With the mission briefing complete and takeoff still a few hours off, the crew found themselves under the supervision of an old crusty and believed to be former Air Force Line Chief performing routine maintenance on the EC-97. Most were delegated to wiping, having been issued a large bundle of rags. The one thing about radial engines and old aircraft they leak, drip, ooze and bleed fluids like mad. The ole chief had everyone one not on the flight deck crew madly wiping every square inch within access by human arms. Some were on top of the wings, the rest under them. Those under quickly wished they had not already put on their flight suits they were going to wear for tonight’s mission.
The flight deck crew was being given instructions on the new tracking radar which had been installed while they were sleeping . “The emitter/receiver is located in the nose blister just above the primary navigation radar.” He explained now sporting a fresh but unlit cigar. “It is about the size of a lunch box. It has a range of two hundred yards give or take a few.”
He took a pause to look each crewman in the eye before emphasizing his next point. “It only has a thirty degree angle viewing…get this aircraft outside of that cone, you’ll lose target acquisition. Think of it like looking out the front window peering through a paper towel roll. Tunnel vision is an understatement.”
Everyone got the message. “Up here this box on the dash contains two switches. One is the power switch the other is a gain control. The image is displayed through your radar screen here. You’ll need to select which source you want the scope to use by this switch here. The idea is that you’ll have no problem following the target, while flying in clear air it will have its lights on. But if it should go dark, you’ll have to rely on your eyeballs to keep an eye on the targets exhaust flames. This little device is to help you should that occur. Once you are in position you are to turn the gain down until you barely receive a return on the target. At that range you should be able to see the aircraft but nothing will see you unless it is directly between the two of you and on this particular frequency band.” He paused before asking. “Questions?”
“Will I have the same display on my scope?” The navigator asked.
“No. You only have the primary input, standard nav radar. You also have to ensure the set is off so the targeting system will be allowed to display. We didn’t have time to come up with the proper switching circuits. If you turn on the radar, you’re blind. It will back feed the circuits to the targeting radar and burn it out. We hope to have something better available to replace this setup but we are at the mercy of equipment availability. What we are trying to do just hasn’t been perfected yet for this sort of application.” He stated.
“Nav, your the man. You control the radars. I don’t want to lose my glasses so to speak when we’re following something that close through any clouds.” The aircraft commander said.
How did you set up the alignment for this thing. What will be our position be in relation to the aircraft we are following using this thing?” The copilot asked.
“That is something we aren’t one hundred percent sure of, as we have no equipment to test that. We just relied on Kentucky sights…windage and elevation. We’ll adjust it based on your flight tonight. Keep close track of where you are when the pipper centers up in the scope.” He replied.
“Great, this sortie is going to have a very high pucker factor, especially since heavy cloud cover is expected over Taiwan tonight. If this thing puts us too far either side of center or above center, there is a good chance the target could spot us. Especially if the navigator on board it takes a celestial reading through the top blister.” The aircraft commander retorted with a little sarcasm.
It was now time for the crew to take a short break to clean up have a snack and prepare their personal gear for the flight. An airman from the Osan AB chow hall carried up several boxes into the aircraft filled with food, beverages and supplies, which he carefully packed away in the galley. “Who’s going to be responsible for the galley?” He asked. No one on board even responded. So he exited the aircraft and found the aircraft commander standing next to the nose wheel, flashlight in hand peering up into the wheel bay.
“Sir, who should I instruct on operation of the galley equipment to prepare the meals?” He asked.
“Pick one of those guys over there, designate a primary and a backup. If they give you any guff, just turn and point towards me.” He replied and went about his preflight inspection.
The young airman walked over to a group of six of the aircrew who were chatting and pointed at one then another stating. “You’re elected the galley chief and you’re his assistant. Come with me! Then turned to walk back up the steps into the aircraft.
“Who the…” one of them started to say but the Airman was already pointing a finger towards the aircraft commander who was now approaching the left landing gear. The two grabbed their bags and followed him aboard.
Once inside the airman quickly explained what was stored where and fished out an instruction card from one of the galley’s storage drawers. Here are the steps for using the ovens to heat your inflight frozen dinners. I’ll demonstrate how to make coffee, watch closely.” He said and went through the steps to setup the coffee maker so it could be switched on after takeoff. “Also never leave any compartment doors unsecured. Close and verify they latched. Otherwise you might find yourself cleaning up a nasty mess. Oh and be sure to turn the pots heating elements off when not in use. These things have a habit of getting too hot and catching fire. I’ll see if I can scrounge up a couple more thermoses for you guys, that way you can make and transfer the coffee from the pot into them.”
A couple of questions were asked by the two new flight stewards and the airmen took what trash he had created and carried it with him off the aircraft. “Oh before I get. It is your job to empty the trash and the end of each flight. If you don’t the chief will have you washing and cleaning the whole galley each and every time you fly.” He said as his parting comment. The two new galley attendants just stared at each other knowing that after wiping down the outside, the inside of a galley would be even harder to pass inspection by the “chief.”
“Engine start in thirty minutes, lets get situated and get the preflight tasks completed.” The copilot said standing at the foot of the steps.
It was a mostly clear sky tonight, the sun seemed to take its sweet time setting. The aircraft commander stood outside the tent like hanger looking across the field towards the runway and taxiway. He was watching a crew of several dozen soldiers lay steel matting in three narrow strips between that where the EC-97 was encased in its tent and a nearby taxiway. Each strip was spaced just so, so each of the landing gear wheels could roll over it, preventing the heavy aircraft from sinking into the compacted soil. “They were planning on putting in a permanent taxiway in before we got here. Unfortunately, our timetable didn’t allow it to be completed. So the Civil Engineers came in and built up the ground to hold the matting and the aircraft.” Dirks explained.
“You are going to have to start engines, taxi down the lane here and onto the taxiway. There we’ll refuel you as fast as we can. I just don’t trust doing it up here and I don’t relish the idea of explaining to my boss why I let an airplane get stuck on my outpost.”Dirks commented.
A short while later the power cart started up and the winches began to retract the tent like hanger and netting open. Once it was opened fully the power cart was connected to the EC-97’s external power port. The crew started engines two and three and once all connections were removed the aircraft was again marshaled forward with a guy and two lighted wands. He just walked down the center row of the PSP matting rolling his outstretched arms to lead the plane down the slight incline and onto the cement taxiway. Once the EC-97 was safely on the cement he motioned for it to stop and for the wheel chalks to be replaced. The copilot shut down the number three engine as a safety precaution. The refueling truck was already in place and its two attendants quickly took to the task of pumping fuel into the aircraft.
With that task completed, the crew restarted number three, then number four, then number one. “Checklists complete. We’re ready to go.” Said the pilot.
To be continued.
No update on the build in this segment…hope you are enjoying the story.