Soul of the Skyraider
A U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation pilot describes what it’s like to fly three generations of ground attack aircraft.
- By Linda Shiner
- AirSpaceMag.com, August 14, 2012
Courtesy Greg Anders
(Page 4 of 6)
Flight harmonics are the balance of the stick to how the aircraft performs. So when you push the stick left to roll the aircraft, the feel in the P-51 is exactly like the feel in the F-15. The F-15 goes outside the flight envelope of the P-51, but within its flight envelope, the P-51 feels like an F-15.
The first time I got in the P-51, I got in the back seat of my dad’s plane—it has a little stick in the back—and I could fly it in formation absolutely perfectly because it felt just like an F-15. The same as the Skyraider. It feels exactly the same as an A-10. So the first time I flew both of those airplanes, I had hundreds of hours of essentially having flown them before.
What does it feel like to fire the A-10’s gun?
One of the things I loved most about the A-10 is that on almost every sortie in the training environment, you get 200 rounds of bullets you get to shoot. So when people ask me if I miss flying the A-10, I go Well, I don’t really miss flying the A-10, what I miss is shooting the gun.
I flew 27 combat sorties in Iraqi Freedom and I emptied the gun on about 12 of those…
Shooting at what?
Armored vehicles, primarily. Armored vehicles and tanks in a troops-in-contact type of environment where you need the precision of the gun.
What does the airplane feel like when you’re firing the gun?
The flight characteristics don’t really change, but the airplane vibrates so much that you just let the airplane go where it was going to go anyway. You’re trying to maintain a smooth platform for aiming, but you can’t read the HUD [head-up display] any more, so basically you’re just pulling the trigger, smoke’s coming off the nose like mad. At night, sparks are coming off the nose. So as you’re shooting, you can almost close your eyes and just keep flying the airplane straight because there’s just so much going on out there on the nose, that you can’t really see anything.
So you have a stable airframe that enables you to simply let the airplane fly. Would that have been the case with the A-1?
The A-1 has some interesting aspects to the guns too. Skyraider pilots didn’t like shooting the guns that were mounted in the wings. The 20 mm rounds tended to boil up in the wing every now and then. And it would blow the gun-loading panel off the top of wing, and it’s a pretty big panel. So that wing would lose lift fairly quickly. So here you are diving at the ground, one of your wings all the sudden loses lift, so you flip upside down, and several guys were killed that way. Some of them recovered!
The fire rate on the wing guns was pretty low because it’s a larger caliber. What the Skyraider guys really liked were the little mini-guns—they were adapted from the helicopters Gatling guns—carried in pods. The fire rate was higher, so your shot density was better at the target. And if the gun malfunctioned, it was malfunctioning outside the wing. Although the malfunction rate of the miniguns was very low. They were very reliable.