By lex, on September 13th, 2011
So, your first actual flight in the Kfir is in a slick jet: No external fuel tanks, pods or ordnance, not a whole lot of gas, a great grunching 18+ thousand pounds of static thrust installed. Having done three high-speed taxi tests previously, today was the real deal. Stuff away any concerns you might about never having flown this aircraft before you take her up solo. Take her to the runway, put the spurs to her, see what she’ll do.
She did a lot.
The rotation speed on the jet is ten knots prior to her 184 knot take-off speed. That’s cooking with gas, for those who – like your host until today – had never done so. The thrusties are there in abundance, it’s those little bitty wings bolted onto the fuselage like maybe a second thought. Having received clearance for our departure, my chase pilot told me, “Whenever you’re ready,” which there was no time like the present says I, and ready or not, off we went: First smoothly to military power, off brakes and then full afterburner.
There’s no mistaking the sensation of the afterburner kicking in, for the system is tethered to a small, burbling sound in your throat screaming, “JAY-bus!” She picks up speed pretty rapidly, but then – as previously mentioned – there is a great deal of speed to be picked up. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica wherein the Viper jocks get catapulted down the launch tube, you’ll know what the visual sensation is like: You’re trundling down the runway like hell and vinegar. Vaguely unnerved, I shifted my primary focus to the airspeed indicator, willing the rotation speed to arrive.
At the appropriate nose-wheel lift-off speed, I eased back the prescribed one and one-half inches on the stick. Feeling no response, I eased back another half to three quarters inch. Which was half to three-quarters too much at least: The nose popped into the air and dragged the howling fighter behind it. I tried to ease off the back-stick a little, which was a mistake, since I got into a little pitch bobble, a class of pilot induced oscillation which quickly – but not quickly enough for my taste – damped itself out. Gear handle up and out of blower, and we were humming along at 320 knots before I knew it.
Headed out over the ocean, practiced some slow flight and hard turns. The jet is not particularly nimble in pitch, but the roll rate is breathtaking. When you’re slow – anything much below 220 kts, a tad of rudder into the direction of turn fights the adverse yaw and keeps the roll rate high. Bank capture is very nice, with little or no tendency to overshoot. There is a very slight tendency for the aircraft’s nose to seek a little in pitch. Got up to around 400 kts and put on a hard turn; the delta wing shed the airspeed clothing like a one minute lap dancer in Vegas.
Back to the home drome for two straight ins, the first at five miles on final, the second at three or so to get a good look at the sight picture from tracking down final, to resetting pitch at about a hundred feet or so, to the final flare just a few feet above the deck. At 190 kts on final, things happen pretty quickly.That was followed by five circuits in the overhead pattern, with the firsts couple leaving me a little behind the machine.
When I first transitioned from fighters to general aviation, I remember lifting from Gillespie Field in east county San Diego. The departure back to NAS North Island called for a turn over a highway hard by rising terrain that towered over us. My IP told me to start the turn to the south, but I had to double check with him: Would not our turn radius take us into the terrain? It would not, and he was right. A Cessna 172 turns nearly on its own length when slow.
The opposite is true of a delta wing fighter turning to base at 210 kts. I’d make my turn to base more or less level, nose down to about a 1500 foot per minute rate-of-descent with 90 degrees to go, glance down the final approach course with a sense of satisfaction, ease my bank angle a hair and then overshoot like a dog turning on a wet linoleum floor. Cuppla time, maybe three. Including an own wave-off, that “better to die than look bad” thing being so ten years ago.
The final landing was not disgraceful, I held the drag chute until past the short field gear, aero-braked to 120 kts and taxied clear with a couple thousand feet of runway left.
Zero-point-seven hours and 5 landings later, handshakes all around and I was a jet pilot again. Second flight tomorrow, 0700 brief.
Was it fun? No, it was not fun. It wasn’t bad either. I was challenged and focused, the experience was visceral and real. There is a very strong desire not to screw anything up. I liked that part, even though you’d have to be some class of masochist to label all of that “fun”.
Fun will come.