checks. Detelles precautions could not be taken if the base were exposed with sine attacks air adversary.

This scene repeats tous.les.jours with Alconbury, since, there is more than one score of years, the US Air Force based there of Phantom intended for the recognition. The first YRF-4C (serial 62-12200) took the air with Saint Louis, in Missouri, August 9, 1963, between the hands of the test pilot of McDonnell, William S. Ross. The US Air Force acquired five hundred and three specimens of series of the appliance, and the US Marine Body bought quarante-six RF-4B, machines practically identical to the RF-4C. Similar to this last, the model of export RF-4E was delivered to the West Germany (88 specimens), in Greece (8), in Iran (22), in Israel (12), Turkey (8) and Japan (4). As for South Korea, it undoubtedly took into account nineteen machines of second hand used before by the US Air Force. The RF-4C was employed in an intensive way during the war carried out by the United States in Southeast Asia within the framework of recognitions led before and after the attacks launched against the objectives strongly defended of Viêt-nam of North. This version, which will probably remain in service until the beginning of the next decade, since was completely reorganized and modernized for its adaptation to the requirements of the electronic war. The RF-4C equips several will squadrons of the National Air Guard and is also useful in active units like 67th TRW, based with Bergstrom AFB (Texas), 26th TRW, established in Zweibrücken AB (Federal German Republic), 15th TRW, installed in Kadena, on the island of Okinawa, 16th TRS, of Shaw AFB (South Carolina), and 1st TRS, of Alconbury. The apparatuses assigned to these units would be used primarily for photographic reconnaissance missions in the event of conflict. Last tactical reconnaissance aircraft conceived for this purpose which serf still in USAF, the RF-4C will be replaced in the more or less long term by F-16, will be equipped with nacelles specific and having all its capacities of aerial combat.

Sheltering since many years of the RF-4C Phantom, the base of Alconbury also receives, but since much less longer, the visit of Lockheed TR-1A, new apparatuses derived from famous U-2, and Northrop F-5E Tiger II pertaining to a squadron known as of Agressors, used for the drive with the aerial combat. The speeds reached at the present time by the fighters make that the bases of the two involved camps are closer the ones to the others in times of flight, so that Alconbury appears, today, like a fortress in permanent state of alert. Tight networks of barbed wire surround the perimeter of the aerodrome, in which the teams on the ground and the forces in charge of defense are devoted regularly to exercises with NBC combinations which must ensure their protection in the event of nuclear attack, bacteriological or chemical. The accent is related on the compensation for the damages caused by the adversary at the time of an air raid and to the stopping of the craters which would have been dug by anti-runway weapons.



To prepare the mission

It in general runs out a very long time between the beginning of the preparatory work and the moment when the pilot and his navigator take seat on board their plane (nobody, within 1st TRS, employs the official designation of Weapon Systems Officer, officer responsible for the setting in motion of the system of weapon, to appoint the aforementioned navigator). The time assigned with a mission in times of peace is approximately eight hours, of which three return to the flight itself. Today, the exit begins at 8 a.m., moment when the chief of edge of the apparatus takes, in its wall cupboard, the bag containing the necessary commun run for all the pilots of recognition of the world. In fact, it has charts of the United Kingdom and the European theatre of operations, several handbooks, in particular those which relate to the starting procedures and the plane itself. Unless being graduate US Academy Air Force of Colorado Springs (equivalent of the Flying school in France), the chief of edge will undoubtedly not know the Morse, so that it will have of it a handbook, which could be extremely useful where necessary for him. To write on its charts to the 1/50 000, it employs the same large pen since years, and it has recourse to a soft lead pencil to carry information necessary on the plasticized charts. Lastly, the supposed positions of the sites of ground-to-air missiles and the anti-aircraft guns are carried in red. The flight plan is then placed in a bag which the pilot will pose behind him aboard plane.

As soon as this first operation ended, the crew goes to the headquarters hardened squadron, in which are the rooms of preparing, equipment, briefing, information and preparation. In the latter, the pilot and his navigator receive their orders, procedure to which the Americans allotted the name of "Frag" (of Fragmentary Order, an expression inherited the war of Viêt-nam). During the same exit, a RF-4C can be engaged on several objectives - three or sometimes - important. One will ask a plane of this type not to go to photograph the progression of a section of infantry, but to fly over a strategic bridge located in Eastern Europe or a pontoon established by the forces of the Warsaw Pact to cross a river during an offensive. In times of peace, the tasks assigned with the American reconnaissance aircraft are connected as much as possible with those which would return to them in the event of conflict. Although the mission about which we speak here unrolls day, the apparatuses of 1st TRS can be brought to accomplish night flights on behalf of the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force of NATO.

A 9. 15, the crew penetrates in the room of information, where it receives a certain number of information as for the objective which is assigned to him and as for the threats with which it could be confronted on the way of the outward journey and that of the return.

half an hour later, the two men gain the room of preparation, where they carry out then the planning of their mission. They review the terms which they will use when they communicate between them during the flight and define what they will have to do if, by chance, they were constrained to be ejected. If such a possibility would arise, the pilot and his navigator could use the radio of survival URC-64, which, having four frequencies, would enable them to keep the contact with the friendly units of research thanks to a small transmitter (contrary to the PRC-90, used in Southeast Asia, the batteries of this equipment are not protected from the mould). The crew has two types of charts: one to the 1/500 000, of the part of the European continent which they must fly over, which enables them to carry out to them naviga tion at sight while being based on a certain number of characteristic bench marks; the other to the 1/50 000, which will be employed only with the approach of the objective, if the crew wishes to find particular indices, such as a precise building or an intersection of roads. Apart from this precise planning of the road that they will borrow, the pilot and his navigator are informed of the atmospheric conditions, the procedures of call and other missions which could possibly proceed in the zone where they must operate. The appointment with a flying cistern Boeing KC-135, which will ensure their in-flight refueling, is analyzed in detail (it is a very important phase of the mission).

At 10 a.m. 45, the crew goes in the room of preparing, where the helmets, the harnesses and the G-suits are stored. New light helmet HGU-55/P, developed after the war of Viêt-nam, is characterized by its comfort and its camouflage. As for the harnesses, which are equipped with a fire, they are connected to the ejector seat and the parachute by "fast" fasteners, known under the name of Koch system in the US Air Force. Equipped with a pocket in which can be placed a knife, used to cross the straps of the parachute in the event of need, the G-suit in addition is equipped with inside pockets, located at the level of the knees and the stomach, which inflate when the plane is engaged in a series of operations under high load factors. The phenomena related to acceleration do not constitute an acute problem on Phantom, but of the hunters such as F-16 Fighting Falcon can box load factors which the body of the pilot would not support without the G-suit.

After having tested and the oxygen communication systems of their helmet, the two members of crew collect the last information then take the vehicle which must lead them to their apparatus. At 11 a.m. 40, as we mentioned above, they leave the hangar, engines moving, and the teams on the ground carry out last controls. The canopies, actuated by hydroelectric jacks, are then closed (that of the navigator comprises two external rear view mirrors, installed on the amounts). Asking for ten of minutes, rolling until the end of the track of Alconbury is followed by a new checking of the engines and systems of flight, and, at 12 noon, when the pilot launches afterburnings and coward the brakes, the RF-4C leaps on its undercarriage and starts its takeoff run. Climbing above the fields which surround Alconbury, the plane moves towards the east, i.e. in direction of continental Europe. At this time, the two men are alone, without weapon and fear, like specifies it proudly the currency of the crews of the recognition.



Systems of recognition

Although it profits from the possibility of carrying nuclear weapons on the control pedestal of fuselage, the RF-4C is a plane not armed. Tests were led in 1983 with Phantom of recognition of the National Air Guard of Minnesota equipped with air-to-air missiles AIM-9L Sidewinder to homing head to infra-reds, but this armament was not adopted by the US Air Force, so that the Israeli RF-4E remain the only planes of the line to carry machines of this type. The RF-4C is equipped with a small radar of nose APQ-99, working in modes cartographic, of follow-up of ground and avoidance of obstacles. The remainder of the nose cone is occupied by oblique, side and panoramic cameras. In the lower part a radar with side sweeping APQ-102 was placed, which makes it possible to obtain an image with high definition of broad band of ground parallel with the trajectory of the apparatus. Behind equipment of sweeping to infra-reds is installed which provides a very clear thermal image same zones; but the assertion according to which the films recorded by a RF-4C can be developed on its board is false.

the new systems of recognition developped at the point after the war of Viêt-nam made it possible to increase the capacities of the RF-4C in important proportions at the beginning of the Eighties. Twenty-four of these machines were equipped with equipment of recognition tactical (Tactical Electronic Reconnaissance, or TEREC) Litton ALQ-125, which locates in an automatic way and with a high degree of accuracy the radars and the enemy apparatuses of communication. The collected emissions are analyzed by a calculator, compared with data stored in memory and posted on a display screen (Hostile Electronic Order of Battle, electronic organization of the enemy) located in the back cockpit. The TEREC was conceived in order to indicate objectives with the planes of electronic war F-4G Wild Weasel and in General Dynamics/ Grumman Electric Fox. Mis in service in 1st TRS in 1985, this equipment has for principal disadvantage of encumbering the cockpit of the navigator and of reducing the visibility.

the TEREC is associated the control device of shooting and of designation with laser Ford AVQ-26 Pave Tack, which profits from capacities any time rather reduced but makes it possible the RF-4C to illuminate objectives for the account of aircraft equipped with bombs guided by laser.

the mission that we evoke here only aims at bringing back photographs. Phantom is equipped with vertical cameras KS-91 and KS-87B, whose focal distances respectively reach 457 and 152 mm, and who work virtually in an automatic way. When it was engaged for the first time at the combat, within 11th TRS (based in Tan Its Nhut AB, close to Saigon), the le` October 1965, the RF-4C was to carry out master keys at high speed at altitudes higher than 12 000 m. The successes recorded by ground-to-air missiles SA-2 "Guideline" north-Vietnamese obliged the Americans to revise their designs of employment completely. On the European theatre of operations, where the Soviets align missiles SA-5, to the capacities even more considerable, the missions at high altitude are proscribed. The exit to which we assist here includes/understands an approach at high altitude, during which the plane must be supplied while carburizing, then an overflight of the objective and a return towards the base at low altitude. At 1 p.m. 10, seventy minutes after its take-off of Alconbury, the RF-4C moves towards the point of appointment envisaged with a flying cistern KC-135 Stratotanker of the 8th Air Refuelling Squadron, to 10 360 m above the Federal German Republic. As soon as it arrives near the KC-135, orbiting, the RF-4C is aligned on the luminous slopes placed under the belly of the supply craft. Once this operation achieved, the pilot and the boomer (the operator of in-flight refueling) remains in permanent radio operator contact until the end of the transfer.



Base advanced

Would the KC-135 be in measurement to fill their task in times of war? Such is the question that the crews of Phantom of recognition are posed, which know well that the in-flight refueling constitutes a fundamental share of their work. The flying cisterns of the US Air Force depend on Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the bombers which this great command aligns would profit, as the program established for this purpose (Individual Integrated Operations Plan) envisages it, from an absolute priority in this field in the event of conflict. On another side, it is advisable not to forget the extreme vulnerability of the tankers vis-a-vis to the ground-to-air missiles or the hunters of the adversary. This is why a wing of RF-4C was set up on the basis of advanced Zweibrücken, in Federal German Republic.

It is 13. 20 when the transfer of the fuel ends. Now, the pilot carries out his descent (in times of war, it would activate at this time the nacelle of jamming ALQ-119 whose Phantom of recognition can be equipped). The phase known as of combat, which consists in the present mission to photograph a bridge located close of the border with East Germany, starts. The apparatus evolving/moving to 75 m of the ground, at the speed of 930 km/h, the crew uses the radar of nose ALQ-99 in manual mode of follow-up of ground. The ALQ-99 being an equipment monoimpulse, this way of proceeding could appear somewhat primitive; the fact remains that it gives good results.

the mission being held in times of peace, the RF-4C does not go down below 75 m altitude. If a conflict burst, the committed aircraft would fly, approximately 80 km before approaching their objective, much low. The final race, the overflight of the target and the return would be achieved to 30 m, with less if the ground were released. As for speed, it would undoubtedly be higher than 1 100 km/h. During all the time that the catch of photographs lasts, the pilot and the navigator get busy to visually detect the sites of ground-to-air missiles and the anti-aircraft guns.

the majority of the exits which 1st TRS carries out unroll of night, and all the missions should be led under such conditions in the event of confrontation between Atlantic Alliance and the Warsaw Pact. Profiting from no visual help in mode of follow-up of ground, the pilot should however fly at an altitude a little higher than of day. During the final race, it often happens that the navigator deals with the handling of the throttle controls, while the pilot concentrates on the course and altitude. This method, which seems to give excellent results, makes it possible to optimize last time above the objective and to bring back photographs of very great quality.

In times of war, the crew would have the possibility of contacting by radio the friendly forces in order to them communi quer of vital information. If the needs for the momen I required, it could even be charged to operate on ui objective secondary before regaining its base, with conditioi of course that this one not be destroyed. For the case where 1 track of Alconbury would have been damaged, the pilot for rait to use his brake chute and his stick of stop. S principal concern would be then to gain the photographic center of interpretation, where the films brought back would be developed and analyzed by specialists. Alcon bury is the only aerodrome of NATO to be had one pi ] (Photo Interpretation Facility) protected from the electromagnetic bombar dements and emissions. Finishing the present mission, the RF-4C lands in Alconbury in the 15 hour old neighbourhoods and comes to stop to about thirty meters from the center interpretation. At this time, of the men belonging to the teams on the ground of the squadron precipitate towards the apparatus in order to extract the cases from films of the cameras and to carry them at the laboratory. The crew will have to then devote an important time to the débriefing in order to account for the least details of his exit and to point out any anomaly which it would have noted. In fact, as soon as the brought back films start to be examined of very near by the specialists interpreters, the mission of the RF-4C will have ended.


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