Been a while since I’ve done one of these, so why not. Preemptive apologies to @BeachAV8R for wrecking his airport.
Off the Oregon Coast, Present Day
It was about noon when the Ops officer found me. The number three man in the squadron is an old salty type, spent more time cruising the world’s trouble spots than with his spouse, I deeply respect him. He tells the Wing was included in on some last minute exercise, and if I’d be interesting in filling the slot. I don’t miss a beat in agreeing, instantly being saved from a day of paper work and getting my ass handed to me in Halo by the younger Junior Officers.
The rest of my afternoon is occupied by briefings, planning, more briefings, more planning, and paper work (of a different kind, so better, naturally). I’m surprised that our target is some rural airfield in eastern Idaho. I inquire, half because I’m curious, and half because I want to make sure I’m not being duped into bombing some militia or something. I’m told a complicated yarn of some low cost freight provider moving into the area, something about shrimp transportation and hiring practices, and long story short, it was offered up by the owner and now we’re going to bomb it. Specifically we’re going to bomb it, first and hard, before any of the Air Force squadrons nearby can get their grubby hands on it. The thought of showing up squadrons of Mudhens, JSFs and Darts is intoxicating.
Evening approaches and my finalized flight plan looks like this.
As night falls I step out into the 30 knot gale present on any flight deck, and make my way over to Jason 402, my steadfast stead for tonight’s entertainment, resplendent in her haze gray and adorned with various bombs, tanks and pods. Pre flight done, I start her up and taxi to the waist cats.
I finish the last checkoff, lock the throttles forward and salute the shooter to my right. His stylized response is the cue to blast me off the ship. I brace for the kick in the chest acceleration that comes from being shot off the front of the ship like an oversized rock of antiquity.
The thought of Marc Antony and Octavian’s war galleys hurling Rhinos at one another causes me to smile just as the sudden onset of G’s slams me into my seat.
Just like that, we’re off. The Super Bug, pregnant with 29,000lbs of ordinance and fuel, takes a moment to sample the air and see if it is to her liking.
Sure enough she finds it agreeable, and we claw away from the ocean’s surface. There’s a noticeable roll to the right that’s inherent with the “Goofy Gas” loadout I’ve got, and that will require constant trim adjustments until the starboard external tank is drained.
We’re currently ~120 NM from the coast, and it takes about that far to comfortably climb at 350 knots. I’m just passing through 20,000 ft as I approach the coast. I take the time to do some
sight seeing navigational references with the TGP. Oswald West State Park is at the right of the image, Ecola State Park to the left, and the Columbia River Estuary is in the background.
Feet Dry over Tillamook.
As we approach Portland proper, the amount of civilian air traffic picks up significantly. I check in with Seattle Center so they know who I am, and begin to pick up my visual and sensor sweeps. I use the TGP to VID any contacts when possible. A useful thing, that TGP.
Skirting Downtown Portland
As I pass over the City of Roses, the peaks of the Cascades begin to appear out of the evening air. Mount St. Helens is at the left, Mt. Adams just inboard of my canopy bow, and Mt. Hood to the left and again in the TGP. They’re no Andes, but they’ll do.
St. Helens, Rainer, and Adams.
Soon enough the Portland area passes behind us, and we skirt around the larger peaks. Ahead of my lies Hood River, Oregon (WP2), and The Dalles further in the distance.
Within fifty miles the lush tropical rainforests of the coast have given way first to mountains, then temperate forests, before finally the shrub-desert inherent to the intra-mountainous desert regions of the western US. I’m reminded of the NTTR, as well as I should because it’s essentially the same biome. Here I cross the Deschutes River
I pass The Dalles, and it’s time to hook up with my other for the night, another of the ubiquitous KC-135s that make up the backbone of our logistical fleet. As I dial in the TACAN, I can’t help but wonder what Boom Operator from the Great Southern Sojourn is up to. I haven’t talked to him since Gibbo’s wedding. I make a note to send an email once I’m back on the boat, and then gird my mind for the tasks to come.
Under the best of circumstances, this is not fun. With 9,000lbs of bomb adding weight and obliterating what lift the wing provides, it’s almost reminiscent of the Andean fun house over Cajamarca last year. The difference is that was a lightly loaded F-14B, with thrust for days and lift for weeks. This F/A-18E’s power plants have a much more sedate view on things, and take their sweet time reacting to throttle inputs. The experience is like jousting with a wet noodle. Even success is a burden, as fuel flows back into the starboard auxiliary tank, the careful equilibrium that had been reached is distorted, and I’m forced to correct for an increasing roll to the right.
But it gets done.
Full up, I bid the tanker adieu and continue east for the Snake River and our next waypoint: McCann, Idaho.
I take the opportunity to get the jet set up for action. I confirm the JDAM’s programming
The miles tick down. I keep a visual search up, suspicious that either the F-15 squadron out of Portland, or the Mudhen unit out of Mountain Home will have gotten word of a lone squid ready for the pouncing and spring an ambush. Failing that, there’s always the chance @Klarsnow is going to show up in a YF-12, or a La-15, or something suitably ridiculous. Also the minor matter of not plowing into some Boeing full of people blah blah blah. That’s small potatoes for someone with their priorities straight.
I cross over the Snake River at Hell Canyon, pass McCann, and I’m met with the wide expanse of the Salmon River Mountains. We’re now within 150 miles of the target. I fence in the jet, master arm on, get set for A/G mode, and get ready to thrash.
Before I know it I’m at WP4, The small town of Ellis, Idaho. I roll the fighter inverted and head for the deck. They’re sixty miles of wide open valley to enjoy and I aim to make the most of it.
I dive as low as I dare, which turns out to be near as low as you can get, and keep the throttles at the detent. Trees, farms, and boulders rush by. The feeling of speed is incredible.
Forty miles out. I begin hugging the eastern rim of the valley, careful to stay below the peaks. I pop up a little and before even my RWR can think to complain I get a Mode 4 interrogation: Thar be radars about.
Descending back into safety, I contact the range officer and he clears me in. In the background I hear what sounds like a woman complaining about unfair hiring practices and quote “flying across the friggen pond at the speed of a surly duck”, another man talking about “the utter ruination of the eastern Idaho seafood market”, and a third babbling about X-Planes.
I feel the temptation to interject, but instead just turn the volume down a bit. I thought Antarctica was weird.
I reach my IP, 20 miles to the west of the target, and bank to cross over the rugged hills. There’s a fine line between hugging the terrain to avoid the radar, and inadvertently riding the heavily loaded aircraft into the ground. We managed to walk it.
At fifteen miles I firewall the throttles, imploring the GE-414s to give me all they got, and pull the nose up to 30 degrees high. The altitude piles on, and before I know it the altimeter reads 10,000 feet. I’m up here to get above the worst of the AAA/MANPADs threat and to give the JDAMs space to maneuver, but I feel terribly exposed as an SA-2 simulator makes sweet sweet electrony love to the skin of my aircraft. I don’t know how far off it is, but I’m twitchy, ready to make a break back for the warm embrace of the ground clutter.
Comrade Guideline holds off long enough, and I make it to the release point. I feel more than hear the satisfying chunk chunk chunk of six thousand pounds of bomb fly off the aircraft.
I throw the aircraft into a diving left hand and though I shouldn’t, look back over my shoulder to observe my handy work.
One goes off the reservation. Upon re-watching the tape I’ll notice the coordinates were off. This is something I should have caught on the run in, this’ll go in the improve column.
The second and third bombs however… I hope that Cessna was insured.
I extend to the north west, then pitch back around to add my GBU-12s to the mix. I was too busy doing the pilot business, but this attack was ad hoc. I spotted collection of tanks in the TGP, and decided they’d do. Another high speed ingress at low altitude led to a loft. I rolled to the right after the bombs came off, and continued to refine my aim while heading back towards the deck. Both bombs hit near simultaneously, inflicting damage upon the fuel tanks.
Excluding the gun, I’m now winchester. I figure I’ll save that for a time with more gas, instead opting to make my exit to the north west towards Ellis.
Soon I hit the east face of the Lehmi Mountain range, and climb away from the sweeping expanse of the Snake River plain. I take one last glance over my shoulder as I ascend to altitude.
Recrossing the Salmon Mountains back west, I take the opportunity to check my fuel state. The computer thinks I’ll make it back to starting way point with 4,000 lbs, which would be enough to land and go around a few times. The computer doesn’t know the boat isn’t there anymore, but it’s a minor concern as the tanker is still orbiting somewhere over eastern Oregon.
There’s a fleeting temptation as I pass back over the Snake to just say screw it, make up a mechanical problem and go land at PDX. There’s an ANG squadron there so the plane wouldn’t be left out in the open, and I could enjoy a night of outrageous food, craft beer, and statistically more numerous than average titty bars. However the ploy is unsubtle even by fighter pilot standards, and I really should not be rocking the boat (pun!), especially as they haven’t figured out it was me that gave all the VFA-154 guys liquor last December.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun on the way back though.
Another hook up with the tanker. This time I’ll just be taking enough to top off the internal tanks, which should be more than enough to get me where I’m going. I tell the tanker crew to put it on my tab, and say a final farewell before leaving them to the night.
As I recross the Dalles, I decide to have a bit of government funded fun, and nose the aircraft over towards the Columbia River. I’m going to take an abbreviated sightseeing tour of the Columbia Gorge.
I pass Hood River to the north this time, at about 500 knots and half that altitude. I pass travelers on I-84 like they’re standing still.
Staring up at Emerald Falls with the moon in the background.
Buzzing the Cascade Locks, and most probably scaring the bajeebus out of some salmon.
Soon we reach the eastern edges of Portland proper, and as much as I’d like to continue my low level or stay the night, the fun cannot last forever. It can last a couple more seconds. Once more I kick in the burners and initiate an expedited climb over Troutdale Airport. I’m curious how many noise complaints this will get.
I roll inverted over the top, and am greeted with the urban vista spread below. I wave good bye to Tilt Burger and my notional beer intake. I shall return for you.
The trek back to the coast is uneventful. The suburbs of Beaverton give way to the rises of the coastal mountains, which themselves fall into the inky black of the Pacific. I cross back feet wet back over Tillamook.
I take the opportunity to tune in the Nimitz’s TACAN, and find it has definitely moved in my absence, now 200 miles to sea. I put the jet on autopilot and try to stretch a bit to get comfortable. By this point I’ve been in the cockpit for three and a half hours and I’m ready to be done. I’ve got another half an hour to go. I wish I had my music.
Eventually the boat appears over the horizon, and I can begin the process of getting this thing on the deck. I contact the Carrier Air Control Center, and begin my descent. The jet gets dirtied up, I drop the hook, flaps, and gear, and begin lining up for the Case III approach.
We start off high, fast and to the right, a consequence of my descent from angels 30. The F/A-18 doesn’t do air brakes with the gear down, so I’m trying to cojole the jet to slow its butt down.
1.5 miles out, we’ve corrected the height, It’s now a matter of getting aligned.
Looking about as good as it gets.
I perceive a downward trend just before I cross the tail, and consciously trying to avoid the 1 wire, I correct for it with a slight addition of power. Just a tad too much it turns out, and instead of catching a short wire I sail a few inches above the 3 wire to comfortably catch the four.
I’m a little left, and ever so slightly miffed at missing the third wire, but overall I’m satisfied with that approach. The deck crewman to my right orders me to raise the hook, and marshals me to the six pack for shut down.
I shut down the jet, and finally ease myself out of the seat. I’m suddenly very tired as I clamber down the hand holds and retractable ladder. I’m handed a form to fill out for the jet, which I do pretty much on auto pilot, before grabbing the tapes and heading below for debriefing, midrats, a shower, and some much anticipated rack time.