Air Combat U
At the USAF Fighter Weapons School in 1957, the instructors were mean, but the aircraft were meaner.
- By Robert A. Hanson
- Air & Space magazine, January 2002
(Page 4 of 5)
His technique was to pull very high Gs and, using the horizontal stabilizer for a speed brake—slow suddenly for no apparent reason. Boyd would yank the stick back—wham, wham, wham—repeatedly deflecting the stabilizer, which moved as a single surface, during a high-G turn. His pursuer would overshoot him every time. This was a maneuver you tried only if you knew how to get yourself out of the extreme attitudes that resulted.
Another of Boyd's favorite maneuvers once you had closed on him was to pull up into a vertical climb. Of course you followed. He would shoot straight up until he ran out of airspeed, then do a rudder reverse, an input that caused the airplane to go from nose up to nose down, and you would be looking straight up the intake of his F-100. It was frightening, to say the least. Later, during one of his violent maneuvers, Boyd blew out the hydraulic system's pop-off valves—they relieve the pressure when the system exceeds its maximum design limits—and lost his controls. He had to eject. His commander grounded him for losing an aircraft, but Boyd was able to prove the loss had occurred because of weakness in the system's design. Reinstated, he continued his explorations.
Lesser pilots weren't as lucky. The F-100A was a brute. It sat back, squatting on its haunches with that gaping intake and looking as thought it might take a bite out of you if you got too close. The Hun took a bite out of quite a few. Nearly 25 percent of the total number of F-100s produced were lost in accidents. We were briefed on some of its quirks, which were being ironed out but still needed to be respected.
One problem was that modulating the power in afterburner could cause the burner to go out. The solution was to not modulate power on takeoff. We were directed to take whatever we got. If an aircraft happened to have more power than the leader's, that aircraft's pilot would take over as lead. Once safely airborne and out of burner, we would sort out the positions. It made formation flying a little awkward, but we got good at join-ups.
The Hun also introduced us to compressor stalls, which occurred when a pilot, flying at max power and pulling heavy Gs, got the nose too high and the speed too low and starved the engine inlet of air. The combination of too much fuel and too little air caused an explosion in the engine's turbine section. Inside the cockpit, the pilot felt a horrendous BAM that struck the floor with enough force to lift his feet off the rudder pedals, and the airplane would slow drastically. An observer would see flames shoot out both intake and exhaust. The pilot could clear the condition by releasing pressure on the stick and getting the nose down—increasing airflow through the engine. Of course if an attacker was behind you at the time, you were dog meat.
Nine F-100As were lost before our class arrived at Nellis, and a few more were lost after we left, but my class was lucky. We lost none.
After training, I arrived at the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Turner Air Force Base in Georgia a couple of days before Thanksgiving, ready, or at least willing, to fly the F-100D. The first thing I learned was that three friends of mine, in the training class just ahead of me, had already been killed in F-100 accidents at their assigned units. It was not a forgiving airplane.
The Fighter Weapons School continued to develop, and it turned out the best fighter pilots in the world. In 1968, a cadre from the school went to Naval Air Station Miramar in California and helped the Navy establish its Top Gun School. Today, the school has dropped "Fighter" from its name. The New Weapons School offers instructor courses in many combat aircraft, including the B-1, the B-52, and even HH-60 helicopter. I imagine it's still a pretty exciting place.