A Twist to Radio Controlled Aircraft (aka: KillaThrill Video);the F-4 Phantom II (part 3)

Posted on 19. Nov, 2008 by in Featured

A great videoe of typical QF-4 missions.

Part 3

“Dog you have a rather large hole in the port (left) wing.” Transmitted Charlie 1.
“Roger that Charlie, how’s it look?”
Closing within inches the Chase pilot looked for hydraulic leaks or any burn marks denoting a bleed air leak.
“You are clean.”
“Roger, Charlie we are flying fine where did the missile hit, in-board or out-board of the wing fold?”
This was significant because the Phantom was a carrier aircraft, that meant it’s wings folded and more importantly there was not much critical out-board the wing fold hinge. And thus it would probably fly fine all the way to touch down.
“OK Charlie 1, we are going to try and recover the Dog. We will slow flight it on down wind. If it gets squirrelly, we will ditch it in the Pacific.”
The UCC operator by now had a group of engineers and controllers standing around his controller, the operations and safety representatives normally agreed with his suggestions. He was the one who had to try to land the wounded bird. Fuel as always in a Phantom was tight; not only for the Drone but the Chase as well. Plus, the Chase still had to travel the 50 miles back to Naval Test Center, Point Mugu.

Turning onto the downwind leg of the approach box pattern the operator slowed the QF-4N to approach speed in 10 knot increments. If the aircraft became unstable they would fly the approach at the last increment that would allow positive control. If that minimum speed was too fast for a recovery Charlie 1 would slid out wide and the UCC operator would pull the engines to idle raise the nose and cross control (full throw the flight controls in opposite direction) the QF-4N. It would rapidly stall and drop almost straight down into the Pacific.

In testament to the Phantom’s durability they slowed all the way to normal approach speed without a quiver from the drone. Fuel was now critical and they turned in tight for a short final approach. Unable to break out the runway on the small TV screen the UCC operator would depend on the human eyes of Charlie 1 to get him pointed at the runway. Perched on a 500 foot cliff the runway closed quickly. A normal glide path was 3.5 degrees; the Q-birds used a much shallower 1.5 degrees. It brought the flight very close to the cliff’s edge and to the Chase pilot the visual perception was that you would not clear it!
Standing next to the UCC was the GCA (ground controlled approach) controller; he would simple give glide slope and course instructions right into the ear of the UCC operator. Landing gear down, flaps down and hook down the QF-4N cleared the cliff. Inside the UCC the operator held a simple white cross hair, superimposed on the TV screen, onto the wire stretched across the runway while fighting to maintain lineup and the appropriate speed. If he got too slow, he would stall the wing and crash the aircraft, not to mention the QF-4N Chase with the live pilot on board. Too fast and the hook would bounce over the wire and they would have to go around and try again.

“Charlei 1 is bingo.” Rang out over the radio.

That meant they’d get only a single look at the deck (attempt to land) because the Chase was down to divert fuel. He could not land on San Nic once the Q-bird was in the arresting gear fouling the runway. The UCC operator worked hard to maintain parameters, he had to catch the wire, the 5,000 foot runway was too short to get the speeding Phantom stopped. Sliding out to the side Chase 1 called.

“On deck.” As the Phantom slammed onto San Nic’s runway.

He watched as the aircrafts drag chute deployed and then snagged the wire jerking it to a halt. Immediately the Chase pilot eased his throttles to military rated thrust; being very careful not to engage the afterburners. Down to 2.3 on the fuel if he engaged burners they would consume his remaining fuel in 90 seconds. The gear and flaps raised as he simultaneously pointed the hungry Phantom for home.

Climbing through the haze he set the fuel flow at 3,000 pounds a side as he leveled at 15,000 feet above the water. Peering through the haze he saw the giant white sand mound on California’s Route 1 and pointed directly at it. He checked his fuel now down to 1.7 (17 minutes until flameout). Getting in close to the dune Charlie 1 rolled inverted (upside down) and let the nose fall through the horizon. Using gravity to accelerate him he also set 85% on the thrust. Just because his fuel state was in extremis didn’t mean he couldn’t have a little fun.

Flashing across Route 1 at 500 knots he ran up the ridge line to Point Mugu. Crossing Laguna Peak barely 200 feet above its antennae, the same antennae that linked the UCC to the drone, falling away abruptly the mountain revealed the airfield at its foot. Snapping on 5 times the force of gravity Charlie 1 turned toward downwind using the pull to slow him down. Crossing over the control building he continued to pull back toward the mountain peek he just crossed, squaring the corner to pass between the mountain and runway on downwind. At 250 knots he dropped the landing gear, at 230 he selected full flaps and started a steep turn to final. Picking up the visual reference for glide slope used on ships (meat ball) he also lined up on the carrier deck painted on all Navy runways, so Naval Aviators could practice a ship recovery. Just before the main tires touched he moved his left hand from the throttles to the drag chute handle and deployed it, as it streamed out he moved his hand back to the throttles and pulled them to idle as the Phantom settled onto the runway. Easing on the brakes gingerly so he wouldn’t blow the tires, Charlie 1 cleared the runway glancing at the fuel gage. It read 1.3, perfect, mission complete.

I can honestly say that landing an F-4 Phantom on the Island of San Nic’ squinting at a TV screen, is the only thing I have ever done in aviation as hard as a night carrier landing.

Here is a great video showing a QF-4 recovery. The second F-4 is Charlie 1.

Leave a Reply