Air drop consists of a two ship formation flying a low level route, and performing an air drop type maneuver. It is pretty fun. In formation there is the lead ship and wing. When you are flying as the wingman, it is super fun because you do nothing but fly, no navigation or comm. About half way through the route, we perform the airdrop. This consists of getting in the visual position, which is as close as we get in normal formation flight, pulling the power to idle, pulling up to 1000 ft above the ground, and slowing to 140 knots. It is not exactly the most desirable position to be in for several reasons. The T-1 is not very maneuverable and at slower airspeeds, the flight controls have less authority. After about thirty seconds, we dive back towards the ground to 500 ft and accelerate to our original speed, between 210 and 260ish knots. Good times.
Air refueling can be much more exciting or much more mundane depending if you are the receiver or tanker. Being the tanker sucks because you do all the work. You have to a bunch of math to make sure your receiver gets his gas. You are also on autopilot the entire time, flying circles. As the receiver, you pretty much wait for permission to join up and get your gas. This is the fun part. Once you have 1000 ft of vertical separation and about a mile separation, you ask to join up to precontact position. This is a delicate maneuver of flying a very slow controlled vector up into the belly of the tanker. Once you are in precontact, which is about 50 ft back and 30 ft down, you ask for permission to contact. Contact permission is the closest you get. A good contact position is about 10 ft from your nose to his tail and 3ft of vertical separation. Awesome. Your eyes are fixed on him, constantly shifting looking for the correct visual references.
Obviously, my first attempt at contact was not the prettiest, but is was all improvement from there. In my opinion, I became relatively proficient at it after only a few tries. I guess if there is one thing I have always prided myself on, it is my hands. When I really put my mind to it, I can have really good control over the aircraft. So, after getting about 3 simulated "plugs" as they're called, our time was up and we headed home. This is usually mundane and boring but, my instructor was not about to let that happen. Being a former fighter pilot and B-2 pilot, he was all about having fun. On the way back, we pushed the limits of the allowed formation parameters and it was fun. For example, in the visual position, you should be able to read the "VN" on the tail but not the numbers below it. Well, not only could we read the numbers, we could have probably read the warnings on the escape hatch at the front of the other jet. To say the least, we were tight. We also explored the limits of one of the other positions we have, called offset trail. In trail, you can maneuver above, below, and abeam to abeam around lead. We were like a fighter flying around a bomber. I had no idea the tone could be man-handled like that. Now if only instructors would let us fly like that. Anyway, Friday ended up much better than anticipated, and I am so thankful for that.
On to the evening's events. On Friday, there was also an assignment night. This one in particular carried much significance. First, quite a few friends from Whiting were getting assigned. We were hoping for good things for them. Some were worried about getting FAIP'd and others worried about not getting a fighter. Secondly, it is the last assignment before my classes. We are now up to bat. Come Jan. 8 my class will get it's assignment, however we still have a lot of flying to do.
In the end, it ended up being kind of an odd assignment. Four FAIP slots were handed out, a couple UAV's also. A few people did get there first choices, including one of my friends, but others were not so fortunate. Two friends were FAIP'd even though rumor has it they were number 1 and 2 in their class. My class did not know what to think. Would this unfortunate drop continue to ours or will we fair better. Something of note is this assignment had a T-38 class also drop, my assignment will not.
Until next time, pray for SURF,