A Twist to Radio controlled Air Craft (aka: KillaThrill Video); the F-4 Phantom II.

Posted on 15. Nov, 2008 by in Featured

Sub-scale, full scale: radio controlled aircraft what is the difference? A full scale RC aircraft is an actual aircraft controlled from the ground or another aircraft or even pre-programmed. By using the auto pilot already incorporated in aircraft an operator can successfully control an aircraft from a distance up to hundreds of miles away through a UHF radio data-link.

While a Test Pilot for VX-30 (Naval Weapons Test Squadron Point Mugu), I was checked out as a UCC (universal control counsel) operator. We flew F-4 Phantoms from a small Island (San Nicholas) off the coast of Southern California, NAS China Lake (part of Edwards AFB test range), and NAS Rosie Roads in Puerto Rico into various live fire ranges. Used for targets and flight tests deemed too dangerous for a pilot to be on board, the missions were wild and a lot of fun to be a part of. The aircraft received their own designator, a Q (QF-4).

The UCC was a shell of an old T-33 cockpit trainer that had been fitted with the instruments of an F-4 Phantom; the only difference was a small TV screen in the spot where the radar repeater was originally. In the cockpit of the QF-4 was a camera fitted to the glare shield above the instruments at pilot height. The camera transmitted to the small screen in the UCC. The USAF had their own program but differed from the Navy’s in a number of ways. First the Navy Q-birds were full up aircraft. We used them as test platforms and advisary aircraft; the USAF Q-birds were drones only and limited to 50 hours of flight time. Also different was the control philosophy. The USAF controls their Q-birds like a traditional RC with two operators at the end of the runway; one controlling pitch the other roll. The missions are controlled by programs. The Navy actually flew their Q-birds like a real fighter from the UCC.

A UCC in a auxilary control room (very old photo)

A UCC in a auxilary control room (very old photo)

Set in a large control room reminiscent of a NASA control room, the Top Secret NOLO (No Onboard Live Operator) missions generally were missile shots. We’d launch the Dog (slang for drone) off of San Nic’ Island fly out to a pre-briefed spot get shot at and then if the QF-4 survived fly it back to San Nic’ and trap it aboard (arrested landing using the hook). A chase aircraft, another QF-4 with a live pilot in it, would fly wing on the Q-bird. Being the chase was F-U-N! The traffic pattern was given to you by the tower, normally as a warm up the chase pilot would fly an impromptu air show.
While the Chase (Charlie 1) was performing; the ground crew was configuring and testing the Drone (Dog) on the runway. Once the data link between the UCC and the QF-4 was established launch control of the QF-4 would be given to “Charlie 1”. Charlie 1 would pitch his QF-4N Phantom II into the vertical then snap roll toward the abeam position 1,000 feet above the runway, off-set to the right and going the opposite direction. Arriving at the proper position he’d transmit “Abeam”. In the UCC, 50 miles away at Point Mugu Naval Test Center, the operator would push up the throttles of the J-79 turbo jet engines to 80%. Charlie 1 would then start a descending turn toward the runway as the engines pumped out thick black smoke. Halfway through the turn he would start to a line with the runway on the edge of a 500 foot cliff, pulling the nose to runway heading and slowing to 300 knots he’d transmit;

“launch the Dog!”…………more to follow.

NOLO QF-4N, look close no pilots.  San Nicholas Island in back ground.

NOLO QF-4N, look close no pilots. San Nicholas Island in back ground.

BTW: If you want to read about my first drone safety mission (riding in the Q-bird, while a UCC operator practices) click on the link to Trailblazers. It is Christopher Hounsfield’s book on test pilots. I wrote a chapter “Test Pilot of a Different Color”, I think you will find it amusing.

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