Above & Beyond: Launch the Fleet!
- By Russell Gregory
- Air & Space magazine, July 2001
(Page 3 of 4)
After figuring out who was who over the radio, we were ready for departure. The tower cleared us for takeoff as we moved into position on the southeast-bound runway. I was the first of our element to start down the runway and was amazed at how unstable the jet felt in the rapidly changing winds. The combination of the strong crosswinds hammering the F-15’s towering twin tails and the reduced stability from hydroplaning on inches of standing water made the airplane want to weathervane into the wind.
As we passed 100 knots, it was taking nearly full stick deflection to keep the airplane pointed down the runway. Forty knots more to takeoff. As the nose gear lifted off the runway, the weathervaning effect intensified. I cut the normal climb angle of 10 degrees in half in a feeble attempt to reduce this effect and build up airspeed a little bit more rapidly.
As the jet finally lurched into the air, the flight controls went all sloppy as they fought against the gusts. Wind shear kept dropping the airplane back down. Should I raise the landing gear for an increased climb rate or leave it down in case the winds forced me back on the runway?
The rain sounded like a machine gun as I informed departure control that we were airborne. Already, I could hear signs of trouble. One of the jets that had taken off just before us had developed an attitude indicator and heading problem. The pilot was currently flying off the small standby attitude indicator at the bottom of his instrument panel and receiving his heading from his wingman’s radio calls.
As departure control handed that four-ship off to a different frequency to work on their problem, I heard the rest of my four-ship call that they were “tied” to the aircraft ahead of them with their radar. I began a sweeping left turn, dragging my daisy chain of fighters toward clearer skies, when number four’s radar suddenly broke lock and stopped sweeping. Within seconds, number three’s radio stopped receiving. Just before three’s radio died, he had heard just enough from four to learn that four was having radar problems. In between three’s calls that he was not receiving any air traffic control radio transmissions, he passed his position, altitude, and airspeed to four so that four could maintain an approximate heading and hold an altitude that would not conflict with the rest of the flight.
As my jet buffeted its way up through 30,000 feet, it began to pick up some intermittent icing. I called for our flight to turn on our anti-icing equipment and continued to hear three broadcast his parameters to number four. It was clear from four’s voice that everything was under control. As I broke out into clear skies at 39,000 feet, I felt grateful to have highly experienced wingmen.
With my flight rejoining above the hurricane, the mysterious problems began to disappear. Number three’s radio began receiving. Number four’s radar began sweeping again. It was clear that the problems we had on departure were a result of the torrential rain.
Settling down for the remaining hour of what would finally be an uneventful flight, the conversation turned to lighter topics. Did anyone know a good Mexican restaurant? Anyone hear any reports of a whiskey front blowing toward Tinker Air Force Base?