A personal visit to
The day has finally arrived!
The train arrived at 0215 and I climbed promptly and was really excited about the coming day. I had to be at the airbase at 0800, so the only way to be there in time was to take the night train. It was a cold night with a clear cloudless sky in January. After a couple of train rides I arrived at Skrdystrup, a village situated in the South-West of Denmark. I took a taxi from the train station to the base. The 5 minute ride felt like ages. The thermometer in the cab was reading -9.5 degrees…very cold indeed!
“Good morning!” said the soldier when I arrived at the gate. I told him the plan and he welcomed me to wait inside the small building.
SAM arrived in the squadron car about 0805. I had only
met the guy once before, for some minutes, but I had no doubt of who it was,
when I saw him. I had met him at the
Squadron 727 and all that belongs to it…
We chatted while he drove us, and he told me about the old days when he also was a glider pilot. We finally arrived to the main building of Squadron 727, where he introduced me to the other pilots and staff. Squadron 727 used both F16A and F16B (two seater) and the aircraft are currently undergoing what is called the MLU (Mid-life update), in order to upgrade the avionics and instruments of the aircraft, so that the Danish F16’s won’t be obsolete in relation to the newer fighters. One of the squadron’s main tasks is to convert pilots to the F16. SAM is an instructor pilot himself on the F16. Apart from that, he is also a weapons instructor and Solo display pilot on the aircraft. So I felt good indeed! The squadron also has 2 aircraft fully armed with Air to Air missiles, ready to scramble at any time.
He showed me the squadron’s main building and told me all about daily life as a fighter-pilot, working hours and showed me around. Then I was shown a couple of videos from some of his flights. One of them was an ILS approach to Billund airport, down breaking through the clouds, and then performing a touch & go on runway 27. The videos are shown on 3 monitors. One of them shows the pilot’s view including the HUD (Head Up Display), the second shows the aircraft’s radar picture, and the third monitor shows the aircraft’s HSD (Horizontal situation display).
Hangars and friction tests
Then it was time to visit the mechanics in the hangar. I had met one of them at the Malta Airshow, where he had flown to the airshow in the back seat of the other Danish participating F16. So they showed me around the hangar, the tools they use and told me about how they keep the squadron flying, and what the different mechanics specialize in. I simply couldn’t get my eyes off the aircraft.
After the hangar visit, it was time for an Air Combat lesson on the white board in the squadron’s briefing room. An air duel isn’t just about flying in, firing your missiles and hurrying home to get some beers. A lot of tactics and strategy is involved. You almost fight psychological warfare with the enemy before you release your missiles.
SAM had to make a couple of phone calls so I waited in the briefing room and looked around while he was away. One of the student F16 conversion pilots came in the briefing room and used the computer to plan a ’flight’ in the simulator. He had flown 6 flights in the F16 so far, and a few more in the sim. Now it was time for another sim ‘flight’ to practise low-level navigation. ”Oh well, I guess we’ll meet later in the sim if you’re also going there,” he said.
SAM had planned to fly the day when I was on the visit, but had grounded himself due to a cold. To get grounded by others is one thing…but to ground yourself from flying an F16?!? Sounds crazy to me…must be discipline.
So instead of flying, he used the day to help his fellow pilots get in the air. The runway had snow and ice in it, so it wasn’t easy to get the flight clearance, even though the snow ploughing machines were working hard and winning battle. “We’re gonna take a ride on the runway in the squadron car and check if it’s safe for flying, ” SAM said. The snow had been almost completely removed, however the runway was still slippery. He checked the braking action by driving the car up to about 100km/h and then braking hard, and repeating the whole thing…all along the runway, on both runways! (Skrydstrup has 2 parallel runways). SAM did the whole thing with great care, and got me to realizeog how much responsibility these guys have on their jobs as fighter-pilots. “A lot of tons of metal have to stop when an F16 lands,” he said, “so we have to be sure that the runway is fit for the job.”
”It’s simulator time soon,” he said. He had booked the sim for 1100. So far, I had been having a blast and couldn’t possibly imagine that my day could get better than it had been so far- but I was wrong!
Save the cream for last.
When we arrived at the building, LUN was still flying
his low-level NAV ride, and was on finals for landing, and then it was my turn!
I was given a pair of gloves and got a brief talk and sim introduction by Jan,
the sim technician. “I do have a couple of questions before starting,” I said
to SAM. “Only a couple?” he said with
a smile. Jan gave me a good briefing and SAM answered my
questions and I was ’ready to go!’ I released the parking brakes and taxied to
runway 29R at Skrydstrup, and lined up. My first take off was without the use
of afterburner. The aircraft accelerates fast and I was soon in the air. I was
told which heading I had to fly on, and so I did. After some time over
After flying some exercises given to me by SAM, it was time to try my first landing. My first touch & go wasn’t very good. I bounced the aircraft. I got in the air again, using full afterburner of course, and initiated another landing curcuit. My second landing was really good. SAM called me on the headset and told me to shorten the landing patterns and that made the whole thing more challenging, but also much more fun. After the touch & gos I did a couple of high-speed passes over the runway and then it was time for the last landing. Suddenly, a whole bunch of warning lights were blinking in the cockpit, and there was WARN written with a rather large size on the HUD. I kind of figured out that the WARN meant warning… ”Uhmmm, what’s going on?!?” I asked SAM through the mike. ”You have an engine flame-out” said SAM. I soon realized that from the current position, I wasn’t able to reach the runway, so I headed for a taxiway which was closer to me than the runway. SAM called me up and told me that I had taken a good decision by choosing the taxiway, he would have done the same. I was really impressed at how far the F16 can glide! Being a glider pilot myself, I tought that the F16 would fall out of the sky like a brick, but it kept floating, even when the airspeed got critically low. I barely made the taxiway and made a smooth touchdown. I held the aircraft’s nose high in the air, partially for aerodynamic breaking, and partially because the nose wheel hadn’t extended after the flame out. I only had 2 green lights on the panel. The aircraft slowed down and finally dropped it’s nose and came to a stop. And that was basically it! The most intense and exciting hour of my life. ”Amazing that you can actually get paid for doing this,” I thought to myself. I had the biggest smile on my face and I was completely wet, I mean with sweat!
I thanked Jan for his great help and the time that he had used and told SAM that he had made one of my dreams come true.
The day comes to an end with a cold beer.
After the sim ride, we went to SAM’s office, where I got the opportunity to have a talk with LUN and some other F16 conversion pilots. LUN gave me some real good advices and told me all about the admission tests and the course itself.
The day was basically over, but not completely. We went to the officers mess to have a beer or two. It felt strange, me being at a bar with 7 F16 pilots. I gave the first round as a “thanks for a great day!”
We threw dice and played a game to find out who had to pay for the other rounds and the chips that we ate. We also threw the dice to find out how much the beer should cost.
SAM then drove me to the train station and I changed my ticket so that I could get the first train home. Man what a day!
Many thanks to SAM, F16 display pilot, instructor pilot and weapons instructor. Also thanks to Jan, LUN and the other pilots, students and mechanics on the squadron. They were all so damn nice and so down to earth!
Click here to read the F16 simulator report about aircraft characteristics and a more detailed view of the sim ride.