††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† A RIDE TO REMEMBER†
††††† Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. It probably is not the most famous military base in the world, but I was excited as I drove my car through the Oklahoma country side because I was headed to Altus for the very first time. At Altus the 97th Air Mobility wing has been training new students to fly the KC-135, C-141, and the C-5 Galaxy for years. Recently, the C-141 mission has come to an end as the old cargo hauler is getting phased out of service and a new type has been phased in.
Pictures above are of the 4 million dollar C-141 sim being transported from building 89 to the Southwest Technology Training Center to train† future simulator maintenance personnel.†
The new C-17 GLOBEMASTER III† is without a doubt in a class of its own. Designed by the same company that built the awesome F-4 Phantom that I am so crazy about, McDonnell
Douglas was bought out by Boeing who is now building the C-17. The aircraftís stats are impressive.
The cruise speed is between 0.74 and 0.77 Mach. The range without in-flight refueling, and with a payload of 160,000lb, is 2,400 nautical miles.
The cargo compartment has a sufficiently large cross-section to transport large wheeled and tracked vehicles, tanks, helicopters (such as the AH-64 Apache), artillery, and weapons such as the Patriot Missile System. The C-17 is capable of carrying out an air drop of outsize firepower such as the Sheridan tank or the Bradley fighting vehicle. Three Bradley armored vehicles comprise one deployment load on the C-17.
The US Army M-1 main battle tank can be carried with other vehicles. The only other Cargo plane in the West capable of moving tanks is the old C-5 Galaxy and even they are only ably to carry one Abram at a time.
Airlift capabilities include...† combat offload up to 18 pallets, 69,000lb; Container Delivery System (CDS) air drop up to 40 containers, 2,350lb each; up to 102 paratroops; and high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) jumpers. The aircraft is equipped for low-altitude parachute extraction system (LAPES) drops.
†This leads me to my excitement as I drove my car, I was going to get time in one of Boeingís full motion C-17 sims! These are some of the newest sims in the Air Force so I knew they would be nice. In the other aircraft training programs on the base, FlightSafety employees run the sims and do the simulator instruction, but in the C-17 program Boeing runs the training and the sims. I arrived there in the evening and at the baseís main gate I could not help but notice the high alert security due to 9'11. A Hummer was parked facing the traffic entering the base, and a large machine gun manned by a soldier was mounted on top of the vehicle and was pointed in our general direction.† Large concrete blocks formed a road block that you have to slowly weave through. No problem, my ID was quickly checked I was soon on my way to the large C-17 simulator building.
†As I expected due my previous flights on C-130 sims, the C-17 sims are very large. We walked across the walkway and entered the flight deck.
I was impressed. This was no 1960's technology-based flight deck. Four Large Multi Function Displays† dominate the area under the glareshield. There are only two crew positions, impressive when you consider the size and complexity of the aircraft. At first glance the Cockpit reminded me a lot of the 777 that I had recently toured the cockpit of.
†Directly in front of each of the two crew positions are a fixed Heads Up Display. These are not like the units Iíve seen in other cargo aircraft, these looked like HUDs from a fighter jet. The instructor was also quick to point out the glass on the HUD and say ďdonít touchĒ. They have a special coating that fingerprints can damage and the units cost over a hundred thousand dollars each. I nearly laughed out loud despite myself. Give me a couple hundred thousand dollars and I can build one impressive sim, including HUDs! I will concede that the flight model of the Boeing sims are far better than any sim I could possibly build with Microsoft Flight Simulator. But Iíd still like the two hundred thousand.
†Next I noticed the flight controls. Not one yoke was in sight. However, two stick grips that look suspiciously close to a B-8 grip are in the cockpit. To add even more to my delight, the grips are not mounted on the side of the cockpit as in the tradition of Airbus, but rather are positioned properly between the legs! I quickly announced I wished to sit in the co-pilotsí position. After positioning the seat which can move in multiple directions, I felt at home with the B-8 grip in my right hand and the throttles in my left. It felt very similar to sitting in my F-4 sim, except that I had four huge throttles to handle rather than the two I am used to. But whoís complaining? Not me!
The visual system was both impressive and behind the times at once. The wrap around view made the outside view look life size which is nice to someone like me who is used to small desktop monitors. We were parked at Altus and the layout of the buildings was very accurate. The largeness of the view really did make it feel like we were going flying for real. But on the other hand, the graphics looked like they came from the old LHX game I used to play on my 25MHZ 386SX laptop computer, which also only had 16 colors. Flight Simulator 95 had better terrain detail than the C-17 does, if you donít count the few trees the simulator displayed. They said it is the Air Forceís fault, the Air Force wonít pay to get modern looking graphics. Of course, Iím sure I wouldnít want to pay the bill either, just guessing what it would cost. The graphics were certainly quite a contrast to the hi-tech feel of the rest of the simulator.
†Another guy who was with me is a 737 pilot and he took the controls first and the instructor showed me different things I had to do to help the PIC as we took off.† I love full motion! You know without looking at any gauges that speed is definitely increasing. Turning fast is also more dramatic. He made several touch and goes and I enjoyed my duties in the copilot seat. Then it was my turn at the controls. Wow! This cargo plane can move! We were lightly loaded and the plane responded well to the controls. I took it below 300 Feet AGL and followed a river, banking hard as I followed the turns at around 300 knots. Now Iím really impressed, this plane will pretty much do a snap roll. Those huge wings have to be incredibly strong to take such punishment. The computerized flight control system automatically limits the aircraft too only flying within its safety parameters, so I wasnít doing anything it would not handle in a real flight.†
†Next, the instructor tells me there is a F-15 Eagle flying at a certain heading that will cross in front of us. When looking for other planes I really appreciated the wrap around view. We were moving our heads to look around seats or to look over our shoulder just the way you do in a real plane. It felt very similar to my real flying experiences which adds even more to the realism. We spotted the F-15 on our port side and I maneuvered to fall in behind. I love formation flying with sims and this was going to be the ultimate experience Iíve had so far. He said the F-15 was flying at 300K so I pushed the throttles forward and the speed shot up. Ok! Quickly pull the throttles back! I donít want to overshoot. The fact that two experienced pilots were watching me only adds to my desire to do this well. I finally decide the F-15 is actually doing about 310 knots and I speed up accordingly. I carefully and slowly closed in on the Eagle until the F-15 was very close on my left side. It was so cool. Even the instructor had not seen an F-15 from so close in the simulator. We were surprised at the F-15's level of detail. The visuals still looked like there were only 16 colors, but we could actually see some details inside the F-15's cockpit. It was a neat sight to see. And I was very busy.† Formation flying requires that you think ahead of your plane or you will overshoot where you want to be. I remember watching Navy students trying to fly formation with each other in Pensacola Florida. The one student in particular seemed to always be behind his F-18,† reacting when it is too late and he would then have to make a dramatic correction. The instructor, who was an F-14 pilot with thousands of hours and years of experience, finally couldnít take it anymore. He told the student to get out of the sim, then the instructor took the controls. It was spectacular, he turned and found the other studentís F-18 which was maneuvering gently in the traffic pattern around the airport, and he dived aggressively toward the other plane. At a certain distance he chopped the throttles and coasted to a perfect position on the other F-18's wing and hung there like he was glued in that position. After a few moments he says ďThatís how you do it!Ē Soon the student was back at the controls, as behind his aircraft as ever.† I once read there are two kinds of pilots, one who says, ďMan, I was flying along and sudden found myself socked in the worst clouds and IFR conditions ever!Ē† and then there is a second type who says ďMan, I was flying along and saw this huge cloud bank in front of me and I had to change my heading to stay out of it!Ē.† The second person reacted ahead of time and I think it takes a little bit of that attitude to be good at formation flying. Not that Iím saying Iím an outstanding pilot, Iím sure Derek Higgs would happily recount his experience of watching me repeatedly crash on landings in Falcon 4.0.
†Flying on the F-15's wing at 310 knots I realized my throttles were pulled way back, nearly to the idle position. If I needed more speed I had to bump the throttle forward very carefully, or Iíd gain way too much speed. The forty thousand pounds of thrust per an engine turned the huge but lightly loaded cargo plane into a hot rod. I could really feel the acceleration due to the motion system and that helps make it easier to monitor your speed. I certainly donít feel that kind of acceleration while in my normal C-172 copilots seat position.
† The instructor was impressed enough with the view that he asked me to fly on the F-15's left side so he could get a picture of me, with the F-15 out the window. This lead to an exciting moment. To do the formation change I decided Iíd go down slightly and then cross under the F-15 to its port side. This would provide for a cool view but would also provide me with many chances to mess up the formation. The large fighter swept over us and I had a grin on my face as I pulled up on his left side. It wasnít perfect but I wish I had it on a video tape. Thereís now way I can adequately describe the moment in print. As usual, the motion system really added to the effect. Now that the F-15 was on my right side where I could see it better, I moved in even closer. It was the most satisfying flying in a sim Iíve ever had.† The 737 pilot used to be a C-141 pilot, and he was impressed enough with the formation that he asked if Iíd done it before.
†I couldnít keep the position and look at the camera at the same time, So I gave up the controls and posed for a shot. Unfortunately, the camera flash washed out the picture and the F-15 is nowhere to be seen.
†Once during the flying the simís computer crashed. It took about 20 minutes for the technicians to get it up and running again.
†After nearly three hours in the sim it was time to quit. They took me nearby and showed me the new sim that is not fully operational yet. The instruments were all lit up inside but the visual system is still being worked on and was not ready to use. It had a larger area for the instructorís station and the outside of the sim has curved rather than flat surfaces. Maybe someday Iíll get to try out this sim too.
†Next, we went outside and looked at all the planes that were parked side by side for the night. Itís something to see a fleet of such huge planes used for nothing but training. It was then that we noticed two C-141 fuselages† parked where they used to be used for C-141 cargo handling training. We got inside one and looked around. It looked like it was being taken apart from the inside out, definitely a sad sight to see. The cockpit was gutted, and the cargo hold was in the process.
This should have been the end of the story because the next day I was supposed to leave town but I was asked if I wanted to get on the sim for a second day. What a silly question! My business trip can wait!
†This time it would be different. Instead of having the sim to myself where I can just goof off, I would be riding with an Air Force crew that was on their very last simulator flight before they moved to the real plane. They had been training for this moment for several weeks. I would† sit in an observerís seat and keep my mouth shut as they flew what was supposed to be a three hour training mission. There would be no getting out of the sim until the pilots were finished but I didnít think that would be a problem. So on day two I† returned to the base and met the two student pilots, a Lieutenant and a Captain.
†It was neat to see how the Air Force flies the plane. They did an engine start up and went through the procedures to prepare for departure. Our flight took us down toward Dallas, Texas. About 50 miles from Altus the terrain suddenly quit. That was funny! The sim terrain detail only goes out a certain distance from Altus then it shows a perfectly flat world at sea level. I remember years ago that the C-130 sim I flew did the same thing.
† Sometimes the instructor would ask a question about a procedure and the students didnít always have the answer. There is definitely a lot to remember!
†Part of the flight requirement was to stay away from certain areas or surface to air missiles would be fired at us. The C-17 is equipped with BAE Systems Integrated Defense Solutions (formerly Tracor) AN/ALE-47 countermeasure flare dispensers and the Lockheed Martin/Alliant Techsystems AN/AAR-47 missile warning system. AN/AAR-47 has a suite of surface-mounted thermal sensors around the aircraft, which detect the thermal signature of the missile exhaust plume. Frequency selection and signal processing techniques are used to minimize the false alarm rate. The system provides a warning to the crew via the cockpit indicator unit of the presence and direction of the missile threat. A signal is automatically sent to the ALE-47 dispenser. The ALE-47 is capable of dispensing the new-generation active expendable decoys, POET and GEN-X, in addition to the conventional chaff and flare decoys that are compatible with the previous-generation ALE-40 and ALE-39 dispensers.
†As we returned, one did fire and it hit us before we could really react. The hit didnít do any damage, I think it was just set up to make the crew react to the warning, to follow procedures.
†There was also an engine problem they kept having to deal with nearly the entire flight, I forget what it was now. They would pull out the emergencies procedures book and go through the checklist.
†Entering the traffic pattern, the instructor programed several C-17's to fly around us. Sometimes I saw the other planes first and it was hard to keep my mouth shut. A few times they came right at us and the TCAS alarm would sound off followed by the pilot making a hard evasive turn or dive. That was fun! Anything that demonstrates the motion system is good.
†The students decided that they wanted to make some assault landings on the assault strip. The main runway at Altus is a long strip than can be seen from that for quite a distance. The assault strip however, is about as wide as the runway, but from the air it looks no longer than the length of a C-5! A propulsive lift system allows the C-17 to achieve safe landings on such short runways. The C-17 is capable of landing a full payload in less than 3,000ft. The propulsive lift system uses engine exhaust to generate lift by directing† engine exhaust onto the large flaps, which extend into the exhaust stream, allowing the aircraft to fly a steep approach at a relatively low landing speed.
The copilot would enter the heading called out by the ďTowerĒ (played by the instructor who played the ATC and cargo master parts whenever necessary) and the pilot would follow the cross hairs that were displayed in his HUD. Once lined up with the assault strip, the pilot placed the aircraft in a 5 degree pitch and keeps it at that attitude until the tires hit the ground. A horizontal bar displayed in his HUD is kept lined up with the end of the runway. If the bar moves too high the pilot would reduce power to cut airspeed and to increase our sink rate. If the bar went too low the pilot increases power to increase airspeed and lower the sink rate. From what I can tell, this technique for landing is similar to how Navy pilots land on an aircraft carrier.
†When the main gear touches down the nose of the aircraft is still high in the air, an unusual feeling for someone like me who is so used to flying in Cessna 172's. The pilot then pushes the control stick forward to quickly force the nose down so he can apply the brakes, which, unlike the C-130, is where most of the braking force comes from. Thatís not to say the C-17 does not reverse itís engines. Once the MFD gives a certain reading the pilot pulls the throttles back and the engines reverse.
†This chain of events is rough enough that the experienced instructor placed his leg on the back of the† throttle unit in front of him to steady himself against the forces throwing us forward. In moments we were stopped and the pilot taxied to the main runway where they performed the star technique to back up and turn around. The aircraft is capable of turning in a small radius and can complete a 180-degree star turn in 80ft. Soon we were in the air again. After another assault landing the copilot asks if I would like to try one? This is totally unexpected, heís offering to give up training time to me. The instructor had no trouble with it, but I did ask to make a normal landing first to get a feel for landing the big plane. Let me tell you, the thought of landing on that assault strip is intimidating.† They said sure. Soon I had the controls again and the pilot was showing me what he wanted me to do. It was great fun flying with people whose training centered around the aircraft we where in. This also gave the student the chance to be the instructor.
I made a landing on the main strip but donít really remember much about it, my mind was on that little strip I was supposed perform a controlled crash on. Once lined up with the assault strip I was finally getting a handle on the information in the HUD and with the help of the pilot made a pretty good approach. As I got closer the task loading got higher and higher, one little mistake makes a big difference on your landing. The mains hit hard and we bounced. Even though I hit where I was supposed to it already looked to my inexperienced eyes like I had used up to much of the strip to possibly stop in time due to the bounce so I pushed the throttles forward. Oops! The Instructor and both students yelled ďNo!Ē at the same time. Too late! Iím completely airborne and moving past the strip. We didnít have enough time for a go around so I went ahead and landed in the grass. They told me that when I bounced I was still within landing parameters and I should have pushed the stick forward and forced the aircraft down. To me it felt like I had to have blown every tire on the mains. The motion base helped me to realize the stress these aircraft endure when making an assault landing.
†Once we had rolled to a stop the copilot retook his took his seat from me and they went through the shut down procedures. Then they handed me a camera and I took several pictures of them with the instructor to celebrate their passing this important milestone in their training to become C-17 pilots. There were lots of happy smiles. We shook hands and talked for a while then it was time to leave. What a day!
†I think the C-17 would make a wonderful project for the home cockpit builder. It is a large jet aircraft than can still make the exciting landings of a C-130. The flight deck is ultra modern for those who enjoy 777 style cockpits. The problem would be getting information because a most of the aircraftís information is classified. No C-17 manuals are allowed to be released to the general public....† yet.
†Article by: Justin Messenger
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