F-15B Flight with the 102nd Fighter Wing
Before I tell the story of my F-15 flight, I need to emphasize something.
This article is in no way to say "nana-nana poo-poo, I got an F-15 ride". It is intended to show the number of people and years it took to arrange this, as well as to describe the fitting and training necessary for even an incentive flight. It is not like jumping into an airliner or even a B-25 for a scenic ride.
The 102nd Fighter Wing
The 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard is at Otis Air National Guard Base on beautiful Cape Cod. I have had a great and supportive relationship with them for many years. The ride was first broached back in November 2003, when my wife Nancy secretly asked the Wing Commander about a ride for me for my 40th birthday, though I didn’t know about any of this until April 2006. That got the ball rolling, and she even contacted my boss and colleagues at work, and a couple of prominent ARC regulars as references. I don’t know if she bribed them, or what, but they all vouched for me. So, 2.5 years later, it was announced to me. My help with their Pilot for a Day program, LEGO donations and a few other things are justifications for the flight. My family and I consider many members of the 102nd FW personal friends.
I was having a really rough day at work back in April 2006, and we had an offsite department lunch planned. I had a huge amount of work I had to do, and planned on staying in for lunch, but it was mandatory. As we arrived at the restaurant, I was ironically the last to enter. As I did, I saw the Wing Commander "PW" and his Community Affairs representative Nikki, as well as my wife Nancy and son Michael, and many people from work. Talk about being totally confused – why would PW and Nikki drive 150 miles one way?
After a short bit, PW spoke and explained why they were there. Needless to say, I was humbled and basically shocked. 2.5 years in the making, and I had no clue whatsoever. They gave me a copy of the approval and a flight suit complete with patches. My day took a quick 180 degree turn! Now the process of setting a date began.
The Days Leading Up to the Flight
Needless to say, I was nervously excited about the flight. As a date was chosen in June, we then had to make travel and hotel plans, as well as get a physical and EKG by my doctor, and coordinate the results with the Flight Surgeon "Doc T". My doctor’s report claimed my body parts were "normal", even my most secret and sensitive ones. I hoped they would still be normal after the flight.
The date changed once due to other commitments by the unit, and another time due to weather. We have had really lousy weather this Spring and Summer, and ended up with the most glorious day on 7 July, and well worth the juggling acts. During it all, the 102nd FW was really flexible.
The Date Arrives – Time to Visit Life Support
For even an incentive flight (basic maneuvers, under 18,000 feet unless you have altitude chamber training and certification , etc), there is still a lot of preparation and fitting that must be accomplished. I would be sitting in and strapped securely to the ACES II ejection seat. I was told that in the event of an ejection, it would be 12 Gs against my back and rear end. Being tight against the seat was critical, as not to get injured by the seat or survival kit during an ejection.
Under the professional guidance of Sharon and her Life Support team, I put on my flight suit, and they started to fit the G-suit to me. This piece of equipment has bladders that fill with air and put pressure on your abdomen and legs to provide for a more effective straining maneuver, keeping the blood in one’s upper body (i.e. the brain), and the air is pumped in and out based on the Gs the plane is enduring. Not only does the leg portion zip and strap on, but must be laced up the back for a perfect, snug fit. I felt like a sausage at this point, but it was not uncomfortable.
Then the boots, gloves, helmet and mask were next, and were good fits right away. The harness was next for the upper body it provides the connection to the parachute risers which are also the shoulder harness and it also includes the LPU (Life Preserver Unit). Tightening and connecting the 2 straps that go from my lower back, through my legs and then connect in the front near my hips was quite interesting. They had to be adjusted so I could not really stand up straight. After doing the straps, it is a good thing Nancy and I didn’t plan on having any more kids. Again, I hoped my parts would still be normal.
Here are some photos of me getting fitted with the various equipment.
1-2-1-2-1…off to training
We then went into another room specifically designed for seat, egress, and parachute harness training. I entered a simulator, and Sharon described the seat, oxygen flow switches and other buckles and straps. I had to be able to get out of the cockpit fast if an emergency happened on the ground. The theory and procedure taught was 1-2-1-2-1. These were the buckles or connections to be undone, and really made it easy to remember.
1 safe the seat
2 shoulder straps had to be lifted and I would lean forward, and release them.
1 lap belt
2 survival kit straps
1 G-suit oxygen hose gets yanked-on to disconnect
All of this had to be done with gloves on.
Just hanging around
Now it was time for chute harness training, just in case we did eject, I would have to know how to steer the chute. This training also included a series of steps:
Check the parachute canopy for inconvenient things like large holes
Helmet visor up
Oxygen mask off
Ensure the seat kit and life raft are deployed
Inflate the LPU's if landing in water
Steer into the wind
Prepare to land
After a bit more orientation I was connected to a chute harness while standing on a step stool. Then the stool was removed and I was hanging there. Remember the straps going through my groin? They now were my best and most intimate piece of equipment as they supported my weight.
A helmet was then placed on me with a virtual reality mask for chute landing. I was at 3,500 feet and had to steer the chute towards a smoke marker. I landed within 70 feet of the marker, not bad for a rookie. All in all, the training was eye opening and done very professionally. A huge thanks to Sharon and her team for being patient and thorough. Their work made me totally comfortable with the upcoming flight.
The pilot assigned for the flight, KIMO, then gave us an unclassified briefing that included some information on the F-15 as well as where we would fly. We would do an unrestricted departure at 400 knots, and climb to 10,000 feet. We then would roll over at that altitude and continue on. He explained the route we would take which would include Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Island, Provincetown and the open Atlantic Ocean for some aerobatics.
KIMO, a seasoned veteran F-15 pilot, Weapons’ School graduate and MiG killer, made me totally comfortable through every phase from preflight to post flight.
Time to fly
While KIMO and I walked, my family and dear friend that accompanied us, Lorraine, were ushered into an Air Force truck and driven out the hangar where F-15B 77-163 was waiting for us.
A few hero shots were taken, and then KIMO took me on the walk around. He explained what he was looking for during the inspection, and I learned quite a bit (for example, the main landing gear’s brakes have a rod that sticks out to show how much brake pads are left).
After this – it was kisses and goodbyes (with my family, not KIMO) and I climbed up and stood on the port intake. I did those straps through my groin again and climbed into the back seat. Sharon strapped me in, and I put on my helmet and oxygen mask. KIMO did his preflight checks, and cranked up the engines, explaining a lot as he did it. I could hear him and the crew chief talking, and that was very informative. He asked me to move the control stick to make sure it worked. Then, he lowered the canopy. After a few minutes, we taxied out and headed for the runway.
As we taxied KIMO and I chatted about stuff – I asked about different things I was seeing on the panel, etc, as I marveled at the view provided by the bubble canopy including the insect on the outside of the canopy that was tagging along. KIMO parked it at the last-chance area, and the ground crews got out of their truck and did the inspection looking for leaks or loose parts. We were all good to go. KIMO was on the radio with the tower, and got the clearance for the unrestricted departure – sweet. Our call sign was "Cape 11".
My family is now about ½ way down the runway with some folks from the 102nd. KIMO lines us up on the centerline, gives the engines power and does some last minute checks. He then asks if I was ready – I simply said yes, but in my mind, I was saying you bet your blankety-blank-blank I was!
He gives it full afterburner, and I get the sensation of a rug being yanked out from under me while being kicked in the backside! We quickly accelerate and within seconds, are passing by where everyone was watching us – I think we were just over 100 knots. We lift off right in front of them, and hug the runway as the gear’s quickly retracted. This was a very cool feeling going faster and faster just off the runway. At 400 knots, KIMO then asks if I was ready – yep – he then pulls on the stick and we go vertical at 70 degrees. I am almost immediately squished into the seat and the G-suit inflates pressing on my legs and gut. I had forgotten to lower my visor, and was somewhat blinded by the sun on the way up to 10,000 feet. I am squinting to see, and before I know it, we roll inverted and there is Cape Cod – 10,000 feet below. This was probably all in less than 20 seconds. KIMO then flips us over, and we had done 3 Gs. I thought – what a rush that was! In the photo below that shows us inverted, we were at 10,000 feet. Thanks Matt for having the big zoom on your camera!
ATC gets on the radio and wants KIMO to change heading, and he snaps the jet to the right, onto our side, and pulls around. This affected me more than the climb did, but the maneuver was a brief one.
Not a cloud in the sky, and the Cape and islands were simply beautiful.
We descended and flew over Martha’s Vineyard, and KIMO got approval for a low approach into Nantucket Island airport. He explained the instruments and how they guided him in. We were following a small private plane in, and even though we were going as slow as possible, we were still gaining on him. We flew over the beach on approach, and leveled off at 800 feet above the runway (I think). KIMO then applied power and we ripped out of there – again, very cool move. I can imagine the people on the beach and airport seeing and hearing us depart. The tower comes on the radio and thanks KIMO for the great low approach.
We then flew up towards Provincetown, which is on the tip of Cape Cod. En route, we are warned by ATC and see a few private planes in the area. Now we head out over the Atlantic. During the flight, my oxygen mask was sort of bothering the bridge of my nose, and I tried adjusting it a few times. But it was minor compared the thrill I was having.
KIMO asked me if I wanted to do some aerobatics. I said sure, and he said what kind? Afterwards, I realized I missed my chance and should have asked him if he could do a Cobra, but it never occurred to me to ask during the flight.
I told him whatever he wanted to do. He said OK, we’ll do a loop. I thought cool; I have my visor down now. So he gives it full burner, and last I looked we were at 400 knots and he yanks it back like our departure. We go vertical and he keeps pulling it as we go over the top (no idea what altitude) and come back down. We didn’t do more than 2 Gs. Now my right ear decides it didn’t like the rapid descent too much. That was a very cool move though. I tell KIMO my ear is blocked, and I remove my mask and try to clear my ear. It only partially clears, and that is it for aerobatics – darn. KIMO says we’ll just cruise around and head back.
The F-15 cruises incredibly smooth, and at times, it didn’t even feel like we were moving.
We head back to Otis at around 4000 feet and 300 knots, and KIMO points out the many landmarks below. About 10 minutes from Otis, he calls into Ops and tells them where we are, and the family can head out the runway again.
Low approaches and touch and go’s
KIMO asks if I wanted to do some low approaches and touch and go’s – you bet. We come in over the base at a higher altitude (1,500 feet which is standard for overhead patterns in fighters) and I see the truck carrying my family pulling up to the side of the runway. We pass by, and KIMO yanks it hard to the starboard. We are on our side as we change directions by 180 degrees and enter the pattern again. Hmmm, my stomach sort of felt that one – probably due to my ear being somewhat blocked. We then descend lower and KIMO lowers the gear – we slightly touch the runway and pull up and I hear the gear go "clunk" as it is retracted. We tear up the runway as they say and blast by my family and I raise my arms in celebration – ala Waco captured by Jake Melampy at London.
During this, there is a US Coast Guard Falcon jet landing and HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter in the area. Not realizing it first, but I hear a voice on the radio ask if it was "Ken" in the backseat. KIMO says, "what"? The voice repeats it and says "tell him this is Lt. Nathan…. from the USCG, and I am thoroughly jealous." I crack up and ask KIMO to tell him I said hi. Nathan is a contact at the USCG for some models I am doing and I found out afterwards he was in the Jayhawk.
We go around a few more times, and I tell KIMO one more approach as my stomach is starting to protest a bit.
We land and slowly taxi back, and KIMO and I chit-chat about the "new" F-15Cs arriving to the unit. At this point, I am totally drenched in sweat. We pull into the hangar, and shut down and open the canopy. I proudly show the empty barf bag!
We were in the air one hour and 12 minutes.
Sharon unstraps me and I climb out, a bit wobbly-legged. Congratulatory high-fives are exchanged between my son Michael and me, and Michael and KIMO. I heartily shake KIMO’s hand and thank him profusely for an incredible ride. We walk back to Maintenance – the fresh air and walking help shake the bit of nausea I had gotten right at the end.
KIMO enters his time in the computer, and we head back to Ops where everyone is waiting. KIMO announces to the rest of the pilots that I was still walking. In their eyes, KIMO probably failed!
I took a shower and joined everyone for lunch to eat the pasta, meatballs and sausage we had brought from my sister’s and brother in law’s restaurant. 5 hours just flew by like 5 seconds – I am still floating on cloud 9.
Thanks for reading my ramblings, and I hope this gives some insight into what the training and flight were like.
Numerous thank you’s are in order for making this flight a reality.
First and foremost, I need to thank my wonderful wife Nancy and son Michael. Nancy started the ball rolling in November 2003, and Michael never once let it slip in those 2.5 years. Also thank you to Lorraine for joining us on the day.
Thanks to PW for approving and pursuing the idea, and the rest of the 102nd FW command staff.
Thanks to Gary, Torben and all my co-workers from work for their support and interest.
Thanks to 2 prominent ARC members for being references – I am not naming them to protect their privacy and confidentiality.
Thanks to PW and Nikki for driving out on that April day and surprising me with such wonderful news, and preparing and processing the request.
Thanks to MA ANG HQ (Mike and Sam) and all the way up the chain to the Pentagon for the approval of the flight.
Thanks to Doc T for reviewing and approving my physical report.
Thanks to PW, KIMO, Tiny, Flav, Psycho, Deuce, Wod and the crew chiefs / maintenance troops for juggling the schedule and having 77-163 available.
Thanks to Matt and Sandy for taking photos.
Thanks to Sharon and everyone in Life Support for the proper fitting and training – your efforts were incredible and I appreciate it highly.
Thanks to Nikki, Cliff and Heather in Public Affairs, and McGoo and Andrea for their hospitality and escorting my family.
Thanks to Liz and Judy for so much help behind the scenes.
Thanks to Steve Bamford for publishing this article.
And finally – thanks to KIMO for his professional and friendly attitude before, during and after the flight. Words cannot express enough the gratitude and respect I have for him and his profession.Ken
Photos by Nancy Middleton, Sandy Niedzwiecki and Matt Jackson, and text © by Ken Middleton