Author Topic: Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)  (Read 774 times)

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Offline Quirky

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Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)
« on: April 18, 2018, 20:13:01 »
With munitions being ever more precise from high altitudes, what’s the need to train for such missions - high speed, extremely low level bombings? Was there ever such a mission profile in our last campaigns in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya and recently Iraq/Syria?

Online Altair

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Re: Re: 28 Nov 16- CF-18 crash, Cold Lake - Pilot Killed
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2018, 20:47:56 »
With munitions being ever more precise from high altitudes, what’s the need to train for such missions - high speed, extremely low level bombings? Was there ever such a mission profile in our last campaigns in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya and recently Iraq/Syria?
Doesnt Israel use these missions to avoid being detected on radar?

https://www.thejc.com/news/israel/operation-orchard-nuclear-syria-strike-how-israeli-jets-flew-at-low-altitude-to-avoid-detection-1.461050

Quote
The eight aircraft flew for nearly two hours, most of the way at extremely low-altitude to evade radar detection. As they approached the reactor, gained height, each plane launched two bombs. 
Someday I'll care about milpoints.

Offline Loachman

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Re: Re: 28 Nov 16- CF-18 crash, Cold Lake - Pilot Killed
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2018, 21:42:53 »
With munitions being ever more precise from high altitudes, what’s the need to train for such missions - high speed, extremely low level bombings? Was there ever such a mission profile in our last campaigns in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya and recently Iraq/Syria?

That was standard during the Cold War, when the air defence threat was way, way higher than at any of those places that you mentioned.

There were times when I was FACking in Petawawa, nestled into a hollow in the tree-tops on a hill, watching the CF5s fly the low ground below me on their runs in. It was hard to track them - which made my job a lot harder - until they popped (offset thirty degrees in a climb, roll back sixty degrees while inverted at the top, which was the only time that the pilot could see the target and we could verbally direct him in, roll level in the dive, and drop/fire). They were more than a little below their min 500 foot altitude, and the hill that I was on was also well below that. I was surprised that no tree parts were taken back to North Bay.

One almost thumped in in front of us on my FAC course in Gagetown in 1984. It got a little low during its gun run, pulled up abruptly to compensate, and mushed. I lost sight of the exhausts and horizontal stabilizer, briefly, behind a low hill before it finally began climbing.

A T33 on a low-level nav clipped trees on a low hill well north of Baden one day, losing a tip tank and other critical and non-critical bits in the process, then struck the next, and slightly lower, hill top and exploded. We took the Flight Safety team to the site in three Kiowas. The bodies were still in location - ejected by the force of the explosion - when we arrived, and not in very good condition. The Flight Surgeon was supposed to take blood and tissue samples at the site, but could not. They were her messmates. Centrifugal-flow engines, almost spherical, will roll a long way, especially down hill.

One of our guys, back in Canada for a couple of weeks to do some mountain flying with 408 Squadron, and his co-pilot, were killed when they flew their Kiowa into a large, calm, mirror-like lake. They were lower than they should have been anyway, and did not realize that they were descending due to the lack of visual references.

Our min cross-country altitude in Germany was 250 feet. The min altitude for fighters was 500 feet. Or, at least, their min legal altitude was. In reality, not so much. I learned to never stray above that after four Italian F104s went below me a couple of weeks after I got there.

I was tracking inbound from the beacon on an NDB approach to a German airfield one afternoon - and we were literally "under the bag" when flying IFR (the Kiowa was not IFR certified; we flew IF training missions on VFR days to maintain an emergency capability, with a chunk of fabric and visor obscuring our view of anything other than the instrument panel). I thought, at one point, that I heard a faint "whoosh", and then noticed my safety pilot sit a little more upright. A minute later or two later, he relaxed again and said "That's the closest that I've ever been to a Tornado". "How close?" said I. "I'm not really sure. I only saw the vertical fin going underneath us".

Low-level attacks were the norm, given the Soviet air defence threat. The desire to train for that reality was high (and it was, yes, fun), and a bit more of a Roger Ramjet-ish "Devil-May-Care Flying Fool" attitude existed than one will ever see today.

Are attacks at 1000 feet AGL against a Russian or Chinese threat today more survivable than they would have been back then (ie, virtually not at all), even with PGMs? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not.

We certainly had a lot more guys killed (eighteen in 1982), and nearly killed, and aircraft smashed up or written off, in training accidents back then, especially those involved in low-level operations (mainly CF104s, but also Kiowas (wirestrikes were the big threat), and two Hercs doing LAPES drops both out west (one in each of Suffield and Wainwright, if I remember correctly - one struck a not-quite-low-enough-but-too-low-to-be-visible berm on its ten-foot AGL run-in and the other had the load hang up at the rear of the cargo area causing a pitch-up and stall).

I was the last one to fly CH136258 - from Petawawa to Downsview and back in June 1985 - and live. I found out that I was on the night schedule upon return, but had another commitment and about double the minimum night time for the quarter, so begged off. My flight commander and an Observer took that machine, which suffered a never-happened-before critical component failure preceded by misleading symptoms that night, instead of me. The outer race of the free-wheeling unit, which essentially connects the engine to the transmission, was subsequently found to be three ten-thousandths of an inch out-of-round. The allowable tolerance was two ten-thousandths of an inch. The component was traced back, through the Canadian and US Army supply chains (sitting in various warehouses for a few years), to the manufacturer, who had destroyed several others in that batch, presumably for quality control issues, shortly after they were made. This one had been on 258 for several hundred trouble-free (until that night) hours.

Offline Loachman

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Re: Re: 28 Nov 16- CF-18 crash, Cold Lake - Pilot Killed
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2018, 21:54:20 »
Doesnt Israel use these missions to avoid being detected on radar?

"Low" is not a precise measurement. "Low", even "extremely low", means different things to different people. Fifty feet used to be "extremely high" for me, in a tactical scenario. Our limits were skids clear of ground and one half of a rotor from vertical obstacles.

Terrain and navigational aids are factors in one's ability to fly at low levels, especially at night, and the latter have improved dramatically since the Warsaw Pact collapsed. We had no NVG or GPS.

Note, though, that they "gained height" to conduct the actual attacks.

I flew over two of the Dambuster dams in Germany - in daylight, in a Kiowa. That certainly gave me an appreciation for what those guys did, in a bigger, faster, less-agile machine in darkness (even a full moon only helps so much).

Offline FJAG

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Re: Re: 28 Nov 16- CF-18 crash, Cold Lake - Pilot Killed
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2018, 23:49:04 »
That was standard during the Cold War, when the air defence threat was way, way higher than at any of those places that you mentioned.

Gosh that brings back some memories.

Bang on about FACing. My training in Gagetown and employment at Petawawa (in the late 70's early 80s) always had very low level approaches with a pop up to acquire the target and deliver the ordinance. There were scant seconds available to talk the pilot onto the target and it took high levels of skill on the part of both the FAC and the pilot to complete a successful mission. I've always wondered whether today's JTACs etc still practice such low level attacks. (I FAC'd for three weeks on a Reforger in Germany using Canadian, American, French and Canadian aircraft. The approach altitudes were significantly higher than in Canada and the talk in significantly easier because of the higher altitude and more obvious terrain reference points)

Same for helicopters. As FOOs in Pet, we frequently flew as pax in Kiowas and called in fire (Don't get me wrong, this was solely to give us FOOs an appreciation for the airborne FAC role. All the Kiowa pilots in 427 at the time were fully qualified airborne FACs and, in fact, many were former Artillery Air OP L19 pilots)-. The technique was to stay below the tree tops until SHOT was called and then pop up to see the impact, call a correction and get back below the trees. The Petawawa River was a favorite place to hover in. Between corrections the pilot would usually skim along the surface of the river to change the pop up location. Looked up at a lot of trees from down there and once had the pleasure of being taken at speed at an angle between two pine trees that were on either bank of the river and which appeared to be closer together than the rotor diameter.

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Offline Loachman

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Re: Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)
« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2018, 17:57:01 »
I split this off, as I didn't want to distract from the original thread, which should remain focussed on Captain McQueen. He deserves better than to be sidelined by topic drift.

Online Altair

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Re: Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2018, 18:02:11 »
Agreed.
Someday I'll care about milpoints.

jollyjacktar

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Re: Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2018, 18:25:49 »
I did do a rather bumpy, low level route recce in dismal weather through the Kananaskis in the back of a Kiowa.  I spent most of my trip trying somewhat unsuccessfully trying to un-ball and re-fold the route map the previous meathead had wadded up.  Would have been nice to enjoy it more.

I did feel for the crew, they must have hated dragging our sorry asses over the same route, meathead after meathead.

Offline Loachman

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Re: Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2018, 19:00:05 »
Probably not.

We generally preferred to do something for somebody rather than monotonous Tac Navs twice-daily, and picking through weather was usually a satisfying challenge - more after it was over than during, though

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Re: Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)
« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2018, 19:58:59 »
I suppose there might have been some joy at making meatheads air sick.

 ;D

Offline Loachman

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Re: Low-Level Fighter Ops and FACs (Cold War Reminiscences)
« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2018, 21:35:45 »
Probably not. While some of my passengers' airsickness woes made amusing tales, their plights never gave me any joy - except one cocky 2Lt Pilot-wannabe in Germany who challenged me later one Friday Happy Hour at the Baden Mess.

"I've had six F18 rides and they couldn't make me sick."

"Monday morning. Tube Nav. You'll puke."

"There's no way that you can make me sick"

"Monday morning. Tube Nav. You'll puke."

It went on like that for a long time. He just could not be convinced.

My Observer and I picked him up at the base of the Tower in Baden on Monday, for the promised Tube Nav.

I'd stopped taking passengers on those quite a while before that, as barfing was guaranteed.

A Tube Nav was a challenging navigation exercise for the Observer, and a demanding test of crew co-operation and communication.

One took a 1:50000 scale map, lazily and randomly drew a line all over it, then cut everything out from about one kilometre on either side of the line, then pasted the remains around a cardboard mailing tube.

This prevented the Observer from seeing landmarks very far ahead of the aircraft, and gave him little time to pass suggestions to me. That caused all turns to be made with almost no warning rather more suddenly than usual. Altitude varied between about ten and fifty feet above terrain, obstacles, and cows and airspeed was 80-90 knots. It was a workout for our brains in the front, and the passenger's abdominal muscles in the back.

We stopped to let Young Al out a few times - I am not especially cruel - but he still filled several barf bags and was quite pale as he tottered out of the machine back at the base of the Baden Tower.