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F16 simulator report by Stephen
My first impression of the simulator was how actually small it seemed. Being used to seeing the F16 cockpit actually mounted in an F16, I got surprised at how small the cockpit is, when not as part of the aircraft. The fact that I was actually sitting in a cockpit with every instrument functional, gave me a completely different experience than I had expected. The first thing I had to get used to was the Side-stick control (SSC) of the F16. The instructor pilot (IP) had warned me in advance that many pilots have the tendency to pull the stick towards themselves instead of pulling it backwards when they want a pitch-up response from the aircraft, thus resulting in a pitch & left-roll response from the aircraft instead of pitch-only, so I was careful not to do so. The SSC really takes some getting used to; Flying an aircraft with a stick that doesn’t move more than about 2mm in every direction was something completely new for me, even though I knew that about the F16 in advance. The IP had told me that after about 3 minutes of flying time, I would forget that I am using an SSC and not a conventional stick configuration. This was true, you get quickly acquainted with this configuration, however it still took some time before I felt comfortable doing manoeuvres. I also noticed that you have to do a force of what felt like about 15 kg on the stick to get full deflection on the control surfaces. That also takes some getting used to, especially when you are required to fly in a more ‘aggressive’ way and need quick, full control-surface deflections. The F16 cockpit layout is really nice. The one that I flew was the F16 A-MLU, and you can clearly see the difference between this and the classic F16A. The 2 Multi-function displays (MFD’s) dominate the cockpit and the rather ‘standard’ Head up display (HUD) is really well thought. Speed, altitude and Heading are shown on the left, right and bottom, respectively, of the HUD, when it is set in navigation (NAV) mode. Then other, less important information is displayed on the bottom and sides of the HUD. This information includes Radar-altitude (above ground level), G-meter, heading, distance and time to next waypoint and other secondary information. It also takes some getting used to looking through the HUD and using the information efficiently.
One thing that quickly becomes like instinct or second-nature is using the buttons on the stick and throttle. The F16 was one of the first aircraft introducing the ‘Hands-on-throttle-and-stick’ system (HOTAS). HOTAS is simply all the necessary buttons/switches being located on the stick and throttle. This means for example, that the pilot doesn’t have to leave the stick or throttle during a dog fight to push a button, but simply moves one of the fingers a few centimetres. The stick and throttle have about 15 buttons/switches in all, and I found out that I quickly got used to which buttons are located where. The ones that I used mostly were the speed-brake, dog-fight/weapon/NAV switch, and trim, all of them activated by the thumbs.
The throttle is very simple to use; All the way back is idle, all the way forward is full military thrust (dry), and if you want to select afterburner, you have to push the throttle stick to the left while at full military thrust, and then further forward to select the reheat. Something that I learned in this sim experience, was that when you use afterburner, you either use full-reheat or else you don’t use it at all. So the afterburner has to be used more as an on/off-switch, rather than using all 5 stages of the afterburner settings. The engine gives quite a lot of thrust, even when at idle! That means that when you want the aircraft at a stand-still on the ground, you either have to activate the parking-brakes, or else you have to manually use the brakes in the pedals. So for taxiing, you just release brakes, push the throttle slightly forward to get the aircraft moving (if necessary), and then pull the throttle back to idle, and actually use brakes all the time, not to let the aircraft taxi too fast. When at the runway threshold, ready for take off, it’s best to leave the parking-brakes on, then just ease the throttle forward, and the aircraft systems will automatically release the brakes when they feel enough thrust from the engine…and you’re rolling!
The aircraft accelerates rather rapidly, even without the use of afterburner. Rotation takes place at about 140kts and lift-off follows soon after, depending on the aircraft’s configuration. Landing gear is retracted at about 180kts. Using the afterburner for take off isn’t very different, everything simply happens much quicker. Rotation should start earlier than 140kts when using reheat, taking into account that the aircraft is accelerating very rapidly. The landing-gear is retracted straight away, to avoid the risk of exceeding the maximum ‘gear-down’ speed. The aircraft does accelerate impressively quickly, and even though you climb at a steep angle soon after take off, the aircraft will keep accelerating!
In the air, the F16 is a dream to fly. It is rather easy to control and very stable, and if that wasn’t enough, it is also very forgiving. The fly-by-wire (FBW) system reduces a lot of the pilot’s workload, thus allowing the pilot to concentrate on his mission, whatever it may be, instead of having to concentrate on flying the aircraft, and making sure that he doesn’t do any hazardous control inputs, that could endanger the pilot and the aircraft. The aircraft is automatically trimmed by the FBW system; however I experienced a continuous roll action during flight, which was rather unpleasant, so I decided to manually trim the bird. I’m not sure if this roll action was caused because the simulator needed calibration, or if it’s normal in real life. Manual trimming is done by using the ‘hat’ switch on top of the stick. Flying low and fast is quite straight-forward in this aircraft. On flat land, I thoroughly enjoyed flying at about 50-100 feet at around 500kts, and it is not difficult to maintain altitude even when turning hard. When flying between hills and in valleys however, it is important that you have at least about 420kts, since the aircraft uses quite a lot of energy while turning hard and pulling g’s. I also tried doing some aerobatics. The aircraft is very responsive and manoeuvrable at most speeds. Slow flying is not very difficult to achieve. I got the aircraft down to about 95kts, having an angle of attack (AoA) of 25-27. The FBW makes sure that you don’t exceed this critical AoA, and will sink the aircrafts nose slightly to maintain the lift, if you are about to exceed this AoA. Slow flight is achieved by slowing down to the speed of about 130kts, and then keep pulling the stick back to maintain altitude while reducing speed and when at maximum AoA, you have to keep the aircraft in the air with the throttle and by providing full back-pressure on the stick. The throttle has to be at almost full-military, when at maximum AoA. Then you adjust the throttle to maintain altitude and use the stick accordingly to maintain the desired speed. The aircraft is not very good at decelerating from high speed by just setting the throttle at idle, unless you either pull g’s or use the airbrakes. Pulling g’s with the throttle at idle will burn a lot of energy, and thus reducing speed. The airbrakes are also very effective. When extended, I calculated that I lost about 100kts in the length of about 8 seconds, very effective indeed! Combining that with some hard manoeuvring will reduce your speed very quickly and effectively. The IP stayed in the control room during all of my flight, and gave me some exercises (I think that him being an IP, they were actually more tests than exercises, but anyway…). One of them was to fly at 2000 feet, with 450kts while doing a sharp turn and pulling 6 g’s. And the exercise was about maintaining these 3 things at the same time without throwing up or getting dizzy. I noticed that you have to be one step ahead with the throttle. The F16 can maintain 9 g’s for a rather long time without loosing speed, but there’s a trick to it. I found out that if the aircraft starts loosing speed during this 6 g exercise, it continued loosing speed up to the point where you would eventually have to stop pulling the g’s, even though you are using full reheat. On the other hand, if you use too much throttle too early, the aircraft will keep accelerating and you would have to readjust the throttle to maintain speed, while maintaining 6g’s and 2000 feet of course! I was told that I did well, and that surely put a broad smile on my face. One other thing that I did was to fly in formation with a tanker aircraft flying at 10000 feet (I think) and 350kts. I had spotted the tanker flying across from left to right above me while doing some low-flying. So I pushed the throttle forward, pulled vertically up, then rolled 90 degrees to the left, so that the tanker came ‘above’ my back, flying away from me. Then I pulled back 90 degrees to level off inverted right behind the tanker. All I had to do then, was to roll 180 degrees and I was in position to join formation. I closed into refuelling position and later flew in formation aft of his right wing. It was great fun flying in formation, and it wasn’t very difficult to get the aircraft precisely where I wanted it to be. Then after I was ready with that, the IP suggested that I say farewell to the tanker by ‘donating’ an AIM9 Sidewinder up one of the KC10’s engines. Thinking that the KC10 was from the Iraqi armed forces, I locked up and kindly donated the AIM9…and the KC10 soon turned into an EX-KC10.
At one point I also practised a couple of emergencies. One of them was a stall at an extreme nose-high attitude. The aircraft, as expected by the IP, came out of control and began doing some uncontrollable oscillations, which are rather hard to explain without actually showing with my hand or with a model. The procedure for getting out of this is this: first step is to release the stick, and give the FBW system the chance to figure out and try to get the aircraft out of this situation. You have to allow it 10 seconds to do so, and believe me those 10 seconds felt like a whole life time! You have to remember that the aircraft is falling out of the sky like a brick during these 10 seconds. Then if the 10 seconds pass, and the situation hasn’t changed, you have to take action. First thing to do is to hit and hold the ‘FBW manual-override’ switch to disengage the FBW system. Then, you have to try to increase the oscillations, yes increase! You have to actually help the aircraft do what it’s doing and not work against it. This may sound insane, but by doing so, you will get the F16 into some very high- and very low-nose attitudes, where at one point, the aircraft is pointing vertically down. When this happens, you make sure to keep that attitude, and that will result in the aircraft regaining air speed and will therefore be flyable again. The other emergency that I tried was an engine flame-out (that bastard in the control room thought I was doing well, so he wanted to give me a bit of a hard time). I got the flame-out on one of the approaches that I was doing. It occurred at about 5 miles from touch down, at what I would say was about 4000 feet of altitude. The F16 glides extremely well. Being used to flying gliders, I was impressed at how far this ‘aerodynamic brick’ actually flies without power. The IP told me that if I didn’t extend the landing gear soon after the flame-out, I would have had to extend it manually later, when the aircraft ran out of electricity. So I reluctantly extended the landing gear prematurely (reluctantly, knowing how much drag it makes), and tried to make the runway from where I was. Already at this early stage, I could see that I could not make the runway, so I decided to land on the taxiway located right of the runway (see the picture…the taxiway can be seen through the HUD!). The aircraft glided nicely down and kept ‘floating’ to a smooth and safe touch down on the taxiway…I love this aircraft!!!
Landing the F16 is also quite straight forward. Also ‘short-finals’ kind of approaches, are quite easy to master with some practise. I was told by the IP that it would be easiest for me not to bank more than 30 degrees and maintain a speed of about 160-175kts during the turns. The aircraft doesn’t have any nasty tendencies to suddenly sink or drop while executing these kind of approaches, and with some experience, one can bank at 50-60 degrees during base-final turn without any problems at these speeds. You just have to keep in mind that the stall speed increases with g’s, and that g’s increase with bank angle, in other words, the larger the bank angle, the higher the stall speed. I was later told by the IP, that the landing gear can tolerate 4g’s when in extended position. When close to the ground, the aircraft requires a slight back-pressure motion on the stick for flare. If you want to make super smooth landings, you can increase the throttle slightly just before touch down, however, timing is very crucial if you decide to do so, since bad timing may result in the aircraft bouncing or actually lifting off again. When on the ground, you can use wheel brakes, or simply keep the nose wheel high in the air, and the wings and bottom of the aircraft will create a lot of aerodynamic braking (very efficient indeed!). The rudder pedals have two functions: If you push the bottom of the pedals, you get rudder, and nose-wheel steering if you have activated it, and the top part of the pedals is wheel-brakes, individual wheel brakes that is. I must admit that I found it rather difficult to keep the aircraft on the runway centre-line after landing, but then you have to remember that you don’t learn to fly an F16 in 1 simulator ride either…
Considering that I flew for about what felt like 1 hour (probably longer) in the simulator, one can easily say that I got quite an experience and absorbed quite a lot of data out of the aircraft in that relatively short time. The F16 really made an impression on me. It’s a true dream to fly, and I have no doubt that it can match almost any of the existing Multi-role fighters and combat aircraft to-come in performance, manoeuvrability and flexibility. For that one hour, I was in heaven, living a dream that I had dreamt of for many years. The F16 is everything that I had expected it to be, and then some. You don’t feel like you’re sitting in an aircraft flying it, but you feel as if the aircraft is a pair of very good wings, strapped to your back. It’s still so unreal for me that fighter pilots actually have the privilege to fly a fighter aircraft like the F16 every day, and then get paid for it. It’s not just any job; it’s a lifestyle, a paid hobby.
Many thanks to Flt.Lt. “SAM”; RDAF F16 solo display pilot, F16 Instructor pilot & Weapons instructor, for all the help and time, making this day the best day of my life so far. He gave me a personalised tour of the base, the squadron he flies in, the aircraft, the hangars and introduced me to some great people.
Also many thanks to Jan (the bastard in the control room), simulator technician and instructor, for his great assistance and support in the simulator.
Also many thanks to ‘LUN’ and the other F16 conversion student pilots for some good words of wisdom and suggestions.
Thanks for the much needed inspiration!
Simulator pictures courtesy of 87th Stray Dogs, Virtual Fighter Wing.