By lex, on August 20th, 2011
Down to the real meat: Aircraft systems; aircraft structure, man-machine interfaces, engine, electrical, fuel.
Perceptive readers whose interest lies that way will know that the airframe is nearly identical to the Mirage F5, a low wing, sharply swept delta design made for speed more than endurance. After the 1967 French embargo on arm sales to Israel, some “150,000 drawings of press tools, jigs and piece parts; 400 main airframe drawings; 50,000 instrumentation drawings; and 4000 engines drawings, in addition to some 50,000 documents covering testing and service specifications” somehow found their way from France to Israel. With US sales of F-4 Phantoms, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and F-15 Eagles, the aircraft quickly became obsolescent, and in a reverse lend-lease, some number were sent to the US to equip Navy and Marine Corps adversary squadrons.
It’s powered by a variant of the venerable General Electric J79 engine, a pair of which muscled the 41,000 pound Phantom – dubbed the “world’s leading distributor of MiG parts” for its successes in combat – through th’ insubstantial air. A single such engine on a 17,000 pound Mirage F5 variant makes for whistling speed performance, but those in the know, know about delta wing designs in a turning fight: It will bleed airspeed like a stuck pig.
Electronics are redundant, but not obsessively so. We traced the wiring diagrams and fault modes extensively, the better to understand the sometimes implausible emergency checklist steps, most of which are designed to fault isolate bad alternators, transformer/rectifiers and/or DC busses. At the end of the day, when all else has hit the fan, it’s nice to preserve a little battery power.
The cockpit is small, even cramped. Aerodynamic controls are conventional, and the switches for essential systems sensibly arranged. Like most aircraft to which one is new, it will be important to actually look at the switch one is actuating before fat-fingering the wrong one. Some of the horizontal consoles have displays aft of the pilot’s seat, which – along with an HSI and main attitude gyro hidden behind the control stick – gave your host vertiginous premonitions. A Garmin GNS 530 replaces what would have been a radar display, and room was found for an Aera 510 that will helpfully provide NEXRAD awareness of weather phenomena.
The fuel system is a bit of a beast. Interconnect valves are manually opened and closed at various transfer levels throughout flight, and direct fuel quantities about anything other than the 500 liter fuselage tanks is inferred rather than directly measured. (Oh, yes: fuel is introduced to the aircraft in gallons, but measured in liters. To keep things interesting, oil quantities are measured in pints, dimensions in meters, weights in kilograms, thrust in kilo-Newtons. To keep his noggin from exploding, your scribe was forced to remind himself that all are numbers, numbers count, units are decorative.)
War stories: Pilots have them, and our instructor was a pilot. Seemingly endless Real Life stories were used to illustrate the otherwise academic description of failure modes greater and lesser, some of which resulted in gray hairs, others of which ended in disasters closely averted. In between questions and answers, meaningful glances were exchanged between myself and the other trainee in my cohort: What have we gotten ourselves into?
Eight hours later, the data leaking out of my ears as I walked into the motel, a well-dressed lady of color reduced nearly to translucence by the burden of the years sat out front in a wheelchair, waiting for someone or something, each hour measured. By way of courtesy I asked her how she was doing, ma’am. Her clear eyes met me from a ravaged face, she smiled and answered gratefully that she was blessed, asked how were things with me.
The same, I replied.
Today! Hydraulics, flight control systems, air data systems and environmental controls.
Tomorrow: Williamsburg, and family.
Monday, back to work.